Data scientists and web developers, designers and engineers, coders and quant jocks – our vocations often attract people who prefer quiet time to think and work alone. These tendencies make the standard career advice – that most jobs are filled via interpersonal contacts, not online ads or recruiters – sound like a major obstacle.
In a New York Times story about networking for introverts, one commenter mansplained that the author could not possibly be an introvert if, as she claimed, she handled speaking engagements just fine but disliked mixers.
But Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, disagrees. Introverts aren’t afraid to meet people, but they need solitary time to regroup. People confuse introversion with shyness, she says. “Shyness is about fear of social judgment,” Cain says in a 2012 TED talk. “Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation.”
A controlled situation, such as a speech or a one-to-one meeting, is less stimulating than a room full of chattering people.
The secret to successful networking for introverts, then, is not to force yourself into life-of-the-party mode, but rather to think strategically about who you need to meet, and play to your own social strengths. Good networkers understand that anybody in their circle, from a co-worker at a low-wage job to their seventh-grade soccer coach, can be a link to their next opportunity.
Here are some useful strategies for introverts who need to meet people.
- Make a plan. If you’re heading to an event, think about what your goals are. Do you want to connect with investors for your startup? Maybe you’re on the hunt for mentors in data science, or looking for information about a particular company. It’s better to have one meaningful conversation than to collect 15 business cards from random people.
- Go with a buddy. While it’s not a great strategy to cling to the person you came with for the whole event, most people find it easier not to walk alone into a room full of strangers.
- Practice your intro. This seems forced and weird, but it will help you come across as confident, not robotic. Have a few questions prepared to start conversation flowing. One of my favorite closers: “Who else do you think I should meet?”
- Set a time limit. Promise yourself you can leave in 20 minutes.
- Choose events that suit your temperament and circadian rhythms. If you freeze in big, noisy rooms, don’t go to big, noisy meetups. If you’re a night owl, how impressive can you be at 7 a.m. networking breakfasts? If you’re drained after a day of conference sessions, skip the cocktail hour and do whatever recharges you, whether that’s a solitary run or a nap before dinner.
- Email, phone calls and informational interviews are networking too. With so many tools at your fingertips to identify the right companies and people, a savvy introvert can skip the big events altogether and concentrate on bringing your best to a one-to-one encounter.
- The best part of networking is the relationships that develop. When you meet someone cool, make a point of keeping the relationship alive and beneficial to both parties. Even the greenest recent graduate has skills and contacts that may benefit the heaviest-hitting CEO.