Sunday, April 7, 2013

Networking for Introverts

If the prospect of networking fills you with dread or you think it's something only extroverted people do, think again.

You don't need to have a gregarious or outgoing personality to build a network of professional contacts - in fact, your approach may be better received than the brash personality types out there.

Natural listeners
There is a misconception that only extroverts can network. Introverts in fact have some advantages: they are natural listeners and they tend to reflect before they speak. They are also sometimes better at building long-term relationships.

Regarding yourself as an introvert should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing.

Connecting with people in your search is a skill that needs practising, and the less it comes naturally, the easier you should make the first steps.

Begin with "Level 1 - Conversations" the gentlest form of networking, and one which anyone can do.

Start by talking to people you already know and trust, but talk to them in a way you've never done before.

This approach helps avoid mistakes that will feel like setbacks. Like the cold rebuff you get when you start a phone call saying "you don't know me, but...." or approaching high-level contacts too early in the process when you're still feeling bruised and you don't know what you're looking for.

Don't give people the opportunity to say "not now" or a plain "no" when you're aware how much these will set you back.

Easy targets
Nervous networkers should target the easiest people to begin with not the 'main target.'

When you pick up the phone you know that you can just begin a conversation, and you don't need to prepare a script of what you will say.

Be honest about what you're asking for - make it clear that you are setting up brief conversations with a range of people to find out what is going on in the world or in a particularly favourite sector.

Just think carefully about what to ask for and steer clear of asking for favours!

Ask people for things they are happy to talk about, but a good conversation about the world the person knows well is always welcome and don't forget to thank people properly.

Start by talking only to people you know, ask about their job or their hobbies, the universe, then ask them if they can introduce you to someone else; a proper, warm introduction, not just a name.

The big event
Once you've had a few "safe" conversations with the contacts you already know, you may wish to consider attending a more formal networking event.

Of course it can be intimidating going into a room full of strangers and feeling pressured to make contacts, but the fear of networking is often much worse than the reality.

You are all there for the same reason and you are all feeling the fear!

If you are at an event, ask one of the organisers to introduce you to others. any organiser worth their salt will be happy to facilitate this.

Do make sure that you introduce yourself clearly, so that people know your name and what you do, as this often reveals areas of common ground for conversation.

As long as you show an interest in other people and a willingness to listen, generally people will only be too happy to talk to you.

Networking from home
If you can't face wearing a name badge and making small talk, don't despair. Online forums and networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to make contact with people in your sector - without even having to leave home.

To get started, search for ex-colleagues and look for groups set up within your industry. Remember, as with most things in life, the more you put in, the more you'll get out - so be sure to post messages and join the conversation rather than just observing.

Do not rant, do not pontificate, and do not over-criticise others. Let the tolerant, thoughtful and collaborative you come through in your conversations.

Having a few open conversations online should make it easier when you take the plunge and meet up at a real life event. You'll be networking like a pro before you know it.

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