Career Q&A - How can introverts network effectively?
I would like to network with others for my career by attending industry events. How can I do so effectively, especially since I am an introvert - Jessica, Marketing
With more physical events, industry meet ups taking place, it is a great time to be networking for business and even for our own career management. Are you ready for more networking or are you reminded of your challenges with networking?
We are glad to share some perspectives on how networking can be made comfortable, especially if you are introverted!
Purpose of Networking
Networking is often associated with "putting ourselves out there" and "selling ourselves" and these may be seen as negative or unnatural for many, especially introverts.
A more helpful way to view networking is to see it as "an exchange". When we attend an event, we are bringing with us a set of information, experiences and even opportunities to the people whom we are going to meet. At the event, what we bring can be exchanged with someone else when we engage them. So the event becomes a giant marketplace of exchanges! So even if you are at an event to build business or personal connections, be aware of what you are bringing to the marketplace.
Is Networking really Useful?
In short, YES!
A 1973 sociology research paper published by Mark Grannovetter showed the "Strength of Weak Ties". Mark's research found that people who were referred into jobs were more often helped by people who had "weak ties" - meaning more of an acquaintance than a close friend. The reason for this is because our "weak ties" are larger in numbers and more diverse in interests, backgrounds and experiences. Hence our "weak ties" becomes a larger net for information, opportunities.
In Singapore, companies also tend to start recruitment from internal referrals hence many job opportunities take place over personal email, phone messages and even personal social media. So if you are only job searching from an open public platform like job portals, you may be missing out when you do not have someone referring opportunities to you. To fill C-suite, senior leadership roles, referrals also become important because "who knows you" takes over when recommending people to such important roles. Networking supports both instances as it helps you strengthen your social capital and facilitate referrals.
Networking also helps with social learning and making informed career decisions. In the 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can", the protagonist was thinking about what he wanted to do as his job and he chanced upon pilots. He then observed how pilots behaved, what they wore, what they did to help him decide he would want to be a pilot himself, albeit through imposter ways! If you plan to change careers paths, moving from one industry to another, immersing yourself in related networking events becomes very important, as it can help you collect information and help you make an informed decision on whether to change.
What if I am an Introvert?
Being introverted does not mean you are unable to network. Introvertedness refers to how we manage our energy. Spending a long amount of time engaging large groups will thus result in a longer recovery time for introverts.
Here are some tips for introverts to consider:
Have the correct frame of mind - Consider the points raised above about the purpose and effectiveness of networking and examine your own negative thoughts about networking. List out your concerns about networking and come up with steps to mitigate each of them. It is helpful to not think about the titles, big names who may be there, but to be reminded that everyone at a networking event are only human beings there to have a good time to "exchange".
Have a goal in mind - Know what you want to achieve from the event. For example, if you are interested in knowing more about certain company or industry, keep that in mind as you network. That would shape your questions and even the people you want to engage. You can set a target goal of a number of people whom you want to meet so that you can be conscious of time and politely exit conversations and enter new conversations.
Start small - Networking is not always about group engagement. Very often it is smaller groups, between 2-3 people. So start by putting your phone away and look at people around you to see if there is someone near you who is alone or looking lost. Approach the person to strike up a conversation. Be mindful of your non verbal cues too, especially your eye contact and smile!
Listen more, talk less - Learn to ask good open ended questions to invite the other person to speak more. You can spend more time listening and learning about who you are speaking to. You can start with lighter open ended questions like “How are you today”, “How was your weekend”, How is the food" and then progressing to more serious ones like “What are you hoping from today’s event?”.
Practice entry and exit statements - Practice how you would like to introduce yourself and how you can exit conversations gracefully. Keep your entry statements concise and targeted - eg. "Hello, pleasure to meet you. My name is Jessica and I am in the marketing line. How about you?". Practice exiting with polite statements like "I really enjoyed our conversation and perhaps we can exchange namecards or contact so that we can keep in touch."
Take toilet breaks - Introverts need to recharge more often than extroverts at networking events, so when it gets too tiring or overwhelming, retreat to the toilet and take a breather! However, it is important to not stay in there for the entire event!
Try virtual networking - If physical networking is too overwhelming, try virtual networking. There are plenty of online networking events that you can participate from the comfort and safety from home. Social media platforms like LinkedIn are also useful, as you can target people you want to speak to and engage them online.
Networking is an essential career management activity and it can be fun and meaningful because you never know what can grow and develop from a new connection made. As the age old saying goes, practice makes perfect. So go practice until you become masterful at it.
Do unto others as others as how you would like others to do unto you
At AVODAH People Solutions, we provide career guidance services to people who are considering career changes, making a job change or currently in a transition to find a job and also career enrichment services to people who want to be more effective at work. Share your career situation with us so that we can support you.