If you’re looking for a job, you may be getting tired of the “network, network, network” mantra, especially if you’re a naturally shy or introverted person. Here you are, under the gun, without a job and in need of one, and you’re being told that what you have to do is the one thing that is particularly hard for you.
Even worse, you may feel—as do many introverts—that networking is insincere or manipulative. You find it uncomfortable, and even distasteful. You think small talk is, well, small. True introverts thrive on solitude and are drained by too much socializing. It’s not just your imagination. What’s more, now that the holidays and holiday partying are upon us, you may be feeling even more pressure.
Still, the fact is, most jobs are found through networking. Sorry. But here are a few tricks for the person who, if given a choice between a root canal and “working a room,” would choose the former:
1. Accept the fact that, for you, networking will have to be “an act.” Especially at first, you’ll probably have to force yourself. This is OK. The good news is that networking is a skill that, like any other, improves with practice.
2. Set goals—five phone calls a day, say, or two networking events a week. When you meet these goals, give yourself a little treat. Like an evening at home, alone.
3. Be true to you. You don’t have to transform yourself into an oily, obnoxious schmoozer. You wouldn’t be able to anyway. Join groups that genuinely interest you. Seek connections with people whom you think you would truly enjoy.
4. You know what? Extroverts love you. You are their perfect audience. So remind yourself that you are doing them a favor by getting out there, asking a leading question (“What do you do? Or, “How long have you been a member of this group?”), and letting them talk.
5. Google research is your friend. It’s easy, nowadays, to find out a little about people before you meet. Then, when you’re introduced, you’ll be able to talk about something you already know interests them. Benefit: This research can be done at home, on your computer, alone!
6. Reciprocate. Successful business networking is based on the age-old concept, “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.” If Fred asks you for help, help him. Actively seek favors you can do for Sally. Then you won’t feel the need to apologize when you ask Sally to introduce you to Fred.
7. Etiquette is your friend. A good thing about etiquette is that it has clear rules. All you have to do is follow them. Learn the proper form for introducing two people. Write a thank-you note after meeting with someone. If a new contact treats you to coffee, wait a few weeks and treat them back.
8. Find ways to network on a manageable scale. Huge groups drain you? Join smaller clubs and associations. Set up coffee dates with one or two people at a time. Small scale networking has the advantage of forming deeper, truer relationships—something that you, as an introvert, excel at.
9. Social media is your friend. Lots of great networking is done nowadays via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and so on. You can make connections and nurture relationships while never leaving your desk! (It can never be a 100% substitute for face-to-face contacts, though.)
10. Finally, it might help you to recall that humans are tribal by nature. Yup, we are naturally social animals. That includes you. So start humming, “people who need people are the luckiest people,” and tap into your inner tribal member. And now get out there and, you know, network, network, network.
Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use