Consilio Advanced Learning Institute

Putting Yourself Out There: A Networking Guide for Introverts


For introverts, professional networking is often exhausting and overwhelming, but following these tips can help gain the benefits of building a professional network without being too drained to focus on other aspects of your career

For those of us who fall on the introverted side of the introversion-extroversion continuum, receiving an invitation to a social event can trigger a long and deliberate thought process.  The analysis often includes consideration of whether the amount of energy the function will drain from our tank will be manageable enough to offset the risk of declining the invitation and thereby disappointing the person or organization hosting the event.  We will likely consider the size of the group that will be attending, how many people we know who will be attending, and how much energy we expect to need to get through the days following the event.  This analysis becomes even more complicated when the invitation is for a professional networking event that could help advance our career.

When extroverts are unable to attend a big event, they are at risk of experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out).  When introverts have a legitimate excuse to skip a large gathering, they may instead experience JOMO (joy of missing out).  However, because working professionals are constantly told about the importance of networking, many introverts try to behave like extroverts in the interest of advancing their careers.  I think this is a mistake, as networking should be very different for introverts than it is for extroverts.  Networking became much easier for me when I stopped feeling pressure to attend large events and be the center of attention, because acting like an extrovert was exhausting!  Instead of trying to network like an extrovert, I learned to network as an introvert and have since been much happier (and much less reliant on caffeine).

The goal of networking is to expand our professional relationships and strengthen our connections.  One way to do that is by attending large events hosted by professional associations and speaking with as many attendees as possible, but that’s not the only way to network.  Here are some of my favorite tips on how to build and maintain a professional network while embracing introvert tendencies:

  • Be selective when picking events to attend and set attainable goals. Don’t attend events on back-to-back nights if you know that will be too much.  Select events where you will know the most people.  If there’s an event you think would be very beneficial for you to attend but you don’t know anyone attending and expect a large crowd, give yourself a goal to meet just one new worthwhile contact and have a meaningful conversation with that one person.  Tell yourself that once you accomplish your goal, you are free to leave.
  • Find the introvert-friendly space at each event, and setup camp. After scoping out a venue, find the place where the introverts are congregating.  This is often in a quiet area along the periphery of a large space, sometimes in an outside area with couches or chairs.  By sitting in this type of area, you can converse with the many extroverts passing by on their way to the bar or restroom, but also are likely to meet the other introverts who take a seat next to you.  If you can’t find a conducive spot to spend the evening, don’t feel like you have to stay until the end of the event.
  • Avoid the pressure to engage in “small talk’ by encouraging others to do most of the talking. Most extroverts love talking about themselves, so when you ask them questions you may find they do enough talking to keep the conversation going, without you needing to do much speaking.  Introverts are known for being good listeners, and if you listen attentively while an extrovert goes on and on talking about themselves, the extrovert will likely feel that the conversation went very well.
  • Offer conversation starters. While nobody wants to walk into a room holding a sign that says, “Ask me about….” there are other ways to get creative about providing openings for casual conversation.  For instance, if you have an opportunity to write your own nametag, consider writing the name of your employer or your job title, as that may trigger people to ask you about your job.  Conversely, if you see someone with information about their job written on their name tag, you can use that information to start a conversation.
  • Create small networking environments at large events. Introverts aren’t typically well-suited for crowded events, but we often thrive during one-on-one or small group conversations, so consider creating opportunities to engage in small group conversations during larger events.  For instance, if you are able to find information about the attendees in advance and can identify a few with whom you would like to speak, try to approach those people with a pre-planned conversation starter.   Also, while standing in line to get food or drink, try striking up a conversation with the person next to you in line.  If you develop a rapport with them, they can be a good person to continue speaking with as the event unfolds.  If they seem to be extroverted, or if you sense they know a lot of people attending the event, consider asking them to introduce you to some of their contacts.
  • Attend events hosted by organizations with which you are involved. If the event you’re attending is hosted by a group that is personal to you, consider sharing your story with others you meet at the event.  In turn, you can also ask them about why they decided to attend an event hosted by this particular organization, or whether they have had any other involvement with the group.
  • Focus heavily (but not solely) on online networking. There are many tools available for online networking right now, so take advantage of them.  LinkedIn is the most obvious, but you may also be connected with former classmates or co-workers on other social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram, so consider using those sites to network as well.  While online networking is not a substitute for in-person networking, it can be a great supplement that doesn’t require in-person interaction.  It can also be a good tool for following-up with people you met at large events and are hoping to connect with further.
  • Find a trusted friend or colleague to be your networking partner. Partner up with another introvert and agree that each month you’ll go to one event with them for support and, in exchange, they’ll join you for one event of your choosing each month.  Having someone you trust by your side can go a long way towards making large social events seem more manageable and less draining.
  • Be mindful of the nonverbal signals you convey. If you appear reserved and quiet, others may be less likely to approach you or bring you into a small group conversation.  Be aware of your body language and try not to look like you’re uncomfortable.  It helps to stand up straight, keep your head up, make eye contact with others, and smile.  Also, it’s best to try to avoid nervous habits like fiddling with your hair or picking at your fingernails.
  • If all else fails, keep a plate full of food in your hand. If you panic and don’t think you can handle a conversation, get a full plate of food and eat it slowly while taking in the scene around you.  Nobody will expect you to talk with your mouth full of food, so eating can buy you some time until you are ready to face having conversations again.
  • Know your limits, and don’t overcommit (or if you do, have a backup plan). Certain times of the year are much more popular for events than others.  During the busy months, make sure to be very selective about the invitations you accept so that you don’t risk being too exhausted to attend the function(s) most important for you.
  • Know your strengths and take advantage of them. If you’re best at small talk, don’t go to an event with the goal of collecting 20 business cards.  Instead, set a personal goal of making one meaningful connection during the event.
  • Join organizations that are meaningful and important to you. Once you join groups that are aligned with your interests and passions, keep an eye out for opportunities to volunteer or join committees.  By doing so, you’ll meet other people involved in the organization in a structured fashion, so by the time the group’s big events come along you’ll already know a lot of people attending and know a lot about the organization, which will give you something to talk about with people you meet during the event.
  • Schedule time before and after events to relax and recharge. This is very important for introverts because social interaction is draining for us.  To make sure you have the energy stores needed for a big function, make sure you go into it feeling rested and relaxed.  And to be sure you are able to recover as quickly as possible afterwards, be sure to provide yourself with time to recharge soon after the event.
  • Host events. This may sound counterintuitive, but for some introverts it’s easier to attend events that they host and/or plan.  There are several reasons for this.  One is that you will know what to expect at an event when you’re involved in planning it, so you’ll be better able to prepare.  You may also be in control of the guest list when you plan an event.  Also, when you’re involved in planning you may be able to schedule the event for the time of day that you typically feel your best.  In addition, many attendees will want to meet the host, so it may be easier to meet people and strike up one-on-one or small group conversations if everybody knows you are the host.
  • Don’t forget to smile. Smiling will help you look – and feel – more confident!

For introverts, professional networking is often exhausting and overwhelming.  By following the tips outlined above, hopefully you will be able to gain all the benefits of building a professional network without being too drained to focus on other aspects of your career.

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