Networking is a lot like exercising or eating your vegetables: It’s totally necessary but not always the most pleasant thing in the world. This is especially true if you’re an introvert, and the idea of talking to a bunch of strangers is even worse than running a marathon and then downing a giant glass of carrot juice.
But networking doesn’t have to be the painful chore many make it out to be. In a terrific PayScale post titled “4 Networking Tips for Introverts,” writer Kirsty Wareing shares advice for those who feel intimidated by the notion of approaching others for career help. As she says, it’s possible to “build and enjoy a network that will benefit your career for years to come, even if you aren’t the most outgoing of people.”
Wareing’s first suggestion is to “rethink the term.” Networking doesn’t just mean bugging other people for help. If you begin by thinking about what you can offers others in their careers — resume help, introductions to your contacts, etc. — you’ll feel less like a beggar and more like someone who’s in the game and simply looking to compare notes. And when you lend other folks a hand, they’ll be more likely to repay the favor.
Second, Wareing advises readers to go into any networking situation with realistic goals. On your way to an event, tell yourself you’re going to chat up three people and learn about their career trajectories. Once you’ve done this, you can grab your coat and go home. There’s no shame in having a few conversations, scooping up a few business cards, and hitting the road early.
When you have those two or three conversations at the event, it can be helpful to “come armed with questions,” which is Wareing’s third tip. By asking thoughtful questions, you’ll keep chitchat flowing and show yourself to be smart, inquisitive, and passionate about what you do. Ideally, this will lead to questions from the other people, and that will create two-sided dialogues that flow naturally and don’t feel like an “interrogation,” as Wareing writes.
Finally, Wareing offers another strategy for rethinking the very idea of networking: Realize that not all contacts need to be new. By using social media to reconnect with former coworkers, college buddies, and other people you’ve met along the way, you might learn about new opportunities or pick up tips that will help you on your professional journey. Wareing suggests doing more than just emailing or liking their Facebook posts, though. Actually meet up for coffee or lunch and continue investing in relationships over time.