You have probably heard the statistics – many sources such as LinkedIn, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review claim that 60 – 80% of jobs are found or secured through some form of networking (sources: Career Playbook, http://www.careerplaybook.com/guide/networking.asp). For people who are shy or naturally more introverted, this sounds like the kiss of death. However, it doesn’t need to be.
1. Realize what networking is and is not
First of all, most job search experts and formal studies indicate that “some form of networking” is beneficial for the job search. This is encouraging because it includes one-on-one contacts, social media, tapping existing connections, and reaching out to past employers and co-workers. Networking is more than just reaching out to strangers and pressuring them to do favors for you, such as walking your resume down to the hiring manager. In fact, that rarely works.
Networking is far more expansive than most people realize. Even Aunt Martha telling you about a job opening she heard about from a friend at church is technically finding a job through networking. So don’t be intimidated by the 80% or more figure. It’s a lot easier to reach that many contacts then you think.
2. Find the networking channels that work for you
Not all networking channels or strategies are going to be effective, especially if the entire idea of one technique strikes fear in your heart. A classic example of this are large networking groups.
While I’m not an introvert, I personally hate large networking groups. When I started my business, I dreaded going to large business after-hours events, but felt obligated to do it as I heard it was a “good idea.” What I found was a room filled with 300 people, all just shuffling business cards at each other. Of course, I never gained any valuable connections through this method, primarily because I never felt comfortable in the environment. I found myself constantly checking my watch to determine how soon I could leave.
For your own networking strategies, think about what you are most likely to do on a regular basis. Is it messaging your existing contacts? Is it attending classes? How about researching key managers at target companies and approaching them through email? Don’t forget about getting involved in Groups on LinkedIn. Write down at least 3-4 different tactics that you are most likely to actually do and then incorporate them into your weekly job search activities.
3. Check out small groups for different interests
If the cattle call environment doesn’t work for you, focus on small networking groups. www.Meetup.com is a great source for finding places where people are meeting face-to-face. Even better, these don’t have to be specifically related to job searching. Common interests, hobbies, and fun activities can be a great way to get used to meeting new people in a low-pressure environment.
By the way, there are small, supportive groups for job seekers, such as my own in the Denver metro area: http://www.meetup.com/Brown-Bag-Job-Search-Group/ By staying under 20 people, this creates a genuine atmosphere that isn’t overwhelming to the introverted job seeker.
4. Reach out to individuals before attending a large event
At times, attending a large event is extremely helpful for your job search. To ease into it, reach out to individuals that you know will be there and make a plan to meet them.
For example, one of my professional associations, the Domestic Estate Management Association (DEMA), will be having their annual conference in Arizona in August 2016. (http://demaconvention.com/ ) Drawing over 200 private service professionals from all over the country, it can be intimidating for a newcomer. However, several have already reached out to me personally, planning to grab lunch or coffee at the event. This way, they know for a fact they will have some one-on-one time with someone, not just walking into an event filled with strangers.
5. Practice your personal introduction
By now, you’ve probably heard of the “elevator speech” – a prepared and practiced personal introduction to break the ice with someone you just met. Most people consider this a commercial or pitch to convey who you are, what you can do for someone, and what you have to offer.
Be sure to write out and practice your introduction before you meet with anyone. Listen for the way it sounds: is it genuine, sincere, and honest? An elevator speech that is a true reflection of who you are and not just a gimmick will be easier to remember and will make a better first impression.
6. Listen more than you speak
This is where the introvert’s strength really works in their favor. Introverts are masters of observation, quietly taking in the details and paying attention to what’s going on. In networking situations, this comes across as someone who listens well. In general, people like to talk about themselves, especially to someone who is paying attention. With just a few prompting questions, you can get the other person to lead the conversation and leave a great impression at the same time.
7. Follow up
The real value in any networking tactic is following up. Whether it’s writing a personal message to a new social media contact or emailing a person after an event, following up is the key to solidify the relationship and build positive results. After all, you don’t want to go through all of the uncomfortableness of unfamiliar networking just to let your efforts fall flat.