You're not doomed to a life of career failure because you're an "introvert." While traditional networking might be more challenging for those who consider themselves introverted, with the right tools, networking can be navigated with a minimum of stress but maximum success.
Imagine you're at a networking event, with a room full of your industry peers mingling, interacting, and making professional contacts that might someday help your career. Does that sound like fun or your absolute nightmare? Even if it's somewhere in between, networking for an introvert can be challenging at best. But it can be done. You just have to approach it in a way that works for you.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can network effectively as an introvert, including:
What does it mean to be an introvert, anyway?
How can an introvert get better at networking?
Why is networking hard for introverts?
7 Networking tips for introverts
Being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re “shy,” although the term is often incorrectly used as a synonym. According to the website VeryWellMind, “Introversion is a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. [They] also typically get more energy and recharge by spending more time alone than with others.” The article continues that introverts make up roughly 25-40 percent of the population. The other end of the spectrum is the extrovert, someone who thrives on interaction with others. If you’ve ever felt the need to “recharge your batteries” after socializing with a group of people and are happier in your own company, you might be an introvert.
And even introverts vary on how “introverted” they are. Some can handle quite a lot of socialization before needing some “alone time;” some are drained from the experience much more quickly. And introverts aren’t necessarily rude, awkward, or "broken." It's simply a state of being, and introverts often have their own set of strengths that should be celebrated. In the workplace, most introverts have found careers where they can shine (in a manner of speaking) in positions where they work independently, use their often specialized skills, and have few disruptions, like careers in IT, Data Science, writing, art/design, or library/curating.
Networking can be challenging for all kinds of people, but introverts have their own set of challenges, such as finding the right words. Introverts tend to process information deeply and not do their thinking "out loud," which may lead to other people thinking that the introvert doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Some introverts—not all—struggle with anxiety, which interferes with thought processes.
Since introverts are more sensitive to what’s going on around them, busy networking events can send them into sensory overload and exhaust their physical and mental energy. Networking is a skill that takes practice, but if you’ve had negative experiences with it in the past, it’s hard to motivate yourself to build the skills you need.
Absolutely. While some might think that introverts hate being around other people, that’s not always the case, it just has to be done on their own terms. They can still form meaningful and rewarding connections. In fact, introverts possess “superpowers” that might help them network successfully:
They're good listeners. When you're actively listening to the other person, you’re bound to make deeper connections with the people you’re talking to.
Introverts keep their eyes open. By “watching the room,” they can learn about the people around them and how they operate before jumping into an interaction, which can lead to a more relaxed conversation.
They tend not to blurt out whatever is on their mind. Since introverts have limited battery capacity, they tend not to waste time on fluff and like to get to the heart of the matter. This can result in more productive interactions.
So, if you're an introvert, what are you to do? How can you network without sending your body chemistry off-kilter and your anxiety into the stratosphere? The answer: use your strengths to your advantage! Here's how you can make that happen:
Try to schedule networking events on days when you have less going on, and give yourself a chance to recharge before attending the event.
Have a set of questions at the ready, but be prepared to improvise. Come up with a standard set of questions, including follow-ups and open-ended questions, which will allow the person you’re talking to a wide range of possible answers. But don’t get so locked into your questions that you miss opportunities for more substantive discussions. Plus, if you’re asking great questions, you’re likely to find things in common, which can lead to more rewarding professional relationships.
Network before you network. If the event has a website or a social media page, use it to reach out to people who will be attending. If you’re able to meet a few people before the event, it will make things easier because you won’t be staring into a sea of unknown faces.
Be a “leader of introverts.” No, that’s not an oxymoron. You’re probably not going to be the only introvert in the room, so there’s safety in numbers. Consider organizing an “introverts only” meetup at or before the event, which will allow you to meet like-minded people and connect with people more comfortably.
Have a wingperson. If you find it difficult to walk up to people and introduce yourself, find a buddy to do it for you, either before or during the event. It might take some of the pressure off so that you can enjoy the interaction a bit more.
Break up your networking time into chunks. In this case, think of it as a series of sprints, not a marathon. Be aware of when you're starting to feel overwhelmed and take a few minutes for yourself to recharge. It's not failure, it's self-care.
Know why you’re networking. If you know what your goals are, you’re less likely to waste time and energy on unproductive interactions. Are you looking for a new job or career opportunity? Learn additional skills? Find a mentor? When you’ve identified why you’re there, it will be easier to plan your questions, how you’ll introduce yourself, and talk to the right people.
Have a plan. It’s important to have questions and goals for the event ready, but what about how you’ll get there? What’s the parking situation? Do you have an exit strategy? Who will be speaking and when? Doing some research on the event and the venue will help you prepare your questions, decide how you want to organize your time, and even who you’d like to meet. This will eliminate some surprises and build your confidence when you know what to expect.
Network online. In-person events aren’t your only option! Not only do online networking events allow you to meet people and gain opportunities from all over the country (or even the world), but you can create an online brand, build relationships, and learn new skills without leaving your home. While it's still important to be in-person from time to time, consider joining professional online communities, and social media professional groups, and attending online events hosted by your university or a professional organization.
Remember, no matter how you decide to network as an introvert, be true to yourself. Being introverted isn’t a character flaw, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. You just have to make it work for you.
Looking for a great way to network as an introvert? Consider Career.io’s Virtual Hiring Events (coming soon), which will connect you online with a variety of companies across multiple industries, all from the comfort of your own home!
Introverts thrive on alone time and require the chance to “recharge” after social interactions, and often find success in careers that allow them to work independently with a minimum of distractions.
In-person events can be a source of stress and anxiety for introverts, but being prepared and taking breaks can help you get the most out of networking.
To network successfully as an introvert, have questions ready, do your research, have someone introduce you to others, and have a plan.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.