Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not shy individuals who do not like people. Rather, 52% of people who categorize themselves as introverts simply find many social interactions draining and need time to recharge after being around people. These people can find the job search norm of “getting out there and meeting people” at networking events particularly challenging. However, like it or not, networking events are a key component of a successful job search and being an introvert in no way means that you cannot be a skilled networker.
Here are some tips to get the most out of networking events, particularly for the introverts out there:
Do your research
Generally, introverts prefer to have time to think ideas through and organize their thoughts before speaking. While a networking event with continual introductions to new people might not immediately seem like the obvious place to be able to think things through, you can minimize your stress by researching prior to the event. Most networking events will have an online registration page, confirming the schedule for the evening, any guest speakers, and often even a list of those who will be attending. Take the time to review this information beforehand, familiarize yourself with other registrants and plan possible conversation topics.
Plan your agenda
What do you want to get from the event? Do you want to meet potential employers? Gather industry information? Or, source candidates for informational interviews? Either way, setting your agenda before the event will increase the likelihood of meeting your personal objectives.
Set some targets
If you find networking events draining, you may be tempted to leave after 20 minutes or speak to one person and then secure a lone position at the bar. If this sounds like you, set yourself some targets before the event. Decide the minimum amount of time that you can stay for and/or the minimum number of people that you can have a conversation with – you never know, you might even exceed these!
You are not alone
Approximately 80% of people feel uncomfortable at networking events. If this is you, you are not alone. If nerves get the better of you, it is too easy to convince yourself that: everyone there knows everyone else; no one would want to talk to you or that you cannot bring any value to the conversations. This is not true. Event attendees are all at the event for the same reason, to talk to people. Practice makes perfect – the more you network, the more comfortable you will become.
Choose carefully and don’t get stuck
Once you arrive at the event, who are you going to talk to? Look for other individuals who are standing alone (usually by the bar or the food table!) or chat with the event organizer(s) who will usually be happy to introduce you to another attendee. Another good place to position yourself is close to the registration table, as people arrive they will also be looking for someone to engage with.
It is important that you don’t only talk to one person at the event. If you are nervous, you may be happy to stay with that one person so that you don’t have to start over again. However, this is not the purpose of networking events and won’t help you meet your objectives. After a short conversation, thank them for their time – arranging to stay in touch if appropriate – and move onto another person.
Don’t only talk shop
While networking is an essential part of job search and career management, you should not only be talking about business. Be aware of current events and local, uncontroversial news so that you can make small talk. The weather is always a popular conversation starter, as are questions about the venue and whether they have been to the event before. Avoid conversations about politics or religion, and never put anyone on the spot by asking for a job.
Many events will offer appetizers and alcoholic drinks. If you are nervous, don’t overindulge in the wine or beer for some “Dutch courage” – you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons. Limit yourself to one or two social drinks or stick to the club soda. Similarly, with any food, ensure that you don’t opt for any items which will be difficult to eat when having a conversation (e.g. anything with gravy/sauce) or will leave unsightly green bits in your teeth!
You might be nervous, drained and/or ready to go home but make sure that you keep smiling! Friendliness is incredibly influential to your likability, and ultimately, your employability. If you are standing on your own, someone is much more likely to approach you and start a conversation if you are smiling genuinely and standing with open, welcoming body language.
Now work your magic!
As I said, being an introvert does not mean that you cannot be a skilled networker – you simply develop these working relationships in a different way. If you met someone interesting at the event, reach out to them and invite them for a coffee and follow-up conversation. This one-to-one networking is often where introverts thrive, able to strengthen relationships through in-depth and thoughtful conversation.
About Dorothy Keenan of FutureWorks
Dorothy is a certified résumé writer with 25 years of experience in providing career advice and support to 5,000 professionals in diverse industries including technology, science, gaming, trades, finance, manufacturing, warehouse, and administration to find fulfilling careers. Through her work, she has gained a solid understanding of the needs of British Columbia’s dynamic labour force. Her expertise in developing résumés, LinkedIn profiles, and cover letters has helped her clients move forward in their careers. Contact www.fwt.bc.ca or firstname.lastname@example.org