I was recently asked about the best ways for introverts to become more comfortable with networking. Given it's such an important part of a job search process and career growth in general, it's helpful to figure out strategies that will work best for you. As a no-longer-ashamed introvert, I offer the following tips:
1. Remember networking is not only about attending large events. Most introverts do better in one-to-one interactions, so feel free to skip the event in favor of putting your energy into coffee meetings. Chances are the payoff will be greater anyway, since you've targeted the person you'd like to speak with in advance. Sometimes people think this form of networking "doesn't count." In reality, this may be the only form of networking you need. Events, while valuable, are less predictable in terms of who you will meet.
2. If you do go to events, arrive early before people are clustered into groups. I've personally found it much easier to mingle at the beginning of an event when only a handful of people are there rather than walk into an overwhelming room buzzing with conversation. Arrive early, making it easier to get acclimated to the space and introduce yourself to someone new.
3. Understand that most people feel uncomfortable at large networking events. If you feel nervous or intimated by the thought of going to a networking event, you are definitely not alone. Give yourself a pep talk before the event by reading parts of Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking or by watching her TED talks before attending an event.
4. Set small goals. I encourage people to set small goals rather than pressuring yourself to walk away with 10 business cards and feeling bad when you don't. Make yourself talk to three new people and then give yourself permission to call it a night. If you're an extreme introvert, even talking to one person may be a big victory for you and then it will get easier the next time. It helps to determine in advance an opening line such as, "What brings you here tonight?"
5. Recharge your batteries. If you're like me, as an introvert, you need lots of down time after a networking event or conference. Celebrate by going home to your favorite book, hot bath or whatever non-activity restores you. If you're at a multi-day conference, make a choice to opt out of some sessions in favor of being alone. One of my best weekend experiences was when I decided to get a 30 minute massage rather than squeeze in another workshop, however exciting they all sounded. I felt so restored after this brief timeout that I was far more present for the rest of the event.
What have you learned for yourself about networking? How can you embrace rather than avoid networking events?