Networking for Introverts

“It’s not what you know, but whom.”

We’ve all heard some variation of this expression – and felt its repercussions. Whatever our skill sets, résumés, credentials, or certifications, a key recommendation or referral can make or break a job hunt. That’s where networking comes in: it improves our odds of hearing about – and landing – better job opportunities.

The networking process typically favors Extraverted personality types, who easily connect with others and tolerate extended periods of social interaction. Sure, Introverts often have a close-knit circle of friends and confidants, but their networks tend to be smaller than Extraverts’. Alas, it turns out that many people find job opportunities through their extended network of acquaintances – also known as “weak ties” – rather than through friends and family. According to researchers, you’re 58% more likely to find a new job through your weak ties than through your nearest and dearest.

So what’s an Introvert to do? Fortunately, there’s no need for them to mold themselves into faux Extraverts in order to cultivate new connections. Instead, these personalities can leverage their uniquely Introverted qualities to make networking work for them.

The Problem with “Networking”

For many Introverted personality types, even the word networking is off-putting. It might call to mind tiresome meet-and-greet events, the endless exchange of business cards, or vacuous interactions on social media. Worst of all, networking might call to mind people who ingratiate themselves in order to get ahead.

Here’s the truth: networking gets a bad rap because some people use it in cold, calculating ways. We all ask for favors from time to time, but most of us find naked self-interest to be both obvious and off-putting. There is a transactional element to networking, as in most social rituals, and this can be uncomfortable. We might imagine that the person shaking our hand is thinking, “So what can you do for me?”

To overcome this discomfort, start by acknowledging that the person across from you is in fact a person – not a golden ticket, a hot commodity, or an obstacle. Try to find out about that person’s desires, motivations, and stumbling blocks. And trust that the person in question might be approaching you with this same openness and curiosity, rather than just determining how useful you could be to them.

If it helps, forget the word networking altogether, and look at these social interactions as opportunities to help others without necessarily expecting anything in return.

Not Just a Numbers Game

Yes, Extraverts may have the edge on Introverts when it comes to amassing contacts, but networking isn’t just a numbers game. Often, Introverted job seekers can focus their efforts to avoid endless networking events and informational interviews. For example, you probably have at least some idea of an industry or market that you’d like to specialize in, and you may even know what size company would suit you best. This clarity can save you from wasting energy on events, phone calls, and other impersonal activities that won’t get you where you want to go.

The difference between Extraverts and Introverts comes down to approach. Extraverted personality types have more energy to meet and greet lots of people, so they won’t have to prioritize their networking efforts quite as ruthlessly.

Introverts, on the other hand, will want to take their time and identify the people and opportunities that will be the best fit for them. These personalities should also take care to allow themselves time to recharge between bursts of networking activity. If you’re an Introvert and you attend event after event, you risk burning yourself out. Fortunately, a deliberate, thoughtful approach to networking may actually put Introverts in a better position to identify the connections and introductions that will yield the greatest benefit.

Be a Role, Not a Script

“Be yourself.” It’s advice that you’ve probably heard a million times, but if you don’t naturally excel at networking or self-promotion, it can be frustrating. What if your “real” self would prefer to stay home and read?

The reality is that we all play different roles in different situations, and networking is no different. Seeing networking as a form of acting can actually be beneficial. After all, acting is a skill that can be learned, so why not networking too?

If networking makes you uncomfortable or anxious, you might picture yourself stepping into the role of your “networking self” before an interview or a big event. Focusing on internal changes such as this may prove easier for an Introvert than attempting to control endless external factors. You can also think up a conversation script in advance. This could be an elevator pitch, a funny anecdote, or even a template for a query email.

Of course, scripts can come across as unconvincing or stilted, so you don’t want to rely on them entirely. That said, if planning out a conversation starter will help you ease into your “networking self,” go right ahead. You might surprise yourself and discover untapped aspects of your personality by exploring different personas. For example, by presenting yourself as confident and accomplished, you might recognize that you have skills and achievements that you hadn’t previously acknowledged.

Quality, Not Quantity

Despite its potential influence on our professional lives, networking is in many ways like any other social situation. Just as we cultivate a circle of friends, we can be selective when it comes to pursuing new professional connections. Because these interactions will always be at least somewhat draining for Introverts, it is necessary for them to focus on quality over quantity in their professional outreach – even if this means turning down event invitations or being less active on social media.

It’s always possible, of course, that one more convention, one more social networking site could yield that crucial contact who tells you about your next job. Alas, life is full of possibilities, and none of us can pursue them all. If Introverts balance their networking efforts with downtime that recharges their energy and their spirit, they’ll be able to make the most of the opportunities that they encounter.