In this article, we’ll offer ideas and exercises for Introverts to increase their professional networking activity. It’s primarily intended for those who feel like they struggle with networking, but it may be useful to anyone.
Though this advice is aimed at helping your career, we’ll start with the personal, human side of things. When Introverted personalities aren’t doing something as obviously beneficial as professional networking, it’s likely that factors deeper than their “work selves” are an influence.
It’s important to understand and respect the feelings that underpin a behavior before trying to modify that behavior. Truly embracing a beneficial goal that expands your nature requires self-awareness, not just desire. Understanding is a foundation upon which motivation yields lasting success.
The challenges associated with networking can be quite personal for Introverts. It’s important for these personality types to discover suitable ways to network, practice related skills, and grow at a sustainable pace without too much stress.
So, let’s look inward before we step out and try some networking.
A Productive Attitude
Before tackling any goal, it helps to get into an optimistic mind-set. So, let’s get you stuffed full of positive mental fodder (plus, it’s all true):
- You’re fine. You aren’t wrong or weird for being put off by networking or large volumes of social contact. It’s perfectly natural for many Introverts.
- You can do it. Improvement is relative to each individual, and you’ll certainly make progress if you keep trying.
- All gains are valuable. Especially when your skill and confidence may be low, even small steps are a big deal.
- Success is in the attempt. Professional networking is like fishing: skill and dedication make good results more likely but not guaranteed. Viewing active effort as a win unto itself helps keep you going.
- You’re not alone. The professional world is full of Introverted personalities, some who struggle like you and some who’ve mastered what you hope to accomplish. Meeting such people will help you – but you must network to find them.
- Failure is an opportunity. Instead of feeling bad if things don’t go well, you can glean useful insights and wisdom that will help your future efforts.
- It gets easier. The more networking you do, the more familiar and comfortable it will become. You’ll gain momentum once you get over the initial bumps.
Bonus tip: Don’t compare yourself to others. Networking is a social activity, and in the social realm, it’s normal to evaluate ourselves against others. But this can easily become destructive to your self-confidence and networking progress. Just focus on expanding your limits and doing your personal best.
So, Why Haven’t You Been Networking Very Much?
Taking an honest look at this question will move you forward. Let’s get some perspective on whatever is holding back your networking success.
First, say to yourself, “I want to do more professional networking.”
Now, listen to your inner reaction to that statement. Is it true? Are there conflicting feelings and thoughts involved? If so, that’s okay. Just be aware of them.
But if networking is your true intent, you must put it ahead of contrary influences – even those within you. Whatever aspect of yourself you feed will prevail.
So, now, say to yourself, “I am going to do more professional networking.”
We’ll call this expressed intent your primary factor. It’s your self-determined, conscious goal – a commitment to yourself and your career. Hold on to this, and we’ll come back to it later.
Now, let’s look at possible reasons you haven’t been networking, not as judgment, but as self-assessment. Jot down (in your own words) any of the following examples that apply to you, as well as any other reasons that you can think of:
- Social anxiety. Many Introverts simply find it stressful to be in large groups of people.
- Lack of confidence. Introverted personality types, especially those with a Turbulent Identity, may find the idea of failing very upsetting.
- Dislike of the unknown. Some people are intimidated by – or wary of – unfamiliar things.
- Guilt. If you think networking is important, you might feel like you’ve committed a professional sin by not doing enough of it.
- Denial. Maybe you think networking isn’t important or can’t benefit you, or you simply don’t want to admit its value.
- Arrogance. Maybe you feel that you’re above networking and shouldn’t have to invest time and energy into it.
- Social sensitivity. You may not be equally comfortable around all types of people and, as a result, avoid gatherings.
- Busyness. If you have a lot going on in life, you may not have managed to fit networking into your schedule.
- Isolation. You might be in an area where you don’t have much access to other professionals.
- List one more thing. Be honest with yourself. What’s another reason?
We’re going to call anything you put on this list a sideline factor. This has dual meanings. First, these concerns may “sideline” you (put you out of action) while you attempt to network. Second, you must put these inhibitors on the “sidelines” (a secondary, less active position) and prioritize your primary factor if you want to improve your networking.
This list can be a useful tool for reference and refocusing during your networking efforts. If you falter, check the list and figure out which sideline factor is affecting you. This understanding will give you strength. It’s also a chance to update the list if you realize an additional sideline factor is holding you back.
When you find yourself up against an internal, emotional sideline factor, try these steps:
- Acknowledge it calmly in a detached manner.
- Let it exist for a few moments without judgment.
- Set it back on the sideline, and take a deep, slow breath.
- Consciously refocus your energy back on your primary factor: “I am going to do more professional networking.”
If you find yourself up against an external sideline factor, like logistical or scheduling constraints, you’ll have to make some practical decisions and find ways around them. Most of our networking exercises below can be used even by very busy people.
Do You Dodge Networking with Excellence?
Most of the sideline factors we’ve mentioned above could be considered negative, but some positive behaviors can also inhibit networking.
It works like this: Introverts are less likely to willingly and vigorously engage in external experiences like networking. These personalities rarely find it easy to step out of quieter, more private modes of behavior, which often serve their creativity and productivity so well.
As a result, Introverts may avoid networking in favor of other career-positive behaviors and approaches. If any of the examples below apply to you (or if you think of anything similar that does), go ahead and add them to your list of sideline factors:
- Work ethic. You may actively build your career through dedication, reliability, and productivity.
- Training. You might seek to advance yourself through supplemental education and acquisition of advanced skills.
- Personal drive. You might push yourself hard at work, deeply concerned with doing your best.
- Social relationships. You may favor connections revolving around emotional and personal support more than professional assistance.
- Confidence. You may be so certain that you can excel that you haven’t looked for additional advantages.
- Independence. If you’re very self-reliant, you may have wanted to avoid feeling like you need or owe anyone.
These are great things, but they don’t invalidate the specific, additional benefits of professional networking. It’s important to divert at least some time and energy into all the approaches that can move your career forward, including networking.
But, Wait – There’s More
Because they’re helpful things, these “dodges” can actually be used to complement and boost your networking activity. You can bring these potential sideline factors into play (sorry for the sports metaphor) to support your primary factor, instead of inhibiting it.
That’s pretty cool.
Check out these ideas, and think about how they might work for you:
- Work ethic. You can apply your sense of responsibility and dedication to networking, just as you would any other job-related duties.
- Training. You can apply your willingness to study to resources that build your networking skills. (You’re already doing so by reading this article!)
- Personal drive. Your willpower, ambition, and desire to be your best can fuel any goal. Tell yourself you’re going to “win” networking.
- Social relationships. You can share more work-related information and assistance with your social contacts for your mutual networking benefit.
- Confidence. Having made the decision to pursue more networking, this strength can ensure that you won’t give up.
- Independence. When it comes to networking benefits, you can offer more than ask. Being a source of good things is a great way for an Introvert to create admirable career status – without feeling dependent or indebted.
The point is, during periods dedicated to networking, it must remain your primary factor. Various sideline factors will come forward in your mind to sideline you, but you’ll catch yourself, acknowledge them, and set them aside. (Or you might catch yourself the following day. That’s a perfectly okay part of the learning process.)
You may have to perform conscious course corrections often – that’s perfectly normal for anyone practicing new skills and behavior. Your brain takes a while to adjust, but remember:
You must continually insist on your primary factor… And what is that? (Go ahead, say it to yourself, “I am going to…”)
So, now that we’ve explored some internal hindrances you may be dealing with, let’s go over some ideas and exercises you can use to act.
An Introvert’s Networking Tool Kit
It’s helpful to be equipped with some resources when you’re networking. We’re going to suggest some ideas and techniques you can use as “tools” when needed, but feel free to also come up with your own. (And if they work, please share them in the comment section below to help others.)
This “tool kit” has two compartments: one for supporting tools to take care of yourself and one for facilitating tools to use when networking. We’ll refer to some of these tools in the exercises provided later in this article. But feel free to use any and all of them “as needed.”
Supporting Tools: To Take Care of Yourself
A Stress Thermometer
This is a must-have item for the busy, successful Introvert. It’s heroic to push your boundaries – but not to burn yourself out. If “next time” feels too stressful, you’ll avoid it, so try to network in manageable amounts. This requires paying attention to your limits.
So, as you network, keep these tips in mind:
- Monitor your “temperature” frequently. Take a moment to evaluate your stress level. Nervous but excited? Keep going. Buzzing from a tough challenge? Test yourself further. Neck seizing up, feeling like you can’t breathe, or feeling hopeless or overwhelmed? HALT. Retreat. Rest.
- Get some air. Taking a brief break during heavy socializing can help Introverted personalities moderate their social stress levels before they hit critical. You can step outside to call a loved one for morale, get some coffee, or even just grab a few minutes of privacy to check your messages.
- Review afterward. Whenever you finish a networking session, take time to evaluate your energy levels and emotional state. Let this review guide your next networking session. If you had some energy to spare and feel good, go a little harder next time. If you’re wiped out and miserable (exhausted-but-satisfied is fine), take it a little easier next time.
Professional networking can use up Introverts’ social energy quickly, so it’s good to have some quiet, private time to balance things out. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean rest and recreation – it could mean working in solitude for a while. Having some time where other people aren’t asking for your thoughts, words, or attention can rechange you, even as you remain productive.
A Friendly Supporter
Any time we undergo challenges, having someone to talk to can provide great support. A trusted friend or loved one who can lend their ear will help you de-stress, get some perspective, and maintain your personal confidence. Chances are, you will probably already do this naturally, but if not, consider reaching out for a little friendly time to balance out the stresses of networking. Even a simple text can be a low-stress way of seeking this support when you’re burned out on social contact.
Facilitating Tools: To Use for Networking
Your Primary Factor
This is a tool because it’s a motivational symbol. It combines your willpower with your conscious choice to increase your networking activity to better your career. Reminding yourself that you’re serving a higher, self-benefiting purpose can give you a little boost or help you bat aside distracting sideline factors that come up.
A Fresh Look
It might sound silly, but if you can do something to feel good about the way you look, it’ll create a sense of confidence that will help you network.
Maybe this means a new cut and style for your hair, a great-looking pair of shoes, new earrings, or a watch. It might even be a full makeover and new outfit if you can afford it. If you know a super fashionable person, ask for their help. It isn’t superficial to invest in feeling great about yourself, especially if it gives you energy to get out and network.
And, if being a little cheeky gives you energy and confidence, don’t be afraid to let this influence your sense of style. As long as it doesn’t hurt your professional progress, something unusual in the way you look can help you stand out. An oddball lapel pin can be a conversation starter. A hilarious NSFW T-shirt hidden under your otherwise professional clothes might empower you with a sense of inner mirth.
A Treat for Later
Try to deliberately tie your networking efforts to subsequent enjoyable things – beyond simply getting to go home and relax. Our brains are set up to release endorphins when we get what we crave, so bribe yourself to do a great job at networking. After you put in some serious work, reward yourself with something that you really enjoy: ice cream, foot massage, whatever.
You don’t necessarily need to find a networking superstar to get good advice (though that would be great). Anyone with a solid understanding of your professional position, goals, and capabilities can be a sounding board to help you plan, execute, and examine your professional networking activities. It could be a colleague, teacher, or even a wise, worldly friend or family member.
Whoever it is, it’s very important that they:
- have your best interests in mind,
- have a respectable amount of relevant work experience,
- can and will offer you respectful, constructive criticism, and
- give you whatever form of encouragement works best to motivate you.
A Shiny Plaque
This is a metaphor for cheerfully displaying your professional knowledge. There’s always something to talk about, so don’t worry about the potential for an awkward silence. Discuss your work, the state of your industry, your vision for your professional future, an interesting recent article about your field, etc.
This doesn’t mean bragging about your education, status, or past achievements. It’s good to establish your credibility, but some people find aggressive self-promotion irritating, so don’t overdo it. And make sure you show interest in others.
Well, we’ve done a lot of thinking about what’s going on inside you, but now let’s apply your energy outward.
Networking Exercises for Introverts
These are not intended as comprehensive networking instructions, but rather as approachable ways for Introverted personality types to break a pattern of low networking activity and start making progress. It’s important to move forward at a sustainable pace. Push too hard, get burned out, and you might go back to avoiding networking.
We don’t want that.
We want to keep you actively networking, and these exercises are a format. Use whichever works best for you, and feel free to adapt and modify them to serve you better. The goal is to support and motivate you to achieve great results, not limit how you do it.
So, grab your tool kit and let’s go hit the streets.
Exercise #1: Network Online
Just kidding, we’re not going anywhere – yet. Fortunately for Introverts, online opportunities for networking abound, so you can make a basic, initial foray into professional networking from your office or couch:
- Pick a networking app. Spend about 15 minutes searching online reviews, and you’ll find some decent options. (If you already have a profile you’ve been neglecting, feel free to dust it off and revamp it.)
- Make a profile. Be specific about what you wish to accomplish, what you’re looking for, and what you’re willing to offer others. You don’t have to do it all at once, but try to complete your profile within a week.
- Set a schedule. Once your profile is completed, decide on a networking time commitment you can stick to, maybe 30 minutes per week to start. Use this time to network with other professionals through the app. You could do a little every day or occasional longer sessions.
- Stay current. Keep up with reviewing and responding to contact requests and make sure to send a few of your own every week. Watch out for spammers or time vampires.
- Take it further. Remote electronic contact is a comfortable way for Introverted personalities to start networking, but it’s just a beginning. If you find interesting local professionals, arrange a casual meeting. Don’t worry – they’re there to network too, so oblige them.
Which brings us to:
Exercise #2: If You Like It, Put a Handshake on It
If you and another professional hit it off online and think you can benefit each other, why not meet, if possible? This can be anything from a simple chat over coffee to a power lunch full of information exchange, training, or assistance.
Feel free to share your professional knowledge and skills if you can do some good. Not everything is an even trade up front, but you might benefit later from being generous – or you might not. Try to give everyone a chance, but watch out for overtakers or selfish marketers.
When meeting a networking contact, it’s a good idea to practice these guidelines:
- Assess their intent and expectations beforehand and express your own.
- Agree on a time and place that works for both of you (and maybe an end time).
- Be on time and dress appropriately for a business meeting.
- Balance personability with professionalism.
- Build credibility and trust by being polite but direct.
- Have fun and see what develops. Here are a few goals to aim for:
- Discover common ground.
- Discuss exciting ideas for the future.
- Share a few laughs.
- Consider ways to help each other.
Networking doesn’t have to have an immediate or definable outcome to be worthwhile. By networking, you and other professionals are essentially adding each other to your respective contact lists. The benefit of meeting each other in person is that you might achieve prominence on such a list by impressing each other.
There are some pretty cool people out there, and meeting them one by one is a great start for an Introvert. After a while, when you gain some experience at one-on-one networking, you can step up your game.
That’s right – it’s time for:
Exercise #3: OMG, We’re Networking! (a.k.a. Attend a Small Local Event)
For this exercise, we’re staying small and local and setting very attainable goals. You’ll focus on practicing your social skills and making one solid contact with strong future potential. (But don’t stop there if opportunity knocks.)
It could be someone whose field is related to yours or someone who seems like they could mentor you in any aspect of professional success – even networking. Or maybe someone with a bit of professional prestige or local notoriety whom it might simply be “good to know.”
Attending events with peers is supposed to be fun, so act like it is. You can apply a “fake it till you make it” approach to your level of social enthusiasm while still showing who you honestly are. If it takes a little forced energy to draw out your best self, it’s worth it.
We recommend the following steps:
- Prep your treat for afterward. Priorities, right?
- Search online for local, free networking events.
- Pick one that seems suitable to your needs and goals.
- Assess any materials you need to bring (legal pad, laptop, business cards).
- Go to the event.
- Do a little recon of the room for a while to get a bit more comfortable.
- Introduce yourself strategically to a few appealing contacts.
- Adapt and respond as you go and stay in the moment.
- Widen your scope until you make what feels like the most exciting, solid connection possible, given the setting.
- Make a casual, gradual exit.
- That’s it! Unless you got invited to an after-party, go get your “treat for later.”
We advise doing this exercise about every other month, at first. Each time, increase your target goal by one contact. Try to do a little more each time, stretching your comfort zone insistently. Once you get more comfortable mingling and meeting with lots of strangers, you can do it more often and at larger events.
Exercise #4: Tandem Networking
Attending a networking event with a trusted companion can be a great support for Introverted personalities. And if that person is also interested in networking, all the better. All the steps in Exercise #3 apply, plus a few more suggestions:
- Don’t spend all your time together. Practice some independence.
- Offer each other gentle, constructive feedback throughout. Set aside your personal biases and evaluate what’s working for the other person.
- Learn from each other’s approaches. Imitation may or may not be possible, but you can at least draw inspiration.
- Offer frequent and truthful praise and encouragement to each other.
- Consider a shared treat afterward.
The buddy system can make networking a lot more appealing for Introverts, but a lot of the benefits depend on whom you bring with you, so choose wisely.
Exercise #5: Ninja Networking
In this exercise, you can use the basic steps of Exercise #3, but instead of attending a networking event, you’ll take your networking skills to events formatted around another activity or goal.
This can relieve some of the pressure of overt networking but also requires some care. It’s important not to appear to be opportunistic and to sincerely connect with the main activities as well as make contacts.
This is the beauty of ninja networking – you’re there to share in something beneficial and/or enjoyable, and you just slip the networking in from the shadows, like a ninja. An oblique approach can be easier than a frontal assault. Ah, ninjas – the ultimate Introverts.
Here are some possible settings for ninja networking:
- community college adult learning classes
- professional training, job-related or not
- CPR/first aid classes
- workplace ergonomics or job safety training
- HR workshops
- software or equipment training classes
These kinds of classes may be available through your local schools, government agencies, or even within your own company (which counts as “internal networking”).
Another option to consider is a marketing seminar for a product or service. Let some other company gather worthy professionals together and try to sell them something, while you “ninja” in and network. An easy conversation starter is to discuss whatever’s being marketed and how it relates to your and others’ fields.
When ninja networking, some special steps may be in order:
- Respect the setting and apply your networking skills subtly.
- Use the subject of the event to create commonality with other attendees.
- Try to interface with the event hosts or trainers – they’re potential contacts too.
- Take advantage of whatever is being offered. The whole experience could be a future networking talking point: “Have you ever been to that _____ seminar?”
Ninja networking can also be done at social events or perhaps events related to a hobby or recreational pursuit, either by yourself or with a partner. Practice introducing yourself, starting and maintaining conversations with strangers, and generally getting more comfortable with social exposure more than professional self-promotion.
Don’t hesitate to talk about your work, however, if you find yourself in a two-way conversation about careers.
Exercise #6: Sudden Contact!
Imagine you’re standing in line at the grocery store. You’re not networking – you’re on your own private, Introvert time. But based on their phone conversation, you realize that the person in front of you is professionally interesting…and possibly a great contact.
Maybe it’s not the grocery store. Maybe they’re sitting next to you in a service station lobby, waiting for their oil to get changed.
Potential networking contacts can be all around you if you pay attention. Reaching out and making a connection can be difficult, especially if people are on their personal time, but it’s sometimes worth a shot. Muster your willpower and try to strike up a conversation. Be mindful of the fact that you may not get much time, and try to keep things brief:
- Open with something light and humorous, and if possible, relevant to the moment or situation you’re both in.
- Ask about any professional connection you may share.
- Pay close attention to their reaction. It will likely take them a moment to warm to the idea of conversing with a stranger. It’s okay to bail if needed.
- If they seem open to chatting, try to find out more about their work.
- Mention your work in a way that might be interesting to them.
- Seek and mention any areas of professional overlap.
- Look for a solid justification to exchange info before suggesting it.
- However it goes, close things quickly and let them be on their way.
The above type of spontaneous networking may seem very intimidating to Introverted personalities because it entails voluntarily stepping out of your own private space and into someone else’s.
It can be a bit of a risk to approach a stranger outside of a social environment, but it’s not socially inappropriate if you’re friendly and polite. And the payoff might be discovering your next dream boss, superstar employee, or brilliant business partner. So, take those occasional long shots.
Keep in mind that even if it goes nowhere, all you’ve done is offer a few pleasantries to someone. That’s a nice thing.
Maintenance Is Critical
If you use the above exercises, you’re making great strides. Keep a calendar of your activities so you can see all you’ve accomplished. Maintaining consistent effort is key in networking because it’s about being present when opportunity reveals itself.
But you must also maintain yourself. Use that stress thermometer often. Get some solo time when you need it. And try to give your personal life and relationships enough time and energy. Introverts can only handle so much social contact before they want to retreat, and as important as your career is, it’s only a part of your life.
Self-care is not self-indulgence – it’s proper maintenance, like checking your car’s oil. So, while you’re bravely striding through the world of professional networking, pay attention to your work-life balance as well.
Parting Inspiration: Are You Worried You’re Not Charming?
What is charm? Is it being witty? Is it expressing empathy? Is it being vibrant and compelling? Is it being confident?
The idea of being “charming” can feel distant to many Introverts who think it means being outgoing.
But ask yourself this: Are any of the above qualities less valid if they’re…quieter? Could your Introverted nature be charming in its own right? We think so. Consider these points:
- One brilliant, well-timed joke from an unexpected source may hit a lot harder than continual jesting from a predictable one. Reserved people often create great impact when they express their wit in contrast to their typically quieter manner.
- An empathetic manner may seem insincere when it’s offered to absolutely everyone in the room. Attention may warm people more deeply when it’s given selectively, and Introverted personality types excel at this way of making people feel valued.
- Knowledge and passion for your work can be extremely compelling to other professionals, and with their introspective nature, Introverts are often vibrant in this way. Social ability has its place in the world of networking, but professional acumen does too.
- Quiet confidence is a thing. Sometimes, the most self-assured people don’t need to seek a lot of attention. Many of the people you’re trying to network with are Introverts themselves. In each other’s company, you may feel empowered without being boisterous.
These are just a few of the ways Introversion can be a strength when trying to connect with people. As you network, you’ll find your own strengths and how they can support your goals.
Should you push yourself to be more outgoing and social when networking? Probably, in the sense that networking is itself a social activity. But once you get in a room with other professionals, it’ll be your innate qualities that impress the most, including your personality traits.
You got this far as an Introvert, and you’ll go further as one too. Go get ’em!