As an introvert, I dread even the word networking. I am not a shy person but I don’t like to talk about the weather, I can rarely think of an answer to the question “what’s new?” and I hate feeling like I don’t belong and everyone else in the room is having a great conversation. I’ve often felt like everyone was good at networking, except me.
I’m not alone. Many people, introverts and extroverts alike, don’t like networking, they think of it as going to an awkward event where you see how many people you can “chat with” (aka sell yourself to) and how many email addresses or business cards you can collect. However, humans are social beings. We support and learn from each other and building relationships can be as essential as food and shelter.
So how can expanding your network be less painful so that you can get on to building relationships? Here are 10 things that have worked for me:
- Examine Your Mindset – if you think that networking is merely small talk and people trying to sell you on something, then that is what it is going to be. Try looking at networking as an opportunity to meet some new people and to learn something interesting.
- Find Something That Interests You – don’t go to a networking session for the sake of going. Find a presentation that is of interest or go to a club or organization meeting that you are interested in. Having something in common with the people at the event will assist in the initial conversations.
- There Are Lots of Fish In The Sea – not everyone you meet is going to be a person that you build a relationship with. I know I sound like I am writing for an Internet dating site but the adage is true. You are not going to build a relationship with every person you meet – and that is okay.
- Don’t Go To Networking Events – try setting up one on one conversations or informational interviews through a site like Ten Thousand Coffees or U of T Career Centre’s Informational Interview Database.
- Try Mentorship – there are over 50 mentorship programs across campus and you can find a listing of them in the Mentorship Database. A mentor can help you work toward your goals and expands your network.
- Say It In Writing – follow topics that interest you on social media, share your insight and when you feel comfortable introduce yourself. Again, there are lots of fish in the sea, sometimes this will lead to a new contact and other times it won’t.
- Make Learning Your Goal – try to think about what you want to learn from other people as opposed to what you can offer them. Be curious about people and genuinely learn from your interactions. When you focus on learning versus selling a lot of the icky-ness can fade away.
- Prepare – as much as learning is your goal don’t go into any situation expecting others to do all of the work. Have a couple of questions prepared ahead of time so that you know what you want to learn about people. Also, be prepared to answer your own questions so that you can participate in a two way conversation
- Have a Goal and an Exit Plan – if you find yourself going into a networking session set an achievable goal for yourself such as, “I will talk to one person I don’t know and learn about what they are most excited about.” After you’ve achieved your goal give yourself permission to leave. You can actually leave at any time and just knowing that you can always leave may help you work toward your goal.
- Be Nice To Yourself – congratulate yourself for taking any step toward expanding your network. You don’t have to be perfect, you are your harshest critic, so show yourself some compassion and know that only you can decide how far outside your comfort zone you want to push yourself.