This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase something using my links, I receive a small commission. You can click here to read my disclosure policy ? Thank you!
Three Tips for Networking Success
Networking: for many people, the bane of their existence. This is even more pronounced for introverts like myself. Even if your job mostly involves working behind a computer, you probably had to do some networking, at the very least in the form of the interview, to get your job.
Especially nowadays, when getting a job partially lies on who you know, networking is increasingly necessary. No longer can you just hope to get promotions based on the quality of your work. You’re going to have to come out of your cube and talk to people!
In my line of work, which combines finance with politics, networking is a necessary evil. As much as I don’t like it, because I’m shy, I know I have to do it. I still remember two Decembers ago, my first Christmas/holiday-time at my job, when I told my co-worker I probably wasn’t going to the organization’s holiday party. She told me something I’ve kept in mind ever since: “You really should go to the holiday party. I know going to it can be overwhelming, but you absolutely have to show your face. You need for (head honcho boss guy) to see you there. You don’t have to talk to him, but make sure he sees you.”
Lo and behold, she was right! Our boss saw me and gave me a head nod, and after a little more small talk, I left with my coworker to go back to work. A few days later, our boss stopped by my desk (which was unheard of) and assigned me some pretty significant work.
Now, was this all because he saw me at a holiday party? Maybe not. I occasionally got face time with this boss for other projects I worked on, but did going to the party show I was a team player? Absolutely. I might not have enjoyed it a whole lot, but it was effective in that I ran into our boss and other coworkers who I hadn’t seen in a while.
That said, if this introvert can survive going to networking events, so can you. Here are my top three tips for surviving networking events as an introvert (and even for extroverts!):
Give Yourself a Goal
This is an awesome tactic courtesy of Susan Cain’s brilliant book, Quiet. Before you go to a networking event, set a goal for yourself to accomplish while at the event. It can be a really small goal: make one good connection, collect (and hand out) 5 business cards, present a perfect elevator speech to one person. Once you’ve accomplished that goal, give yourself permission to leave. At the very last networking event I attended, I made the goal that I would make one significant contact, someone who worked in my line of business and someone I clicked with. The event I attended was a day-long conference, and by the afternoon, I had hit it off with a lady close to my age who worked in a different city, but doing the same work I did. I emailed her once I got back to the office, and now I have a great connection in another city, should I need it.
Role Play Scenarios, Including Worst Case Scenarios
Ever the optimist, I like to role-play worst case scenarios first. I pump myself up by saying, ‘what’s the worst that could happen? He refuses to take your card? He makes rude comments about your line of work/your boss/politics in your organization?’ Luckily, I’ve already encountered people who have made derogatory comments about my line of work or the work I do (personally and not personally), so I can role-play this pretty effectively.
You can also prepare for potential questions ahead of time. “What do you do? What brought you to (this city)? How did you decide on that job?” are fairly standard questions asked at networking events. You can prepare by having a short answer prepared. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m not prepared for the ‘what do you do?’ question, I tend to ramble, which makes the person’s eyes glaze over. That’s not what you want to do at a networking event, so prepare ahead of time. “I work in marketing, where I generate ideas for our clients in order to enhance their social media presence. For example, I worked on a project for (x) company, where we made this cool video that increased social media participation by (x) percent.” This answer gives the person you’re speaking to a little information on what you do, plus piques their interest in the companies/clients you’ve worked with. You can then divert the question back to them, by asking what they do, while having answered their question and highlighted your accomplishments all at once.
The Rule of Three
Also from Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, the rule of 3 says that you should try to find a group of 3 people standing around: 2 is too small, and you run the risk of the people being old friends and resenting your intrusion. 4 or more is a lot of people to introduce yourself to and, for introverts always looking for an escape route, it’s usually more embarrassing to say goodbye to 4 or more people versus 3.
The thing I like the most about the rule of 3 is that someone in that group is ‘new’, and has likely just been introduced. In a group of three, you can make deeper connections because there are fewer conversations to pay attention to – just 1 or 2. In a group of 3, if you connect with someone, you can feel free to have a 1-on-1 conversation with that person and not have to include the other 2, because they have each other to talk to.
If you’re an extrovert, you might be thinking, ‘wow, Melissa put a lot of effort into just thinking about networking. It’s not that bad.’ You’re right, networking isn’t that bad. However, for introverts, the hardest part is getting yourself to the event and working up the courage to approach someone. Once the conversation begins, it’s really never as bad as you thought it would be. Heck, I actually enjoy myself sometimes at networking events, and the rewards of successfully making a contact are terrific.
However, networking is a skill, and to be good at networking, you have to practice. Having a goal, practicing ahead of time, and using tricks to your advantage are all great ways to prepare for the necessary evil of networking. I’m not saying introverts will suddenly turn into extroverts and embrace all networking events, but they can be more enjoyable than they may be right now. To my fellow introverts: good luck, and you can do it!
Are you an introvert and, if so, what strategies do you use to network effectively? For the extroverts, do you have any tips to share for networking success?
I am an introvert who is really good at faking it! I have a lot of trouble striking up conversations with people and my social skills have gotten even worse since I started working at home =/
You and me both are good at being ‘fake extroverts’! Susan Cain talks about fake extroverts in her book too, and I was like, that describes me exactly! Striking up conversations is definitely difficult when you’re out – unless you’re at an event (like FinCon, or a work event), it’s hard to just be like, ‘So… how’s the weather?’ Although actually, where I live, everyone likes talking (or complaining) about the weather, so actually that’s not a bad topic. I read online somewhere that asking people ‘do you have any plans for the fall?’ (or whatever season is coming up) is a good conversation starter, because it’s very open-ended. Not a bad idea! 🙂
I am also an introvert, and if I let myself could probably become a shut in. I have to force myself to talk to new people and join in on conversations. I also have to try to remember to smile and not look like a scared rabbit! LOL It’s not easy but I am getting better at it.
Your tips are great, I had never heard of the Rule of Three before but I’ll have to give that a try. I also put the book mentioned on my “must read list”. Thanks for the great info!
I’m glad you found it useful! Setting goals and the rule of 3 has helped me out so much. I didn’t really think of how I approached people as an introvert before reading Quiet, but since reading it, I’m more aware of how I approach people (and I’m really aware of groups of 3! I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when I see a group of 3 people chatting :)) It’s always a good idea to get out and network no matter what industry you’re in, but if you’re looking to start a business or be a freelancer, I could imagine networking is even more important.
This is great advice; I’ve been meaning to read “Quiet”! I am seriously shy, and I hate going up to random people at events. Like Holly, sometimes I can fake it, but it’s easier for me to withdraw. Setting a simple goal seems to be a great solution, and I can see why a group of 3 is ideal. I’ll have to remember that!
Quiet is such a good book – if you’re an introvert, it’s definitely a must read! It was pretty eye-opening for me, but mostly it was like, ‘oh yeah, that is TOTALLY me!’ I like how she backed up all of her stories and anecdotes with facts and science too – it was like, I’m not just an outlier! Science confirms me! 🙂 And yes, setting a goal has made networking so much easier. I’m a type A, and I feel like if I’m not making big progress, I’m a failure. Committing to, and completing, a goal makes it so much easier to handle. 🙂
NZ Muse says
Ughhh, networking really IS that bad! For me the age of social media has helped so much (but I work in that area, it probably won’t help much if you’re in a more traditional industry).
Yeah, I’m still not a huge fan of networking, but it’s definitely something I have to do. I work in a pretty traditional industry, where who you know helps you get a job. Necessary evil!
Great advice. Networking events are always a nightmare for me.
Thank you! Yeah, they are definitely not my favorite thing to do. Unfortunately, I have to do a lot of them… it’s taken a lot of practice to get decent!
Networking is hard. I also try to find someone that looks uncomfortable, alone or lost and try to introduce them to others if I have the opportunity. People appreciate it and you never know who you might meet.
That’s a really great recommendation too! I use that a lot if I can’t find a group of three. After all, there has to be at least one other person who dislikes networking, so why not find them and bond over that? 🙂