Networking is an essential part of moving your career forward, but while making interpersonal connections comes naturally for some, it can be an uncomfortable prospect for others.
There’s nothing wrong with being shy, but it doesn’t mean networking is any less important to your career success. Fortunately, there’s no reason you can’t network just as effectively as someone who is more outgoing – you just might have to take a different approach.
For shy or reserved people who are looking for ways to grow their professional network, here are some useful tips.
Start close to home
The biggest professional network isn’t always the best. A strong core network of people you’re close to is easier to maintain, particularly for shier people. That’s why Mary Massad, division president of recruiting services at Insperity, suggests a quality-over-quantity approach.
You “should make an effort to further develop existing relationships or reconnect with former contacts,” Massad says. “A few strong contacts who are invested in an associate’s professional growth can provide valuable counsel for tough career decisions and serve as references or advocates during a job search.”
Choose events carefully
While a strong core network is important, meeting new people is still a crucial aspect of successful networking. And while networking events may not typically be the type of thing more reserved people would get excited about, that isn’t necessarily always the case.
“Go to events where you will have something in common with other attendees,” suggests Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of Call to Career. “Professional association meetings are great networking events, and if you attend a meeting where a topic is being discussed that is of great interest to you, it will be far easier for you to network there. You can strike up a conversation with the other attendees about the topic of the meeting. This eliminates a lot of the awkwardness of trying to drum up a conversation just for the sake of networking.”
Have a plan
An upcoming networking event can easily become something to dread. Rather than expending mental energy worrying about what makes you uncomfortable about these events, channel that energy into setting clear goals for the event and strategising how you’ll achieve them.
“For example, you might set a goal for yourself to connect with four people during the event. Your objective is to find people in your field who can refer you to other people in your profession who are thought leaders,” Palmer says. “Once you have identified your goals, you can then think of the best way to approach people to solicit their help. And of course in the spirit of networking, you need to be ready to help others as well.”
Networking events are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building and maintaining a professional network. This is good news for shy people, since events where the main purpose is to simply make connections can seem a little unnatural.
Jodi Berkshire, assistant director of career services at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in the U.S., suggests that a more organic way to grow your network is to volunteer. “If you care about a particular cause, offer your time or services. It's a great way to meet like-minded people, and volunteers as well as organisers are generally supportive of those within their ranks,” says Berkshire. “Once you've demonstrated your commitment and usefulness, most fellow volunteers are more than happy to provide introductions and even recommendations. It's a great way to show what you can do, feel good about doing it, and gain a helpful group of admirers and supporters.”
Volunteering can also include joining a committee or similar organisations. “Most professional associations are begging for people to become committee members,” Palmer says. “By volunteering for this role, you will meet movers and shakers in the organisation. As you share ideas in meetings, you will be able to present yourself as a knowledgeable professional and start to build relationships with the other committee members.”
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