Over the past few years, the pandemic has forced us to move online. We didn’t need to - nor were we allowed to - attend in-person events, operating fully in cyberspace. It drove some of us crazy, while others flourished, being under no obligation to go out and meet people.
Now that the situation is more-less under control once again, we are gradually required to leave the comfort zone of our virtual environment and communicate with actual words rather than emojis and GIFs. We can see how certain individuals might find that transition difficult.
Regardless of whether you are a born introvert, or have been turned into one by the long months spent at home, talking to floating heads on your computer screen, know that we understand you. It is completely normal to not feel comfortable with being out there, surrounded by people and making small talk with strangers.
Sadly, networking requires us to take all of the steps mentioned above, which may fill some with anxiety. Don’t worry if you’re dreading attending public events in person once again, or even if the mere thought of connecting with someone you don’t know on LinkedIn increases your heart rate.
At Europe Language Jobs, we cherish diversity and know that the world without introverts just wouldn’t be the same. So, rather than keep repeating how important networking is for your career, we have taken a step further to provide you with networking strategies for introverts.
Data taken from research by 16 Personalities depicted on the World Personality Map.
Ready? Let’s go!
We sometimes perceive extroverts as though they are a different species. And in a way, they are. But we’re not like sheep and wolves - one species ruling the food chain and the other having to be frightened by it. It’s more similar to sheep and bunnies; we are very different, but one won’t harm the other. And we can actually even cooperate.
Introverts hate small talk. That’s just who we are. We struggle to hold a conversation for too long, especially if we don’t know the person we’re having it with very well. Unfortunately, at least some small talk is required to form a network.
But if you pair up with an extrovert - bam! You don’t have to worry about being the conversation leader anymore. They will be more than happy to keep the exchange going. And if there’s anything most introverts are good at, it’s listening.
So, whenever you attend any sort of networking event, don’t be afraid to engage in a discussion. The people who will go around trying to chat you up will either be extroverts, or introverts trying very hard to step out of their comfort zone.
In the first case, the conversation will lead itself. In the second, you won’t have to feel awkward when you recognise a fellow introvert. In both situations, you can learn something interesting and gain valuable contacts, so there’s really nothing to lose, and a lot you can gain.
There is nothing wrong with needing moral support. Stepping out of your comfort zone having someone hold your hand is much better than never leaving it at all. And if you feel that finding this someone to draw strength from is exactly what you need, then that is what you should do.
Ask someone you feel comfortable around to accompany you to a networking event. It will be beneficial for the both of you, as getting out there and gaining new contacts has never hurt anyone yet - quite the contrary, you will both leave the event richer by useful connections.
You will especially value someone’s comforting presence by your side at the very beginning, when the first impression of the event overwhelms you a little. The more time you spend there, the more you will get used to the situation and open up.
What’s important is not to let your networking buddy keep you from talking to other people. When we bring someone we know to a place where everyone else is a stranger, we tend to form a protective bubble around that one person - especially if introversion is one of our traits. However, the ultimate goal is to let your networking buddy provide support and help you step out of your comfort zone, rather than keep you locked in it. Remember that.
Planning ahead is probably something you’re familiar with if you’re an introvert. Many times, we wish we would have planned entire conversations ahead (boy, wouldn’t that help us avoid many awkward stretches of silence or saying things we didn’t particularly think through before voicing them). While mapping out an entire exchange may not be possible, you can attend a networking event armed with little icebreakers.
In the comfort of your own home, when you are relaxed and have lots of time to think, come up with ways to chat somebody up. Here are some examples:
Starting a discussion is already a huge step, but it’s also just half of the success - we need to keep it going somehow. For that reason, once you’re done with conversation starters, come up with a list of questions you wish to ask your potential contacts.
You don’t have to ask them all - don’t make a casual chat sound like an investigation or worse, a job interview - but it’s nice to have a backup in turn the conversation doesn’t flow naturally. Here are a few suggestions you can draw inspiration from:
How long have you worked at your current company?
Who do you recommend I should connect with here?
What is the most challenging aspect of your profession?
Is it difficult to get into the industry you work in?
If you could have any position at any company in the world, what would it be?
What would you say are the most important skills in your job?
Are you working on any projects right now?
Did you always know you wanted to work in x?
Was your degree directly related to what you’re currently doing?
What do you enjoy doing after work?
Do you appreciate the work culture in your company?
If you could go back in time, would you have chosen a different profession?
Who is your role model?
Where do you see yourself in x years?
What are your long-term career goals?
What part of your work brings you the most satisfaction?
Have you recently completed any interesting professional courses?
One thing that many of us introverts have in common is that we prefer to be prepared. And what better way to prepare than to attend a similar event before within the safety zone of not being an actual participant?
Big events usually hire volunteers to help with the organisation and make sure everything runs smoothly. If you are planning to attend as a professional one day, but are feeling anxious about what it might actually look like, sign up as a volunteer. You will be busy completing the tasks assigned to you, yes, as there’s usually a lot happening at such events, but you will still have an insight into what to expect when you eventually take part in one as a participant.
Being a volunteer comes with the advantage of passing by unseen - at least by the event’s attendees. Sad as it sounds, that is your role, after all - to be helpful without stepping on anyone’s toes. The only people paying attention to you will be other volunteers and the supervisors. And while this may appear unappealing to those who enjoy the spotlight, an introvert won’t be too disappointed with a chance to become virtually invisible. To be able to observe from the outside, without having anyone stare back.
If volunteering isn't quite your cup of tea, there is still another way to prepare yourself beforehand. Come early and use the time before everyone else arrives to familiarise yourself with the venue. Entering a building that is already full of people and buzzing with noise can result in a sensory overload. You will find it much easier to ease into the networking atmosphere if you are one of the first to come and take your time to get to know your surroundings first, and then the people. Success is always achieved by taking one step at a time.
If you absolutely cannot stand the thought of attending a networking event with hundreds of participants to the point where just imagining it makes you nauseous, don’t do it. Expanding your comfort bubble is crucial, but it won’t do you any good if you pop it altogether and panic. Maybe you’re just not ready - that’s okay, too.
In that case, there are plenty of other ways for you to expand your network. While some are moving back into the real world after the pandemic, others choose to remain in cyberspace. There are thousands of opportunities for online networking.
It is very common to be more open on the Internet than in everyday life. And that doesn’t only concern introverts - everyone feels just a little bit safer online than in real life. Make sure to be active on your social media, promote your work, and engage with others’. Write comments, share posts, reach out to other web users who do similar things, or who could potentially help you reach a wider audience and climb the career ladder.
Nourish the contacts you already have to ensure you don’t lose them. Ask your network for suggestions - they will be more than happy to advise you on who you can connect with next. You’re not on your own: the point of networking is to create collaborations and partnerships, after all.
If you feel anxious asking someone for help, try to reverse the situation. Would you mind helping out someone you know? Sharing tips such as interesting profiles to follow, sites to visit, resources to draw inspiration from? You’ll probably be happy to share your knowledge with an industry friend - so why would they feel any other way about helping you? Of course, we don’t mean selling out your biggest secrets to direct competition, but a little piece of advice here and there won’t hurt, and it can get you a long way.
While many guides sharing networking tips for introverts will make it seem as though you will basically transform into an extrovert if you follow their guidance, that is simply not true. You will continue being an introvert, and you will still pause and take a deep breath before you initiate a conversation with someone.
What’s important to remember is that there is no need for you to change, in the first place.
Be who you are, because nobody has ever tried to be someone else and succeeded. That is not the point. Being an introvert is not pejorative. We are great listeners, good planners, we are creative and incredibly observant and attentive. And heck if those are not the top qualities employers look for in workers.
So, no, following the steps explained in this guide for networking introverts will not immediately transform you into a social butterfly. But it will make it easier for you to start conversations, make connections, and open up to people. Stepping out of your comfort zone is incredibly important, and it is something we all should constantly do - introverts or not. But at the same time, we need to remain true to who we are, stop comparing ourselves to others, and keep going at our own tempo.
We all sometimes feel that the world was actually built for extroverts. That, however, might be just the result of yet another one of our superpowers - overthinking. Stop thinking about how your introverted nature makes your life harder, and focus on your strengths: because we do have a lot of them.
The fact that you are here, reading this, already means that you are willing to take steps leading out of your comfort zone. Don’t rush into anything you’re not ready for - as we kept emphasising in the article, step by step, we will get there. Everyone at their own pace, but hey, it’s not a race.
Do you have any other networking tips for introverts? Tricks that always work for you? We know sharing our thoughts is not a quality we introverts are known for, but let’s consider it an attempt at networking. Opening up is the first step forward!