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?