Make connections while staying true to yourself.
The word “networking” conjures up an array of emotions in people—from zealous anticipation to downright dread. Marty Nemko, career coach, author and regular contributor to Time.com and PsychologyToday.com, explains why reactions to this staple of career management vary so widely: “People who are introverts draw their energy from within themselves, and extroverts get energy from other people.”
That means some of us feel depleted by the kind of interaction networking requires while others thrive in its midst. Whichever way you lean, you can make the most of it while staying true to your personal style.
Calling all extroverts
If you’re an extrovert, networking is like hitting the jackpot because you are working within your element.
“You are meant for this world,” Nemko says of the social nature of networking events. “Extroverts have a natural proclivity to be good at it.”
He advises you to maximize the benefits of networking by focusing on volume. “Get to as many events as possible where the people most likely to help you are likely to be present in quantity.”
Identify opportunities to mingle with your intended contacts, such as conferences, conventions and classes. Since extroverts are energized by social interaction, Nemko suggests you “come a little early and stay a little late” so you can have as much face time as possible with others at these events.
It’s important to be careful not to be seen as self-serving, though, while shaking hands and handing out business cards. Joe Sweeney, executive coach, speaker and author of The New York Times bestseller Networking Is a Contact Sport, has advice for all networkers, regardless of their natural inclinations.He explains, “Really great networking is an opportunity to give and serve and not get.”
Nemko agrees. “You can’t just talk about yourself or you’ll be seen as narcissistic, someone who is only interested in getting for himself,” he says. “You can’t do that. It’s socially unacceptable.”
Instead, focus on connecting people with each other so your new contacts will remember you for the right reasons and associate you with something positive.
And for the introverts in the room
Introverts can be as effective at networking as their extrovert counterparts. It just might take a little more effort. “The key difference is that introverts have to work harder to get outside their comfort zone,” explains Sweeney.
His service-based networking approach that helps extroverts exude sincerity benefits introverts, too, by helping take the spotlight off themselves. “If you can reframe a networking event as a place where you go to give and serve, you will lose the pit in your stomach,” he says.
How? He recommends pretending you’re the host of the gathering, which turns your focus on introducing people to each other. “You start connecting people and all of a sudden, networking becomes fun,” he says.
This tactic relies on something many introverts are naturally good at: listening. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of chatting about yourself with strangers, “ask questions instead of having to be the talker,” suggests Nemko. “Look for the opportunity to be a good listener—offer advice and help [someone] with a problem to take the attention off yourself.”Since you may find social events draining, Nemko advises you to do the opposite of what extroverts do. Instead of spending as much time there as possible, “come late and leave early,” he says. “Make an appearance.” Knowing you have your departure planned helps take some of the pressure off so you can use your energy making connections, instead.
But if the thought of another face-to-face event is too much to bear, you can thank technology for giving you other options. Online networking is a legitimate and efficient way to connect with other professionals. It can be as simple as sending an email to your contacts, congratulating them on an award or letting them know you enjoyed an article they published.
You also can participate in forums on professional networking sites like LinkedIn® or through a blog of your own. Posting insightful comments on articles and within discussions can help get your name out there and boost your credibility.
“The larger way to network online is through forums and the smaller way is through email exchange,” says Nemko. The best part for many introverts? It can all be done without leaving your home or office.
In the end, networking is all about the mutually beneficial connections you make, regardless of whether you fall into the introvert or extrovert camp. Says Sweeney, “The whole purpose of networking is really to magnify those human relationships.”