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Networking for the Introvert

by Yvona Fast

What is Networking?

Most of us aren't aware of it, but we network every day. Networking is part of how we make decisions—from what movies to see to what doctor to choose. You talk to people, gather information and opinions, and work their comments into your own decisions. When it comes to selecting a career, the information you collect about the job, career field, and working environment helps you to make sound choices.

Networking involves interactions and exchanges of information with others. By sharing information and resources, we develop supportive relationships. But building relationships takes time, and it is difficult for folks who don't mix well at parties or other social events.

The networking needed to make contacts can be daunting for introverts, who tend to be quiet, shy, and reserved. But even if you're not the life of the party and feel tense or anxious in large social gatherings, there are strategies you can master to make contacts.

For example, one college professor has found that, rather than attending cocktail parties and receptions with his colleagues, he's better off getting a good nights sleep in order to recover from the numerous impressions and interactions of the day. Instead, he prepares some well-thought-out questions, and discusses these with people during the breaks to network at these conventions. He also sends articles and information to colleagues when he finds something that might interest them. In that way, he maintains positive contacts and develops professional relationships in a non-stressful way.

As the above example shows, if you're not comfortable in large social gatherings, it's OK. Be creative in your approach and think of ways to network. Talk with everyone you know: friends, relatives, aunts and uncles. Tell them your situation, discuss the roadblocks you face, and brainstorm ideas on whether and how they can be overcome.

Some Networking Ideas

There are many ways to meet people—churches and synagogues, alumni groups, sports clubs and other interest groups, from a book club to a chess club. Because other job seekers don't dominate these groups, they have a definite advantage in making contacts that help in your job search.

If you have areas of special interest, join clubs that share them, such as cooking, community chorus, or social service projects. Talk with the people you meet in these activities, and ask how they use their skills on the job.

Also sign up for classes in subjects that interest you. Ask the teacher about possible job opportunities using these skills. Find out how others in the class plan to utilize what they learn.

Often, local career centers sponsor workshops or groups where people looking for work or changing careers meet with others to motivate each other, think through career decisions, build contacts, and generate job leads.

When meeting new people, focus on building mutual relationships rather than obtaining information or getting job leads. Think of what you have to give, and how you help others. Don't concentrate on what you know or whom you know. Instead, think about who knows you, and what they know about you.

Find someone who likes you, who thinks you're interesting and fun to be around. Ask him or her to make a list that will remind you why you're popular, which helps you feel less self-conscious when you're out with the group. When you're about to venture out to a meeting, reception, or other event, look at the list and remind yourself that, even though public connections are not your favorite game, you have lots to offer people.

E-mail lists are another way to make friends and contacts without face-to-face interaction. Join mail and e-mail lists and groups that reflect your interests, and talk to people there. This is an effective way to make contacts, without the stress, as well as an opportunity to learn from others. Offer answers and help to others in the group. They'll remember you when their boss is hiring.

Find a professional society that's related to your field, and go to a meeting of the local chapter. Before going to the event, jot down some topics that might come up and prepare a list of questions or a script. Once there, scope things out. Come with a business card and hand it out. Select one or two people to talk with, and bring up your scripted topics.

Make a list of people you know in your profession or the field that interests you. Include their contact information—address, phone, and e-mail. Go through these cards from time to time. Once a month, or once a week, call someone on you list. Have questions ready you want to ask. If possible, set up a lunch date. Keep a file of the people you've contacted, dates, and what you discussed.

As you talk to people, discuss both the qualities you bring to an employment setting and the obstacles you expect to encounter.

Consider a networking coach to help you polish these skills and build a group of talented people with whom to think and grow. Many companies offer virtual online networking as an essential professional activity. Do an Internet search for "corporate relationship builders." There are companies that teach entrepreneurs, executives and other corporate leaders how to connect effectively.

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