For many introverts, one of the most stressful and nerve-wracking parts of looking for a job or advancing their career is networking. The very core of what networking is — introducing yourself to strangers and striking up a conversation about your respective careers — sounds more like a nightmare than a potential means to land a dream job.
To be fair, every networking scenario doesn't include a room full of people and awkward face-to-face small talk. Email and social media have made connecting with other professionals easier than ever, especially for introverted individuals. But eventually, those digital exchanges might turn into coffee meetings or job interviews (or at least a phone call), so it's good to be prepared when you're planning your networking strategies.
Whether you're sending a LinkedIn message or braving the crowds at an industry event, here are a few helpful hints for introverts who want to expand their professional circle of contacts. [7 Networking Tips for Job Seekers]
Join an online professional group in your industry. A great first step to finding like-minded professional contacts is by joining industry groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. Kerry Hannon, job expert for AARP and author of "Love Your Job: The New Rules of Career Happiness" (Wiley, forthcoming 2015), advised getting involved in easy ways, like sharing links and commenting on threads.
Let your social profiles speak for you. If you don't like to make the first move in networking, at least make it easy for recruiters and potential contacts to find you. Use Twitter to share more about your passion for your work, and use LinkedIn to list concrete skills you might not have room for on your resume, said Dan Finnigan, CEO of recruiting software company Jobvite.
Plan ahead. It's a good idea for introverts to prepare for their networking events. Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and author of "Poised for Success: Mastering The Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals" (St. Martin's Press, 2011), suggested thinking of some good icebreakers, such as open-ended questions that can spur conversation. For instance, you could ask, "What's your favorite part of your job?" Whitmore also recommended setting a departure time for yourself to make the situation less intimidating.
Set realistic goals for yourself. If you're not a natural social butterfly, it's unreasonable to expect that you'll introduce yourself to 10 or 15 new people at a networking event. Hannon recommended setting goals before you go, such as meeting three new contacts and getting their information.
Ask for advice. A good networking technique is to ask a new contact to educate you, Hannon said. People love to give advice, so ask them if you can pick their brains about their job or industry, or if they can offer advice on your current career situation.
Be inquisitive. Introverts are usually great listeners, which puts them at a distinct advantage at networking events. Asking questions and giving thoughtful, engaged responses often help introverts stand out as people who value others, which can give event attendees more of a reason to remember them, Whitmore said.
Be willing to talk about yourself, too. Whitmore said that asking multiple questions without ever sharing any information about yourself can make people feel as if they're being interrogated. Conversations should be a two-way street. She advised introverts to share personal information about themselves as a way to help others remember them once the event is over.
Don't forget about mutual contacts. If there's a specific person you want to meet at an event, find a common connection and see if he or she can introduce you, Whitmore said. The mutual contact rule works especially well on social media, too: The friends you're connected with might be part of a network with a job opening that's a fit for you. Finnigan cited Jobvite's Social Recruiting Survey, which found that 60 percent of employers find the best candidates through referrals.
Follow up. Once you've met someone and had a meaningful conversation, be sure to follow up after the event, Hannon said. Connect with them on LinkedIn or send them a quick email, saying that you enjoyed meeting them and would love to stay in touch or meet up in the future.
Look for everyday opportunities. Common, everyday situations can be great networking opportunities. Whitmore's advice to introverts is to casually socialize with colleagues around the office or invite a different co-worker to lunch each week to practice your networking skills and perhaps even open a door or two for your career.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks, Business News Daily senior writer.
Originally published Aug. 1, 2014. Updated Jan. 15, 2015.