Network, network, network: It's the most common advice job seekers hear. And it's good advice–in a recent HotJobs poll, 58 percent of respondents said that networking had helped them land their most recent job.
But for people who aren’t naturally outgoing, the very idea of networking can cause a lot of anxiety. Many of us dread “schmoozing” with large groups of people.
The good news for those people is that networking isn’t just about working a crowd. In fact, introverts have some qualities that work to their advantage.
“Introverts are usually excellent listeners. They reflect before speaking, and they enjoy one-on-one conversations,” says Janet Civitelli, a workplace psychologist and the owner of career advice site VocationVillage.com.
In fact, networking is about building relationships, and that can be done one-on-one, in groups, or online via social networking.
Networking in groups is usually the most difficult for introverts, but “all three can be valuable in different ways,” says Wendy Gelberg, the author of “The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and Advance Your Career.”
Experts offer these tips to help introverts build the strongest networks they can–even in group settings:
Broaden your networking goal. If you simply ask people you meet if they know of any job openings, you’ll likely be disappointed.
“Most people in the world are not walking around with jobs in their pocket,” Gelberg says. “We talk about networking as a tool for a job search, but it’s not always a linear, direct process.”
Instead, Gelberg advises, redefine networking as a mutual exchange. Perhaps someone you meet could give you advice on your resume–or maybe you could help someone you meet with a job search or professional development. If you’re on the shy side, offering something may be easier than asking for something.
Volunteer at large events. Instead of going to a professional association meeting and trying to strike up conversations with strangers, volunteer to help organize or run the meeting, for instance.
“Many people find it easier to become acquainted with others by making a contribution rather than making small talk,” Civitelli says. You can help find speakers for an event or serve on a committee, for example. Both of these activities will give you a purpose at the event–and the work itself is a good networking opportunity.
“The networking happens naturally, and the focus is on accomplishing something,” Civitelli said. “You’re getting to know people, but you’re getting to know them because you’re part of a team with a goal.”
Arrive early for group events. Introverts tend to procrastinate about going to big events. Then they arrive and find the other guests already gathered in intimidating small groups.
Gelberg encourages introverts to go early instead: “Those groups haven’t formed yet. There are just a few random people who have shown up early, and they’re delighted to have someone to talk to. Then you become part of the group.”
Don’t set unrealistic goals for group meetings. For example, don’t pressure yourself to meet everyone. Instead, set a goal of talking to five new people, for example. If the event has an attendee list, you can always send follow-up emails to people you didn’t have a chance to talk to.
Network online–in moderation. Social networking sites can play a valuable role in networking: they help you keep up your connections with people who may be able to help you, and connecting virtually can be less stressful than face-to-face interaction. Just be sure you don’t spend so much time connecting online that you never connect in person.