(Work Edition 2015)
Networking—hearing the word alone is enough to send me into a shivering nervous wreck. And it’s not the kind of nerves you get when you’re anticipated and excited. I’m talking about the nerves you get when you’re absolutely terrified.
Networking just does not seem to work in favour of introverts. You’re basically trapped in a room full of people who wish to engage in menial small talk, absolutely hell-bent on furthering their career and exchanging contact details: practically every introvert’s worst nightmare.
Despite what many of my friends say, I wholeheartedly consider myself an introvert—I regain energy through solitude, I’m easily distracted, and while I may be fine giving oral presentations to a large number of people, the thought of having to speak to them one-on-one afterward or answer their questions gives me panic attacks. That’s not to say these behaviours are common in all introverts: these are just the ones unique to me.
But when it came to deciding what industry I wanted to establish a career in, I chose media and communications, which ironically enough had networking as an essential prerequisite if you actually wanted to get anywhere.
This meant talking to people… a lot. And although I tried to dismiss networking as much as I could, I quickly learned that it was impossible to avoid—especially in the editorial or public relations field, which is exactly where I was heading. In order to produce the perfect feature article or maintain that golden relationship with a client, talking was what I needed to do, whether it be an interview, a phone call, an email or face to face.
But in order to meet these kind of people in the first place, I had to network. Which freaked me out to no end.
I remember when I attended my first networking event. I was in my first year of university, and after seeing a Facebook event hosted by a blog I followed (My Interning Life), I decided to take the plunge into my first foray of networking. On the night before the big day, I hastily googled networking tips and made mental notes on everything from how to introduce myself properly to how to approach people. I even created a list of current affairs that could be used as emergency talking points which I memorised while I was on the train. I had plans from A to Z. It seemed I couldn’t be more prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the huge bout of anxiety that came minutes before the event. What happens if they don’t like me? What happens if I say the wrong thing? Have I prepared enough? On the day itself, I circled the block twice, and as I passed the venue I would anxiously glimpse into the windows to see how many people actually attended. I stopped by a nearby cafe before I mustered up enough courage to go inside and introduce myself to a room full of complete strangers. The phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ comes to mind. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and thankfully I made some great contacts, many of whom I still keep in touch with.
The experience taught me that networking is one of those things you just have to jump into. Yes, it’s not exactly the most appealing way to start something (especially for those of us who like to have time to think about all the angles before they actually do something), but there is no other way around it. It’s tough love—if you want to have positive career prospects after you’ve graduated, networking is imperative. Which means jumping into the deep end and coming out swimming.
But for many introverts, networking is much easier said than done. So in an area where extroverts unanimously dominate, how can us introverts set ourselves apart? From my experience, here is what I know:
Organisation is key
If it’s a networking event, at the very least have a rough plan in your head of how you’re going to tackle the night. Ask yourself: how many contacts would I like to make? What are some good talking points? Come prepared—it may even be a good idea to have some business cards to exchange so you’re not frantically looking for a pen and paper when people ask for your contact details (which is what happened to me, and to this day I still cringe when I think about it).
If possible, stalk them
Not literally of course. If you’re vaguely aware of the people attending or have access to the guest list, look them up on social media. Twitter and LinkedIn are your best friends, as Facebook is probably too personal. ‘Follow’ them, introduce yourself online, and establish connections before the networking event so you have a familiar face to talk to when you first enter.
Quality, not quantity
Less is more. Us introverts don’t deal well mingling with large crowds, and that’s the same when it comes to networking. Only choose a handful of people to establish meaningful connections with or else it’ll become information overload and your dear friend Anxiety will come rushing back tenfold. For the connections you have made, make a mental note of their face, and follow up with an email telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them and if it would be possible to organise coffee.
Have a mentor
This is probably the most important advice I can give, as having a mentor allows you to not only voice your concerns about networking, but it gives them a chance to provide you with some meaningful advice that could prove greatly beneficial to you. After all, they’ve been there and done that all too many times. From my experiences, I can assure you many people in your industry are more than happy to be a mentor—all you have to do is ask.
Nonetheless, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, getting to the top of the career chain is the same whether you tiptoe quietly or stomp your way there.
Happy networking, fellow introverts.