The Key to Making Networking Fun for IntrovertsFeatured

Does the term ‘networking’ make you feel an instant sense of foreboding, immediately reject the notion, or wish there was a better way to achieve the same means in your career?

You’re not alone.

The concept (at least in its old school form) is generally disliked, and especially for introverts, feels inaccessible.

As an introvert who gets all of those feelings when I hear the word, I was somewhat surprised recently when someone asked me (only somewhat jokingly) if I’d teach a mini-course on networking.

Who, me?

But as we talked it through, it turns out I have an incredibly powerful network and I actively enjoy both building and activating it—I’ve just had to go about it a different way.

While not revolutionary, I hope my strategies help you embrace the power of community to achieve whatever career goals you have.

For many introverts, the word ‘networking’ conjures images of stuffy cocktail mixers, paper business cards, or dead-end small talk. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Luckily, networking has evolved, thanks to both technology and changes to workplace norms.

Embrace technology

I always felt tied to two methods of communicating with professional connections: LinkedIn and email.

I’d meet someone, whether at a current job or out in the world and after sending that connection request, wait until an occasion came up to get in touch via LinkedIn messages. If I felt bold, I’d make a connection via email, typing out a formal note (Hi blank, Lovely to meet you at blank…) and use that as our connection point.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with these formats, to be clear, but they put professional connections in a certain type of box. It sets a tone—I’m going to talk to you about work and only work, and responding is slightly inconvenient for both parties.

It wasn’t until recently that I began giving out and asking for cell phone numbers, and it completely changed my perspective on building a network. Part of this change comes with growing more established in my career and connecting with more peers.

Even as I write this, I feel like I should say that this doesn't mean that I'm going to text with the well-established C-suite leader of a major organization—except that I do. At the end of the day, networking is about meeting people where they are, and even the busiest leaders are swamped and overwhelmed by their inboxes.

If you’re truly building a mutual relationship, you want to make keeping in touch as easy as possible. That means sending a quick text over to share an article you found interesting or wishing a happy birthday is absolutely appropriate and appreciated. This type of engagement has changed my network into something I dread ‘keeping up with’ to more meaningful relationships.

Speaking of meaningful connections — the more you know about a person you’d like to add to your network, the more natural it will be to keep in touch. Social media remains one of the easiest ways to get to know someone you may not see on a regular basis, and I encourage you to expand beyond LinkedIn when you’re networking.

Adding people I’ve met through work on Instagram has shown me other ways of connecting, such as shared passion for activism, that wouldn’t necessarily have happened on LinkedIn. One major caveat here: I only share on Instagram what I’m comfortable with my professional network knowing about me on LinkedIn. You may not do the same, in which case I’d say skip this tip or create separate, professional accounts.

Meet your network where they are

Technology has turned the primary method of connection away from face-to-face interactions and towards online engagement, which allows us to build networks around the world with people we may never have met otherwise. But lately, I’ve been craving the in person engagement I was able to experience and take advantage of early in my career and before the pandemic.

Depending on what’s available in your area, showing up in person can be the most powerful way to build a network. I’ve met people at run clubs, book readings, and family holidays. Being open to meeting new people doesn’t need to carry the pressure of “Do I want to add this person to my network?”. Instead, talking about your interests can help establish a baseline that’s easier to translate into a professional connection should you like it to.

Now that I’m further along in my career, I feel more confident setting networking and community building into action. Some of my strongest networks right now are led by peers that I admire—a book club where we read leadership focused books but also talk about our lives and families, and a brunch group led by an online friend-turned neighbor.

We don’t show up to these gatherings with formal requests to act on, but rather focus on relationships first, which makes the eventual asks feel more natural.

Set your own terms

You are the only one who can determine what your network needs to be. Build one because you are genuinely interested in getting to know more people and believe in the power of community in your career.

I know plenty of people who are absolutely successful in the workplace who don’t network in the way I do—but I genuinely enjoy knowing people from so many different walks of life and helping them when I can.

I recently connected a friend with another friend’s fiance to talk about their mutual job searches and it was an absolute pleasure to know they had just taken the first step into becoming part of each others’ networks.

When I’m communicating with people I meet, I like to be direct about my intentions. If I’m at a happy hour looking to get advice about a career quandary, I’ll tell the first person I meet about that goal and ask them to keep it in mind as they continue conversations all evening. If I exchange numbers with someone I meet on a run, I let them know I’d love to link up for a workout (and hearing more about their interesting job will be a bonus!). So many of us dread networking because it feels fake and insincere, but it doesn’t have to be.

I also approach more formal interactions, like work events, with a small goal. I might tell myself to talk to one person and leave afterward if I’m feeling low on social energy. Not every outing needs to be full of hours-long interactions. Meet yourself where you are, and your connections will feel your genuine energy shining through.

Of course, much of this advice could be applicable to extroverts, but I find they spend much less time worrying about the concept of building a network and just naturally make it happen.

I truly believe in the power of a network and how it can transform a career into whatever you’d like it to be. I’m beyond grateful for my network and how we show up for one another.

Not sure where to start? Think about all the people you’ve interacted with in the last month. How many of them would you swap professional advice with? If you’d like to grow that number, start small. You got this.

> “This type of engagement has changed my network into something I dread ‘keeping up with’ to more meaningful relationships.”We have vastly differing experiences, hah…
Great insights. Thanks for sharing! I love the idea of a book club focused on leadership books :)