In the previous post of this blog series, we discussed how to Prepare before a networking event. Preparation can make a big difference for an introvert’s comfort level. Introverts tend to do better in well-defined roles, with a predetermined plan for whom to talk to and what to ask them, and with a good dose of practice and mental preparation.
However, the harder part starts when you actually enter the networking venue, are surrounded by a large number of people, and are expected to interact and make conversation.
At this point, the typical advice for an extrovert would be to meet as many people as possible and self-promote as much as possible (stopping short of overt arrogance, of course.) This advice does not work for introverts. Recall from Part I that introverts tend to be inner directed, go deep, and prefer one-on-one discussion. A heightened sense of privacy makes self-promotion awkward, flitting from one person to the next is uncomfortable, and group conversations (especially interrupting group conversations) can be difficult.
Introverts should follow a radically different approach that makes use of their characteristic strengths. Instead of trying to promote yourself during the event, focus on processing during the event (again borrowing terminology from Devora Zack’s book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking.) As the word “process” implies, this approach is more focused and prioritizes deep connections over broad transient encounters. Here are some tips on how to Process effectively during networking:
Connect vs. collect
There are two networking strategies:
- Collect: cast your net as wide as possible. The more people you know, the more likely that one of them will pass along the right information or recommend you to the right job.
- Connect: curate a small but personal network. The more deeply you know people, the more likely they will think of you when the right information or job comes along.
Number 1 is the conventional wisdom of extroverted networkers. Number 2 is what introverts should do.
A major positive characteristic of introverts is their ability to focus. It may seem that networking requires an expansive personality that switches easily between different people and different situations. But this is only necessary if your strategy is to interact with as many people as possible, regardless of the quality of that interaction. Instead, focus on meeting just a small number of people, but making those connections meaningful and memorable. Replace quantity with quality.
This certainly takes the pressure off of having to do extensive mingling. But it doesn’t let you off the hook completely! Have a realistic number in mind for how many connections you want to make at the event. A perfectly acceptable goal could be to connect with just 1-2 people.
To really make this small number count, you have to prioritize. Ideally, you would be able to choose and research the attendees of the event beforehand (as described in Part II). If not, company representatives often have info tables and pamphlets that can help you chose who to schmooze with. Focus on people and companies that sound truly exciting to you. Don’t spend your limited time on conversations that are far outside your career interests. Of course, it is ok (great even!) to chat with people outside of your priority list. But think of them as bonuses and don’t let them drain your energy.
Sometimes it can be difficult during a busy networking event to get enough time for meaningful exchanges. Arriving early and picking the right event format can be helpful. The connection that you have begun during the networking event should be nurtured afterwards, so be sure to get the person’s business card or contact information for follow-up!
Now you may be thinking, I don’t like talking to people, how do I make an interaction meaningful and memorable?
Strength in listening
While introverts usually prefer to do less of the talking, they tend to be very good listeners. Relying on this strength will be to your advantage and can decrease your discomfort during networking.
After giving a brief introduction of yourself, turn the conversation to the other person by asking questions. Let them do most of the talking. You may have prepared some specific questions before the event. If you run out, listen attentively and ask open-ended follow-up questions. Simply by listening well, you will show genuine interest and intelligence, make a positive impression, and build rapport. Plus you will learn lots of useful information about your dream job.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions you could ask. Avoid yes-or-no questions:
- What do you like about your job?
- What challenges do you face in your workplace?
- What skills are you looking for in a project manager?
- How did you prepare for a career as a medical science liaison?
- What advice do you have for an aspiring consultant?
For more thoughtful responses, replace “why” with “how” or “what”:
- How did you decide to take a job as a data scientist?
- What led you to change your career path?
- What led your company to hire more editors?
Be careful not to let the conversation become too one-sided. Remember that the goal is to forge a personal connection. This means that you should offer some tidbits about yourself as well (revisit Part II for personal information that you can prepare for this purpose).
Self-promotion without talking
Selling yourself is not just about saying the most impressive words (although you should definitely put some thought into your pitch). People infer much more information about you than just the basic facts of your education and employment history.
Here are some other strategies to demonstrate your winning personality and intellect, that don’t require bragging or name-dropping:
Make eye contact: Focus on the person you are talking to. Looking at their eyes shows that you are paying attention. Don’t make it awkward; it’s ok to look away once in a while.
Smile: This is the easiest way to get people to like you. For greater effect, smile more slowly. The actual movement of smiling creates a warmer response than just having a smile plastered on your face.
Posture: Stand straight with a long spine, square shoulders, and chin parallel with the ground. Good posture makes you look confident, even if you’re not feeling that way.
Note the unusual: Compliment people on distinctive clothing or jewelry. This can be a simple way to start a conversation with a stranger and will leave them with a positive feeling about you – even if they know you only said it to flatter them! However, commenting on unusual facial features or personal appearance is probably not appropriate.
Learn names: Paying particular attention to the other person’s name always leaves a good impression. Repeat their name after they introduce themselves, try to use it during your conversation, and reiterate it when you say goodbye. If at this point you don’t remember their name, it is still polite to ask them again.
You don’t have to fake being a particularly cheerful, friendly, or outgoing person, if that’s not you. The point of this blog series is that you shouldn’t fake your personality. In fact, recruiters want to know what kind of person they might be adding to their team, and may be looking for diverse characters. But you should of course aim to impress. So don’t just be yourself…. be your best self.
My worst fear about networking events is that I’ll spend the whole time standing by myself, awkwardly pretending to scan the room. Here are some actions you can take to defuse such a situation:
Check out the nametag table: Find out who else is attending the event and maybe add someone to your list of people to connect with.
Hang out near the food: People bond over food, so this is an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger. Hand the person behind you a plate, comment on the cheese selection, and go from there.
Stand in line: Regardless of what the line is for, this puts you in a purposeful location while allowing you a moment to rest. Or, if you wish, you can strike up a conversation with the person in front or behind you.
Offer help: Picking up a dropped pen, helping clean a spill, or just handing someone a napkin, makes you look good and can serve as a natural ice-breaker.
Be approachable: If you are standing by yourself, be sure not bury yourself in your phone or be otherwise uninviting. Be open for other lonely introverts to approach you for a chat.
Also remember that you don’t have to be talking to someone at every moment of the event. Your goal is to initiate a lasting connection with a small number of people.
10 Point Summary
- Connect rather than collect
- Prioritize a small number of people
- Create lasting contacts and build rapport
- Listen and ask open-ended questions
- Make eye contact and smile
- Stand straight to show confidence
- Compliment people and learn their names
- Be polite and helpful
- Look for simple conversation openers with strangers
- Be approachable
Coming up in Part IV is advice on how to pace yourself during networking events and what to do afterwards.
** Incorporate these tips during your next networking opportunity and let us know how it went! **
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- Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
- Self-Promotion for Introverts: A Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, Nancy Ancowitz