Meet People, Get a Job (Even If You’re An Introvert)

Is a shocking statistic a good way to grab attention at the beginning of an article? Here goes: According to a story published by NPR, nearly 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised and go to someone with a connection to the company.

I’ve been hearing for my whole adult life how important networking is, and when I started doing writing projects on recruiting and hiring a few months ago, I found out that it wasn’t a joke. Statistics like the one above are everywhere. Here’s another: Did you know that 40 percent of advertised jobs go to people who were referred by current employees of a company?

Most of us were brought up to believe that if we work really hard and do really good work, we’ll be rewarded and promoted for it. But so many of us with impressive resumes and huge successes under our belts still don’t have the jobs or salaries we want. And the reason for that, in many cases, is our network—or more specifically, our lack of network.

Which is why my New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to start networking. Pretty simple and straightforward, right? There’s just one problem: I’m an anxious introvert whose worst nightmare is walking into a room full of people I don’t know and worse, being expected to talk to them.

What am I going to do?

Well, what I’ve done so far has been to force myself to go to as many events as possible, and make attempts to improve my networking skills at each event. My first attempt was a Creative Mornings meetup, a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types where a 30-minute networking session is followed by an hour-long lecture and discussion. I showed up late so as to miss the meet-and-greet, and ducked out as soon as the lecture was over. Not great, but the only way to go was up!

On my next attempt, I went to a meeting for volunteers at a nonprofit in my area. I talked to one person. We talked about our volunteer experience and how funny the presenter was. It was awkward, but I did it.

Every time I find myself panicked in a new room full of strangers, I try to remind myself why I made this New Year’s resolution. I want to meet more people and I want to cultivate more work opportunities. Facing my fears makes me more confident, and knowing more people makes me more powerful. There are a million reasons why this is good for me, and letting fear outweigh them would be doing myself a disservice.

Even though it’s only been a month, I’ve already learned a lot about how to make networking work for me and how to do it better. Here’s some of my best advice:

Talking to new people is hard, but not impossible. Just getting in the door of one of these events is a success for me, but I’ll feel like a total failure if I don’t talk to anyone (which, you might be surprised to learn, is completely possible). Having one awkward conversation is always better than no conversation at all, so don’t bow out before you’ve tried at least once. It’s usually easier after you get one out of the way anyways.

Starting conversations with strangers is difficult (especially for introverts), but not impossible. I always try to ask someone around me a question that will get them started talking. For example, if we’re at a monthly meetup I’ll say, “This is my first time at one of these. Have you been before?” Don’t wait until you’ve crafted the perfect, knock-their-socks-off-with-your-wit question; you’ll risk missing them altogether, and you can always be funny once you’ve got them talking.

And if I get stuck and can’t think of a good introductory question? I just walk up to anyone and say, “Hi I’m Kate.” Short, sweet, and good enough.

Networking isn’t about pitching yourself. In my imagination, a networking event is just a bunch of people all trying to impress and one-up each other. But that’s not what successful networking really looks like, and the people who are doing it that way are doing it wrong.

Networking isn’t about selling yourself or giving an elevator pitch. It’s about meeting cool people and forming a connection with them. They can find out about your work life on your website, Linkedin, Twitter, and a million other online places. Face-to-face networking should be you talking about things you’re really passionate and excited about, and making new friends. You’ll be a lot more interesting and memorable (and less repellant—no one likes being pitched) that way.

Taking breaks is allowed. Introverts’ energy is depleted by interacting with other people. Rather than getting overwhelmed or completely exhausting yourself, remember that you’re allowed to go stand alone in the bathroom for a minute or take a quick to walk to your car and back. Excusing yourself to clear your head is always better than burning out.

Being available for follow up matters. Meeting someone at a happy hour is great, but won’t be meaningful for you long-term unless they can find you and connect with you later. I used to be pretty Internet-phobic, but have realized how much it matters that people be able to find me when they want to get in touch. Now I have a blog, a website, a Twitter account—all so that when someone wants to look me up, there’s something for them to find.

Be proactive about following up with people yourself too. A friendly “nice to meet you” email is always appreciated (and remembered fondly).

The next rung on my networking ladder has been to join a co-working space in downtown Seattle. There I’m forced to leave my home office and come into contact with a whole group of people once a week, plus regularly at events thrown by the space too. I’m diving in head first.

Based on the facts, it’s obvious that we all need to be networking and maintaining our network if we want to get all the opportunities that are out there to be gotten. Don’t throw all of your expertise and awesome experience out the window; they’re what will ultimately land you the job you deserve. But remember to cultivate your network and connections. They’re what will get you in the door.

 

Kate Stull is a writer living in Seattle who’s trying to get out more. She blogs about her boyfriend’s outfits and tweets about being really good at your job.

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17 Comments / Post A Comment

OllyOlly (#669)

Still waiting for that research paper “Being a hard worker and having a good resume really IS the best way to get a job!”

But in the mean time, hearing tips from other people who struggle with networking is great.

One of the best things about DC is that if you go to bars, a large proportion of the people you meet are likely to be employed in the same industry as you (assuming that industry is government, international, or nonprofit-related) so if you are a naturally gregarious drunk there is not much need for phony networking events. There’s no quicker way to bond than over a round of shots or midwinter smoke break.

(Also, there are plenty of free events going on if you prefer to meet your peers in a well-lit space over soft drinks for some reason.)

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings This is why I say DC was good training for moving to LA. They’re both one-company-towns, so it feels normal to me.

Also, follow up with people for informational interviews! I like to meet people at events and get their contact information, and then meet up with them later to discuss what they do, who they are, etc etc. This works best if they’re in the same field as you, but I like it because I have a chance to google-stalk someone a bit and prepare questions/thoughts to ask. As an introvert, I have trouble coming up with on the fly questions to ask people, so I prefer to meet with people one on one at a predetermined time if I REALLY want to get a good contact or networking out of it.

Apple (#2,568)

Speaking as a fellow introvert, I lean toward networking activities that are more about joining/contributing to a group (e.g., joining a committee for a professional organization) than one-off networking events like happy hours. I prefer this for a few reasons:
1. A committee of 10 people is much less overwhelming than a happy hour with 50+ people.
2. It’s easier to get to know people when you’re working on a common goal/project together.
3. Working with people on something gives them an idea of your skillset, attitude, interests, etc. — all things that might come into play if you mention at some point that you’re looking for new opportunities. Makes it easier for them to vouch for your work, introduce you to someone they know who is hiring, etc. Doesn’t really work that way with someone you chatted with for a few minutes at a large networking event.

Maggie Ham (#2,571)

Thank you for posting! I can definitely be introverted, so it’s nice to know I am not the only who struggles with this.

Riaana (#2,520)

I read a book on this topic (because that’s what introverts do to solve problems…) that had some of the same advice, and was also reasonably helpful, so you might check out ‘Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected’.

If nothing else, I took from this book that it’s ok to be initially overwhelmed at the idea of being depending on asking other people for things, that baby steps are a fine way to slowly build up your network, and that part of your network will consist of people like you (so, some commiseration is forthcoming).

@Riaana I find myself much better at giving (advice to interns for example) than asking for help.

Meaux (#943)

@Riaana. This sounds like just the book for me; thanks!

Die hard introvert here! I find if I think of it as just making friends/meeting interesting new people it’s a lot less painful. (From there, interacting and helping each other out just flows.) And social media helps so much with that – at least in my field, everyone tends to be online a lot and pretty tech savvy, so connecting online first is a great way to start.

Also, I read Self Promotion for Introverts a while ago (not especially enlightening, sadly) and one of the charts in there about introverts vs extroverts cracked me up so much (reproduced here: http://bit.ly/XcAqVp).

Landing a job in today’s economy requires you to think and act differently. If you’re wed to the traditional way of job-hunting you’re destined to compete with everyone else chasing the same few opportunities.

The most effective way to get the job you want is to think like an employer. Sounds simple but many people don’t appreciate the importance or know how to do it.

Before beginning your search you have to understand why all companies hire. It’s to solve problems and your challenge is to position yourself as the solution. In other words, hiring you allows the company to solve problems faster, better and cheaper than they could without you. Here’s how to start.

Step 1 – Identify your skills and expertise.

Step 2 – Find the companies you want to work for and research them to uncover their problems. Use the Internet, Google alerts, read press releases and speak with current and former employees.

Your ability to uncover your target employers’ problems and position yourself as the solution is what will get you hired.

Here are just a few potential problem areas. Completing projects on time and on budget, improve product quality, improve customer service, increase sales, reduce costs, enhance online marketing, etc.

Step 3 – Identify the hiring manager.

Step 4 – Create a personal marketing plan to get your solutions in the hands of the hiring manager.

Step 5 – Develop a “One-Sheet” resume, to separate you from the crowd, along with a set of compelling cover letters that show your experience solving similar problems.

Step 6 – Follow up is essential to getting an interview. Be persistent but not a pest.

As a former executive with several Fortune companies I know how leaders think. People who have followed this process have gotten hired.

Good luck and never give up!

Bob Prosen –
CEO
The Prosen Center for Business Advancement
http://www.mycareeraccelerator.com

P.S. And yes, this works for recent college grads as well.
P.S.S. Market yourself to the companies you want to work for whether or not they have an opening.

Thanks so much for this article. I really struggle with this as well. I started going to Meetups recently, and I even started my own group, which will meet for the first time tomorrow. Not only can you make new connections, but you learn a lot from others. This sorta setup puts you into contact with people you’d normally not get a chance to speak with. So far, it’s been fun!

chic noir (#713)

*pumps fist*

I love Audrey Tautoo.

chic noir (#713)

@chic noir For the record, I am unbelievably shy in person. What has helped me score jobs is for some reason most people seem to like me and older male coworkers seem to really like me. So much so, that when they are given a promotion or change companies, I am asked to come along.

Excellent advice! I am currently reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain, but I’m not getting through it all that quickly. I think your post, and the valuable comments, tell me all I need to know.

I started life as a shy person. Then I got older and discovered I’m like the candy bar. “Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t” I appreciate the post–networking and self-promotion has always been challenging for me. Thanks!

Jacob (#4,242)

The best way to networking is LinkedIn. You can use this great site to contact with various organizations and upload you CV to get hired. – Information Technology Project Manager Resume

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