If the thought of a networking mixer makes you cringe rather than jump for joy, you’re not alone. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes at least one-third of the population is introverted. Don’t sacrifice your career growth because you hate large groups – use these tips to network and build solid relationships successfully on your own terms.
1. Start with social media. Networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ make saying hello as easy as a few clicks. If you’ve found some potential professional contacts who might be a good fit for you to associate with, request a connection with them, and tell them why you’re reaching out. Don’t be shy about why you admire them, or why they inspire you, or why you want to talk to them more. Do your research about what’s going on in their professional world, and bring up specific points you have in common to incentivize them to take an interest in you.
2. Then, take it offline. If you’re more comfortable conversing one-on-one rather than in a large group setting, ask the object of your professional affection for coffee or lunch, and give them a heads-up about what you’d like to discuss. Be proactive in making the place you meet convenient to your potential new professional contact – the more flexible you are, the easier it will be for them to say yes to the meeting.
3. Come prepared. Think about three ideal objectives you’d like to accomplish with the person you’re meeting. Would you like them to refer you for freelance work? Are you looking for advice since you’re in similar fields? Do you want to learn how they landed where they are in the professional world? Would you love if they hired you? Your time and your new contact’s time is precious, so make sure to maximize your meeting, even if it’s a 15-minute coffee chat. Don’t start the conversation with what you want, but don’t leave without expressing a goal you think they might be able to help you achieve.
4. Ask questions, and listen. In his classic 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie espouses the value of acting genuinely interested in other people and being a good listener. By asking questions and listening to the professional you’re meeting, you’ll make them feel appreciated, which will make them want to learn more about you and how they can help. Trust is built by fostering a genuine connection, so ask questions with answers you’re genuinely interested in learning. Ask about their education, their career evolution, and traits they feel make them successful. And, as Carnegie advises, the power of a smile and engaged body language is extraordinary.
5. Say thank you, and follow up. You can show your gratitude for the meeting in myriad ways, from purchasing their coffee, to sending a handwritten thank you card – which, in the digital age, may make you really stand out in your new contact’s eyes. Reiterate – humbly – what your goal is, and ask the person you met with how you can help them. Relationships are built on reciprocity, not just a “what can you do for me?” attitude. Foster your new connection by checking in once a month, sending your contact a note to ask them what’s going on in their world, and alerting them to how you’re doing. You’ll stay top of mind whenever an appropriate opportunity comes up, and you might even have a new friend to accompany you to bigger networking events.
Are you introverted? Do you avoid traditional networking events? How have you been successful in networking? Share your tips in the comments.
Nicki Escudero is a Phoenix journalist with more than 13 years in the publishing industry. She is the editor of Phoenix People, www.phxpeople.com, which profiles interesting Arizona inhabitants making a difference in the community.