In January of 2017, I made a New Year’s Resolution to network more. To be quite honest, even though I can make friends with anyone and could probably have a conversation with a wall, I’ve never felt overly proud of my networking skills. The reason? I’ve extremely introverted. People often misunderstand that term to mean that someone is shy or awkward or doesn’t communicate well, but in reality that’s not what it means at all. In fact, when you look at the definition of an introvert — “a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments” — you’ve described me to a T.
Because I’m very introverted, networking situations exhaust me. Being in a room full of people or even in small groups is draining, especially when I’m trying to be the best version of myself in front of my colleagues. For this reason, I’m often the person in the office that is friendly towards everyone but skips the office Christmas party; or makes plans to attend a work happy hour but bails because I’ve had a very stressful day. When it comes to social (yet still professional) situations, I’m often very cautious.
Despite what some might see as shortcomings when it comes to introversion, networking is still very important to me. In thinking of the bigger picture, I believe it is extremely important for organizations to employ all types of people — both introverted and extroverted. Could you imagine if your entire office was made up of just one or the other? It might be okay, but it wouldn’t be great.
With a few years of experience as well as a few conventions under my belt, I figured it couldn’t hurt to share my approach to networking. While there is probably no “right way” to network (though there are definitely wrong ways), I hope you’ll find these tips helpful.
Be realistic. Networking takes time, but good connections can last forever! One of the most important things to remember is to be realistic about the speed at which networking occurs. You won’t gain 1,000 Twitter followers overnight and even if you did, gaining a follower doesn’t mean you’ve made a good connection. The idea of building and maintaining relationships — especially ones that you feel are extremely important — might seem intimidating to anyone, but just know that you can go at your own pace. All good things in life take time.
Be strategic. The whole concept of “networking” can often seem intimidating because there’s no roadmap or step-by-step guide for it. Instead, it’s up to you to choose how and when you’d like to make professional connections. As an introvert that is very Type-A and organized, I’ve found that it helps me to have a plan when networking. For example, if I know that I’ll be attending a conference in June, I reach out to a couple of people who I want to meet with when at the convention the month before to set up coffee dates or a scheduled time to meet up and chat. I tend to feel very overwhelmed at conventions but I know that I’m much more comfortable in one-on-one settings than I am in larger group settings, so having a dedicated time to chat with those people helps to relieve some anxiety.
Take time to decompress. Just as you don’t need to attend every convention or local networking session, you don’t have to participate in every Twitter chat or answer texts after midnight or be on every committee that comes your way. Networking is important, yes, but you need time for you! The example that hits the closest to home for me is nightly Twitter chats. I always think that participating in the chats will be easy because they’re often at a time of day that allows me to contribute from the comfort of my own home. However, I’ve found through experience that sometimes, I’m just not in the right state of mind to participate. I spend much of my life on social media platforms for my job, and being connected to social media is very draining for me, (especially late at night after a long day), so I sometimes decide to save that hour for myself. I use this same approach at conventions; if I’ve spent all day attending sessions or meeting up with people, I usually take some time to myself in my hotel room before the nightly networking sessions begin. Having time to decompress is key for me because it allows me to recharge.
Don’t just talk “shop.” As a true workaholic, I often find it challenging to have conversations with people in this field that don’t revolve around our jobs. But guess what? Hiring managers don’t hire resumés; they hire people. And that’s lucky for you, because I bet you’re pretty great! Making a positive lasting impression on someone rarely happens if you’re talking about the nuts and bolts of your job. It’s your personality, your ability to engage in conversation, and your overall ideals and values that make you employable — not just your Photoshop abilities or the amount of money you fundraised last year. Networking is a great opportunity to show the person that you really are, and you are way more exciting and awesome than your job description, I promise.
Regardless of your age, experience, or abilities, networking is important to your success! Even if you’re not looking for a new job in the near future, it’s important to expand your network because it helps to create a sense of community in the field, and it provides opportunities to learn from others. At times, it might seem overwhelming or slow or even impossible, but you can do it -- and it will be worth it.
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