One of my very great privileges is to run regular workshops on the topic of Effective Networking for people in transition. No, not the IT kind of networking, but the kind that statistics and anecdotal observation indicates is the most effective, and most common, in landing another job, irrespective of job level.
Yes, any Career Consultant worth their salt will be quick to tell you that 70% of available job opportunities (depending on your seniority, package, etc – it increases the more senior you are) can only be found in the so-called ‘hidden’ market space, as opposed to the ‘visible’ job market (which are encapsulated by online job sites such as Seek, Monster, etc).
They should also tell you that the key to unlocking and discovering these ‘hidden’ roles, is via the technique of Networking. All well and good I hear you say, I get that.
However, I have observed, in running these workshops, that NOT all participants are filled with joy when they understand THIS is the key technique. Generally (actually probably more like 100% of the time) these tend to be the more introverted participants. And I’ve noticed that usually this tends to be at least 50% of the participants in the workshop, while about 25% are very excited about the opportunity to talk to others – I would tend to characterise them as extroverts. The remaining 25% would be the ‘swing votes’, borderline introverts / extroverts.
So, why are these people not filled with joy at the thought of practicing the networking skills they have just learnt or about to learn? Is it the fact that they have to reach out to people they don’t know, or find a reason to make contact? Or the fact that they need to make small talk? What is it that is so threatening to introverts when it comes to networking?
After all, introversion is merely an indication of energy source – it’s not a problem that needs to be overcome. However, because many introverts are seen as indecisive, slow, lacking in social skills, or unwilling to collaborate (normally by extroverts!), the introvert needs to be proactive in managing the impressions that others have of them.
So, what can an introvert do, to make networking less threatening and confronting, maybe even sort of enjoyable?
Here are some of my thoughts – not exhaustive, but possibly a good start:
- Most importantly, don’t use the word ‘networking’ or see it as ‘networking’. Many people have a sense that networking is manipulative, inappropriate, in-your-face – the list goes on. Instead, see the process as relationship building within a corporate or business context.
- Prepare. What is it you want to achieve or find out. What is your ‘question’? Who can answer / give insight into this question? How can you make contact with them? This is where a good coach or consultant should be adding value to you – by working through this with you. Role play could be good too.
- Start the process of meeting others, by starting with some ‘friendly’ people. People you know well, like you and who are interested in where you are at. Then choose a context (coffee shop?) and time (when you feel the strongest) that suits you.
- Be interested in the other person – everyone has a story to tell – and you never know where the ‘nugget’ to be gleaned.
- Acknowledge the additional energy required to interact with others and allow yourself to prepare for the meetings, and to unwind afterwards. Depleting too much energy will lead to a stressful reaction, so look for early warning signs, such as withdrawal. Restore your energy level by finding time alone to reflect and direct your focus on thoughts, ideas and internal feelings. Schedule regular breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries. Take it slowly.
- Be accountable. This is where a good coach or consultant can be a good person to debrief with, to receive encouragement, or, sometimes, to give you a push! They are also good people to help with whom to talk to.
- Pay-it-forward – offer to meet with people who may need support. Be available to talk. Ask questions. People can often sense if you are really interested, if you are, they will talk to you about the most amazing things...
I’d love to hear from the 50% of the population that are introverted – what do YOU do? What techniques do you have? How can I help you?