Dedicated to helping job seekers find work during the pandemic. Click here to read more

Networking for the Shy and Introverted


As a member of a community of resume writers, career coaches, and other career experts called the Career Collective, I am posting this entry on the topic of networking, along with links to other members’ responses at the end of this entry. Please follow our hashtag on Twitter: #careercollective.
Think everyone who successfully networks must be a gregarious extrovert? The vast majority (70 percent) of job-seekers surveyed for my book, A Foot in the Door, described themselves not as extremely outgoing but somewhere in between gregarious and shy. Most people possess some degree of shyness and unease with the idea of networking — and some are extremely uncomfortable with the idea. But there is hope for the very shy and intimidated. Just recognizing that few people are unreserved extroverts is half the battle, as Deborah Kubena learned. “I can sometimes be quite shy when it comes to approaching people I don’t know,” notes Kubena, a career counselor. “When I find I am hesitating to meet people, though, I remember that others are probably just as uncomfortable, and that [knowledge] gives me the courage to introduce myself first. Looking back, I can’t remember a time when I’ve regretted making the first move.” There were similarly no regrets for the client of Barbara Safani, president of Career Solvers, New York, NY: “I convinced a client who was uncomfortable with the idea of networking to attend a company alumni event,” Safani says. “At the event she reconnected with a former colleague who put her back in touch with a former boss who happened to be looking for someone to fill an open position and hired her two weeks later.” In addition to realizing you’re far from the only one who is shy, here are some tips for the introverted networker:
  • Start your networking efforts in settings where you know other participants, such as professional organizations.
  • When trying to make one-on-one connections, such as for informational interviewing purposes, start with those you’ve been referred to by family members and close friends and work your way up to people with whom you have a common bond, such as fellow alumni of your college or high school.
  • While you should avoid using as a crutch online methods of networking that keep you out of the social fray, the shy person can learn to get the most out of online discussion groups, web-based networking, and discussion groups.
  • The pen is mightier than the phone, at least for the shy person. Writing to people you’ve been referred to is a superb way to introduce yourself and break the ice. Writing (or emailing) before phoning eases you into making network connections one-on-one. Writing gives you an opening for when you do call: “I’m calling to follow up on the letter I wrote you last week.”
  • When someone you know has referred you to someone you don’t know, you can often ask your acquaintance to pave the way for you by calling and telling the stranger to expect to hear from you. That way, your phone call is made a little easier because you can say, “Hi, this is Sally Johnson. I believe Jeff Barnes told you I’d be calling.”
  • You will eventually have to pick up the phone and call people you don’t know. You can write or email first, but sooner or later, you’ll have to call. What is the best advice on how to go about it if you’re shy? Just do it. Skip Haley, a self-proclaimed introvert interviewed on the CareerLab website by William Frank, has this to say about picking up the phone: “I absolutely hate it. But isn’t it interesting — every time I do it, something good comes of it.”
  • Haley also suggests reminding yourself what will happen if you don’t overcome your shyness and get out to events where networking takes place. “If you don’t, you’re not going to meet people. And if you don’t meet people, you’re not going to get a job.”
  • The buddy system is another effective defense against shyness at networking events. Pair up with a friend and make the rounds together. In an article on the buddy system, Clay Barrett told the story of Joan and Cathy, who worked in different industries and in different job roles but were both were laid off at about the same time. They met at a local networking group and hit it off immediately. Joan was shy but felt much more comfortable at the events with Cathy along. Meanwhile, Joan held Cathy accountable for following through on her networking efforts, previously her weak spot. Read the full article.
  • Plan out what you will say when you make phone contacts. You may even want to have a script in front of you. Just don’t ever sound as though you’re reading from a script. A bare-bones outline with key words will keep you from forgetting what you want to say while ensuring that you sound natural. Particularly when networking with people you know, begin with small talk about what’s new with your contact before launching into your script.
  • When you first attend a meeting of a professional organization, learn as much as you can about the group. Read the organization’s publications. When attending events where networking is likely to take place, arrive a little early and introduce yourself to the organizer or host. You may even want to call ahead of time and explain that this is your first time and you’re trying to get the lay of the land. That way, you have someone who can introduce you to others at the event. If you stand near the door, advises Leslie Smith of the National Association of Female Executives, people may assume you are one of the organizers and introduce themselves to you. Another trick, says speaker and author Mariette Durack Edwards, is to ask someone at the check-in desk to suggest a member who can introduce you to others.
  • Even if you’re feeling uneasy, try to smile and project enthusiasm and confidence. Networking for the shy and introverted is something of a performance. Sometimes you have to be a good actor. Even shy individuals are capable of acting like confident people. You simply have to step into your self-assured persona. You can slip back into the shy identity you’re more comfortable with after you’ve accomplished what you need to. Does this basically amount to faking it — pretending to be someone you’re not? Probably not. You’re just using the tools within you to get a job done. They may not be tools you enjoy using every day, but they are tools you can employ when you need them.
  • One good strategy is to redirect your shyness toward helping others have a productive time, says the National Association for Female Executives. If you pretend it’s your party and your responsibility to ensure everyone’s enjoyment, you can relegate your shyness to the back burner.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and adapt your approach to the setting. If you’re at an event where networking is the main focus, you can adopt your go-getter persona. But if it’s a social event, hang back a bit and wait for appropriate openings before you make networking contacts. Look for people who are by themselves. They are likely to be just as shy as you and would love to be approached. Making eye contact with people throughout the room and smiling will encourage them to gravitate to you. Turn the tables on your shy self by making it your mission to make others feel at home and relaxed.
  • Be sure you’re up on current events when you attend an affair where networking may take place. Topical issues — including sports — are always great icebreakers (as long as they’re not too controversial). It also doesn’t hurt to have read some of the latest books and seen current movies (or at least read the reviews). Bone up on current issues in your field as well by reading trade and professional journals.
  • Prepare some leading questions that will break the ice and get people to talk. Be curious and interested. Ask people lots of questions about themselves and their jobs. They’ll love answering you, and you’ll have less talking to do. But you’ll still make a good connection because you gave someone a chance to talk about herself.
  • Many of us are shy about networking because we fear rejection. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen? Someone you meet could be standoffish; someone you ask for advice may hesitate to give it. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. Just tell yourself it’s no big deal and move on.
  • If your biggest fear is not that others will react badly but that you will say or do something stupid, lighten up. Everyone, even the most polished professionals, make a silly and embarrassing mistake now and then. Learn to laugh off your gaffes.
  • Set goals for yourself. Whether it’s making five phone calls a day, exchanging three business cards at an event, or adding one new person a day to your network, you will be more likely to rise above your shyness if you set and meet goals. Take a break in between each step toward your goal, and reward yourself with a little treat when you meet each goal — eating a favorite food, soaking in a hot bath, renting a good movie — whatever feels like a reward to you. And don’t give up when you don’t meet your goals.
  • Celebrate your successes. It’s almost a sure bet that you’ll have more successes than you expect and more successes than failures. Bask in your triumphs and let the momentum encourage you to be a little less shy the next time.