By Marcelle Yeager
While there are some people who enjoy networking and get a lot of energy from interacting with a crowd, many find it intimidating and draining. Traditional networking is not for everyone.
However, networking is essential in today's job market. Experts estimate that well over half of jobs are found through networking and word of mouth. The old job search method of comfortably sitting at your computer sending off résumés and cover letters will no longer get you very far.
Luckily for introverts, there are multiple ways to network. Some may bring you a bit outside of your comfort zone, but that's not a bad thing. Think of these as skills you are developing that could benefit you in a future job.
1. Start from a position of strength. When you're employed, it's much easier to promote yourself and talk about what you do. When you network while employed, you will exude confidence. Start building your network from there. And if it's possible and of interest to you to meet new contacts within your company, begin with them.
2. Refine your elevator speech. This is a tough thing for everyone to develop, so don't think you're alone if you're not happy with yours yet. Your speech should evolve over time as you practice more or change your career focus areas.
Aim to compose one that tells your listener in 30 seconds or less why he or she should want to get to know you better. Keep it simple. Briefly explain what you do, where you want to go and why. If all goes well, you could end up with a referral.
3. Begin within your comfort zone. People tend to think immediately of large events as the sole networking opportunities. However, there is not only one type of networking.
It can happen in small or large groups or one on one, and it doesn't even have to be in person – it can be on the phone, email, Skype or FaceTime. A good place to start is with a brief email introduction and a question. Figure out what you'd like to get from your interaction with this person. Do you want to hear about how they got into their field or how they like their company?
4. Be explicit with your requests. Think about what information you can possibly glean from the person you're networking with. Don't ask him or her to forward your résumé to human resources or help you get a job.
Briefly introduce yourself at the start of an email, call or in-person meeting, and tell him or her what kind of advice you are seeking. Asking questions will help take the focus off you and allow you to learn a lot about the other person.
5. Build new relationships by helping others achieve their goals. "You get what you give" extends to the professional world. If you help colleagues at work, they're likely to help you at some point. If you make yourself available to junior staff, students from your alma mater or others who reach out and ask for your guidance, perhaps they will be able to help you in an unknown way in the future. Pay it forward, and you'll likely see returns, even when you don't expect it.
Determining what type of networking is most comfortable for you will make you confident. If you're uncomfortable, it's unlikely you will make a good impression. Use opportunities where you feel relaxed as chances to engage people on the subject of your career. This could be one on one at work or social events. Or you might find it easiest to begin on the computer through social media or email.
Be available to others when they request help. Not only will this help you gain self-assurance in your abilities, but this also helps you build contacts and trust among folks who may return the favor in the future.
Whatever methods you choose, the most important thing is that you can clearly and concisely define what it is you are asking of the person. You may be asking questions to make you more at ease with him or her, or you may want a targeted request for guidance on your next career move.
Networking is not just for extroverts anymore. No matter your preferred style of engagement, you can make it work for you.
Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.