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Redefining Networking, or Networking for Introverts

New ways of networking that are inclusive of all personality types.

Sean MacEntee/flickr
Stranger can you spare a job?
Source: Sean MacEntee/flickr

Ugh, networking. Sucks, right? Here's a common networking conversation I have with my clients:

Jolene Jobseeker: "It feels like I've been looking for a job forever. My resume is polished and I've submitted it to at least a hundred different online job postings. Crickets. What am I doing wrong?"

Coach Coverletter: "What is your networking strategy?"

Jolene Jobseeker: *Crickets*

Oh, Jolene, if you only knew how much I used to hate networking. In fact, I refused to do it. Not the traditional version, anyway. And the traditional version goes something like this:

  • Cocktail Mixer, super awkward, "Sorry, what was that? It's too loud!", anxiety attack
  • Chamber of Commerce, bad coffee, "What's that strange smell?", business card shuffle
  • Job Fair, bad coffee, hand sanitizer dispenser is empty, handshake hell
  • Baseball Game, I hate baseball, I can't believe he put ketchup on his Chicago dog, "How is this networking again?" night out

Jolene is an awesome person. I know that she'll work hard, learn anything, go the extra mile, and then go one more. But I know that because I've had the privilege of getting to know her. Her resume, even though it looks strong, doesn't introduce employers to her "awesome".

When I suggest networking to her, so people can get to know that awesomeness, she recoils. "I hate networking. It scares me. I'm an introvert. I don't like big groups or awkward meetings with strangers. I'd rather email a thousand resumes than go to a single Chamber of Cocktail Job Fair Game."

Now you're speaking my language, Jolene. And that's why I want you to feel empowered to make your own rules. You design a networking strategy that works for you.

I recently gave this example to a client of mine:

You love online gaming. You've been gaming with these same folks for years and, even though you haven't met them in person, you feel like you know them better than most. Why not ask them if they have any job leads? Ask them if their company is hiring and if they could put in a good word for you. You already game with them for eight hours straight, so they know you're loyal and can sit at a computer for long stretches!

Jolene, you need to redefine networking. Subtract the association with fear and anxiety from the very word. Anytime you meet someone, you're potentially networking. When you chat with a cashier at a grocery store, you're networking. If, even only for a couple minutes, someone you come in contact with gets to see and hear how you're kind, funny, smart, curious, conscientious, helpful, thoughtful, handy, honest, or enterprising, then you've just opened the door to potential. Next time you see that cashier you could say something like, "You know, last week when I was in here you and I were laughing about spilled milk. It got me thinking, this seems like a fun place to work—are you guys hiring by chance?"

Networking does not have to be more complicated or overwhelming or contrived than the simple small talk you're already doing. The only difference is, you've opened up to seeing the opportunity within.

Networking, for you, might consist of connecting with interesting people on LinkedIn and asking them about their job/career because you're genuinely curious. Maybe it's Tweeting a company you admire to ask if they can give you an informational interview or facility tour. Yup, they do that. It might look like a one-on-one coffee chat or two people taking their dogs to the dog park. Maybe networking is a virtual career fair or a webinar with live chat. For introverts, networking might be a slow play that consists of numerous smaller personal connections that are no less meaningful than the big, scary, anxiety-ball kinds.

Times have changed and the rules have changed. There are none. What doesn't seem to change is the outdated career advice that says networking has to consist of booze, bros, baseball, and business cards.