Networking for introverts
Issue 87: Building career capital when people isn't your thing
I was in San Francisco this week for work and to connect with people in my industry. It’s always great to re-connect with old friends and connect with new people. Coming back to Silicon Valley is always a joy for me, and one major highlight was dinner with incredible humans who work on design and dev tools.
After an incredible dinner followed up with cream, I headed to the hotel and laid down for hours before being able to move forward. I have a confession…I am an introvert. People are surprised when I tell them this. “But, you are in leadership, speak at conferences, and network with people all the time!” Being an introvert doesn’t mean someone is quiet. It’s about the way you regain your energy. An introvert is a person with qualities of a personality type known as introversion, which means that they feel more comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what's happening externally. A person who gives a keynote for thousands of people and then retreat to your hotel room, order room service and stare at a wall for the rest of the night.
The definition of networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. This makes networking challenging for introverts. Networking is often perceived as the stuff Sales and Marketing does to promote and close deals. However, networking has much more substance and is a great tool to build on your career.
My networking philosophy
Networking can be ingenuine if not done right. If you’ve ever experienced aggressive networking, it’s not fun. I have three core philosophies on networking to make it be organic and human.
Be authentic intentional over transactional
Being genuine will gain you credibility in networking. Many of us have experienced the annoyance of meeting someone in a networking interaction when it’s clear they have a clear motivate and just want to use you for something. Don’t be that person.
Foster long-term relationships
Some of the best relationships I’ve had professionally are recruiters who reached out to me many years ago. We’re constantly trying to help each other out and keep each other in mind.
Networking is career capital
Capital is important for you to invest in future opportunities. The most common type of capital is financial capital. This allows you to fund projects in the future. Career capital is applied in your professional journey. If you have future aspirations you have in your career, start doing it now. It doesn’t have to transpire overnight and you can build capital over time.
Techniques for introverts
Maybe you’re sold on connecting and building your network, but the idea of it makes your heartbeat so quickly think about having to talk to strangers in a large setting. Let’s brainstorm some techniques of how to break imposter syndrome or uncomfortable environments.
Get help, phone an extrovert
If I ever feel stuck, I get help from an extrovert—our friends who gain so much energy from outward expression. We don’t deserve extroverts. They invite us to hang out all the time, often getting rejections from us. Maybe you’re feeling nervous about going up to someone to introduce yourself at a networking event. Ask your introvert friend to come with you to break the ice. Whenever you feel like you don’t have something to say, your extrovert friend will be there to support you. Follow up with the person you wanted to meet if you get their email and have a conversation in a way you might be more comfortable.
Send online beacons to connect
Networking can occur in front of your phone or the computer. One of my top recommendations for creatives and designers is to have a digital publication (like a blog) to create a beacon to network with me. Your content can be a way to introduce people to collaboration without taking the energy of doing it in person. You’d be amazed how many people might discover you from a blog post you wrote and it becomes a network connection.
1:1s are networking events
If you don’t feel comfortable in large networking events, consider scheduling a 1:1 or a small group to have a discussion. Challenge yourself to invite a person you don’t know or as a friend to bring someone new to add a new dynamic to the conversation.
Tending to your network
Life and work are busy, and tending to a network is a lot of work. I don’t approach networking as a quota but rather as a system. Instead of thinking about how many networking events I need to make, I think of it as a system I can leverage when needed by myself or someone else in my network. I keep notes of the last time I chatted with someone and will create an action item in OmniFocus to remind me in a few months to reach back out. Another idea is to play calendar tennis, where you put time on the calendar together as a forcing function connecting and punting it if you need to.
One habit I’m picking back up is sending an annual email update to people most impactful in my professional career: mentors, former coworkers/managers, career crushes. Having a mailing list is a light-touch way to keep people you want to stay in touch with updated on what you're up to. A lot of serendipity occurs here. On many occasions, someone on the email list might be interested in your update and reconnect. Perhaps it’s in response that you're starting a company and looking to raise a seed round, and they want to invest. Maybe you just joined a new company and they're looking for a new role and opportunity.
Start with small interactions
As T.E. Lawrence says in Lawrence of Arabia1, “Big things have small beginnings.” Tiny actions lead to much larger things that will get you more comfortable taking on larger things. Starting small can reduce the barrier to entry in networking. It might start with a small intro message on LinkedIn saying, “I really admire your career and background—would love to connect and meet.” Perhaps nothing will transpire at that moment but something can spark in the future!
Make a network connection this week
Reach out to one person this week. It could be someone you’ve been wanting to connect with professionally or catching up with someone. Networking doesn’t require a set agenda or a motive, it’s like tending to a garden and nurturing a system of humans you’re connected with.
If you’re unsure of what sort of connection to make, here are a few questions to noodle on:
Do you have a career crush? Who do you admire in what they’ve achieved that you can learn about them?
Who are the people you can connect about craft and your practice?
Is there anyone who could benefit from YOU networking with them? Perhaps proactively offering mentorship?
What is something you want to start in a few years? Who are people that could help you when you start? Reach out to them now.
Is there a former coworker I’d love to catch up with?
Make a tiny push in your network this week!
Tweet of the week
A collection of what I read this week or for this issue.
A cold outreach workshop by Paige Finn Doherty
Ten Tips for Building Stronger Networks in Work and Life by Deborah Petersen
Also Michael Fassbender in Prometheus
This book has one of the cheesiest titles but is very informative