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Networking for introverts: A 5-step plan

In college I was such an introvert that when I was dragged to parties I brought a book. It was a lonely existence, but the pain of having to talk to people in an unstructured environment was much too great.

So I was shocked a few years ago when someone told me, "Job hunting is easier for you than most people because you could sell yourself to anyone." That comment was testament to the fact that I had recognized you can't get what you want in life without networking. Even though my natural instinct is to sit home and read, I worked very hard to learn how to talk to people. Luckily for me, books are a great resource in this regard.

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I read everything I could find. I read that most introverts are scared they'll say something stupid or have nothing to say at all (both applied to me). So I read up on ways to feel self-confident in a room full of strangers and come up with things to say when I felt intimidated. (Here's a recommendation: "You Are the Message" by Roger Ailes.)

I learned that people who are good at networking are interested in other people. And they are good storytellers. After that, I was able to go almost anywhere and talk with people. Good talkers recognize that there's something interesting about every person, and it's their job to get them talking about it. But you can't just bombard people with questions. You also need to reveal things about yourself. The best way is by telling fun and interesting stories that make you look good.

Not everyone can do this, though. After I had been dating my husband for about six months, I watched him print out a spreadsheet of names and phone numbers. "What's this?" I asked.

"It's my networking list," he replied.

"But you never call anyone. Ever."

"I know, but networking is important, and I read that the first step is to have a good list."

It was an extremely detailed list. For every name, there was a phone number and description of the person. For example, "Bennie Conover. High school music teacher -- dead." Or my favorite, "Penelope Trunk. Girlfriend."

But my husband is an introvert, someone who loves details but hates talking to people. If you're similarly introverted, you can still network even though you'll never get excited about going to parties and learning interesting things about each person in the room. These tips can help.

Use e-mail. Nowadays, you don't have to speak to contacts. You can write and rewrite your message until it's right. And you don't have to worry about saying something stupid because the person caught you off guard. Of course, you lose the intimacy of a personal meeting, but you can sometimes compensate for this by sending an extra e-mail or two.

Read everything. When something is published about someone you know, send a congratulatory e-mail. Incessant reading means getting gossip without having to gossip. Just be sure to act on it.

Go to parties rather than dinners. If you're like most introverts, the problem isn't the quantity of people, it's having to show up at all. You can kill more birds with one stone by making one of your rare social appearances in front of lots of people. And think ahead: Have a few things prepared and ready to say to other partygoers.

Help others. For instance, send leads to jobseekers you know. You don't have to talk to them, but they'll remember the favor and view you as a friend. My husband maintains a list of specialized job sites that he sends to friends who have recently lost jobs. They're grateful for his help and the time it saves them, while my husband is grateful that he only has to research job sites instead of having to talk to people.

Send New Year's cards. Sending cards at year-end is tantamount to saying, "You're someone I care about." So send cards generously. If you can, include a short note to each person. Sure, it's a struggle to find things to say, but since it's early November, you have two months to think. Write a few cards each day, and when you're stuck for words, remember the key to good networking: Be interested in other people and talk about yourself in interesting ways. Networking is one of those long-range, money-in-the-bank types of things; you never know when something you say will have big return. So introverts, start writing!

 
-- Posted: Nov. 10, 2003
   

 

 
 

 

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