Networking for Introverts: Tips and Techniques for Career Counselors
By Wendy LaBenne
Are you working with a client reluctant to network? A common statistic related to the job search is that 70% of jobs are discovered through networking. Further, in the current economic climate, this skill is becoming even more vital. Through my work with clients, I have found a significant number of individuals reluctant to network. These clients tend to be more reserved in nature and can possibly be described as introverts. This article will provide strategies to assist counselors to empower reluctant networkers to become more competitive in using this job search skill.
Strengths of Introverts
While introverts are probably more likely to be reluctant networkers, they also have an advantage with networking. The purpose of networking is to build relationships and this is one area in which introverts excel. Introverts like to build meaningful and deep relationships with people. There are a multitude of other strengths introverts embody including the ability to work independently, reflect on experiences, listen carefully, focus, systematically follow-up, and write well (Ancowitz, 2010). Fifty percent of the United States population is introverted; however, U.S. society places more value on extroverted characteristics (Zack, 2010). Given this statistic, it can be challenging for introverts and non-introverts to understand and appreciate the strengths an introvert can bring to the work environment.
One activity I use with clients is to have them reflect on their strengths and take the time to identify how these strengths make them unique and thus increase their value to the employer.
Common Themes of the Reluctant Networker
How can career counselors get reluctant networkers to approach networking in a way that provides meaning for them? In working with introverted clients, I hear statements that are unproductive to moving forward in reaching goals. More specifically, the thoughts are fears they have about outcomes of a situation.
A common statement is, “I don’t want to bother anyone.” I will try to reframe this asking, “What if someone asked for your help or to talk with you about your major or career, what would you say?” The answer has always been, “I would talk with them,” sometimes with a qualifier about preparing in advance. Another theme I hear is, “What if I don’t know what to say?” or similarly, “I am not good at small talk.” I will ask, “What would you like to know from a professional in the field?” There is usually a lot of information they would like to know. I say, “Why not make a list of questions to ask?” If appropriate, they can take that list into an information interview. If not, they can review the questions and have them percolating in their minds before the event. Discussing these concerns in advance allows for reframing the situation and can help alleviate some anxiety.
It is not enough to tell a person hesitant to network, “go network to get a job,” or that there is one “right” way to do so. As counselors, we need to consider the concerns of the client and identify and discuss networking strategies that will be successful for him or her. Clients are told they should network, but often don’t know how to do it effectively. Generally, introverts prefer more structured activity with purpose driven and authentic conversation. For introverts, the quality of the connection is more important than quantity. With these concepts in mind you can brainstorm with clients about ways to make connections with people. Some ideas with introverts in mind follow.
These allow for structured meetings in which the networker develops questions prior to the meeting based on career information of interest to the client.
Set Goals for Networking Events:
This technique provides the individual with specific tasks to accomplish, whether it is to focus on identifying information related to a specific topic or interacting with a specific number of people.
Go With What You Know:
Introverts tend to like to research and this can be used to their advantage. They can be the ones to share information at the networking event; people will then know they can go to these individuals in the future.
Remember to Share and Connect:
Most introverts are relatively self-sufficient when dealing with issues. Consider brainstorming with others about solving a problem. Connecting with others on small things can help develop a continuing relationship, thus ensuring a support system for bigger issues.
Attend Events with a Purpose:
These types of events, educational or cultural for example, tend to provide structure through an agenda, as well as concrete information on which to build a connection afterward.
A great way to have a purposeful role is to volunteer to work at a networking event. This will provide a structured way of interacting with many individuals.
Share the Experience:
Taking a friend or colleague to an event can make the experience less intimidating. Make this a fun venture by seeing how many people you can each connect with during a specified time frame; then reconnect and share what you learned.
Talking vs. Listening:
It is important to share information, but listening can be underrated. There is no need to feel responsible to talk as much as the other person.
As counselors, we need to be champions for our clients and help them discover their unique attributes, as well as encourage personal growth moments through experiences that stretch a bit beyond their natural comfort level. By keeping the client’s unique attributes in mind, the counselor can work with each client to discover the best strategies for them to be successful at networking. Initiate discussions with your clients to learn what networking techniques will work for them, share some of the ideas presented in this article, and then set goals to help them achieve their career aspirations in these competitive economic times.
Ancowitz, Nancy (2010). Self-Promotion for introverts: The quiet guide to getting ahead. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Tullier, M.L. (1998). Networking for everyone: Connecting with people for career and job success. Indianapolis, IN: JIST Works, Inc.
Zack, Devora (2010). Networking for people who hate networking: A field guide for introverts, the overwhelmed and the underconnected, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Wendy LaBenne, M.A., M.S.Ed., N.C.C., M.C.C.,is a Career Development Specialist at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, MO. She is the current President of the Missouri Career Development Association (MoCDA). Wendy has over five years experience in career counseling and more than three years experience in the human resource field. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resource Development and a Master of Science in Education, Counselor Education. She can be reached at 314-977-2831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.