You don’t need to have a gregarious or outgoing personality to build a network of professional contacts – in fact, your approach may be better received than the brash personality types out there.
As John Lees, career strategist and author of “How to get a job you’ll love”, explains: ‘There is a misconception that only extroverts can network. Introverts in fact have some advantages: they are natural listeners and they tend to reflect before they speak. They are also sometimes better at building long-term relationships.’
But John Lees stresses that regarding yourself as an introvert should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing.
‘Connecting with people in your job search is a skill that needs practising, and the less it comes naturally, the easier you should make the first steps.’
He suggests beginning with “Level 1 conversations” – which he describes as ‘the gentlest form of networking’, and which anyone can do.
‘Start by talking to people you already know and trust, but talk to them in a way you’ve never done before.
‘This approach helps avoid mistakes that will feel like setbacks. Like the cold rebuff you get when you start a phone call saying “you don’t know me, but….” or approaching high-level contacts too early in the process when you’re still feeling bruised by redundancy and you don’t know what you’re looking for.
‘Why give people the opportunity to say “not now” or a plain “no” when you’re aware how much these will set you back?’
John Lees advises nervous networkers to target the easiest people to begin with.
‘When you pick up the phone you know that you can just begin a conversation, and you don’t need to prepare a script of what you will say,’ he explains.
‘Be honest about what you’re asking for – make it clear that you are setting up brief conversations with a range of people to find out what goes on under the bonnet in a particular sector.’
Just think carefully about what to ask for – and steer clear of favours which would be a big ask of your contact.
‘Ask people for things they are happy to deliver – not CV advice or a job interview, but a good conversation about the world the post holder knows well. And thank people properly.
‘So, start by talking only to people you know, ask about their job universe, then ask them to introduce you to someone else – a proper, warm introduction, not just a name.’
The big event
Once you’ve had a few “safe” conversations with the contacts you already know, you may wish to consider attending an industry networking event.
Of course it can be intimidating going into a room full of strangers and feeling pressured to make contacts, but the fear of networking is often much worse than the reality.
‘If you are at an event, ask one of the organisers to introduce you to others, as they will usually be happy to facilitate this,’ suggests Corinne Mills, Managing Director of Personal Career Management and author of “Career Coach: Your personal workbook for a better career”.
‘Do make sure that you introduce yourself clearly, so that people know your name and what you do, as this often reveals areas of common ground for conversation.
‘As long as you show an interest in people and a willingness to listen, generally people will only be too happy to talk to you.’
Networking from home
If you can’t face wearing a name badge and making small talk, don’t despair. Online forums and networking sites like LinkedIn allow you to make contact with people in your sector – without even having to leave home.
To get started, search for ex-colleagues and look for groups set up within your industry. Remember, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out – so be sure to post messages and join the conversation rather than just observing.
Having a few conversations online should make it easier when you take the plunge and meet up at a real life event. You’ll be networking like a pro before you know it.