Dear Sam: How can I capitalize on the #1 way people say you get a job—by networking—when I am shy, reserved, and a true introvert? — James

Dear James: Such a good question! I too am an introvert, shy, reserved, and prefer small versus large groups. The good news however is that there is a way to learn to be more successful in these critical job search situations. First, you’re not alone! The word “networking” is enough to make some people cringe! Many people struggle with feeling awkward and unnatural in these arranged social situations. Instead of pretending to be someone you’re not and trying to approach networking like an extrovert, take time to prepare ahead of time and tap into your own strengths as an introvert. Here are some tips to help you navigate these crucial career development events:

  1. Prepare

Before heading into your next networking event, take time to identify your goal: What do you want to learn from others? What do you want others to learn about you? Have a few questions ready (you can even write some down!), such as “How did you get involved in the ____ field?” or “What would make someone the ideal employee for your company or organization?” Having a list of questions prepared can help you avoid the dreadful awkward silence. You can also do some research on people in advance by finding out who’s going to the event – this can give you an idea of who you might want to talk to in person.

  1. Focus on One-on-One Conversations

Networking events that require engaging with large groups are particularly intimidating for introverts. Instead of focusing on the quantity of conversations you have with others, focus on the quality. Try to have conversations with one person at a time, and focus on making sure these conversations are productive. The key is to try to form relationships, so be sure to ask for their contact information so you can follow up later. 

  1. Be approachable

If you’re not comfortable walking up to strangers, there are ways to make yourself more approachable so that people come up to talk to you. Smile, make eye contact, and maintain open body language (i.e. don’t cross your arms in front of your chest, don’t stare down at your phone, and don’t hide against the wall). By remaining present in the moment and giving off a friendly vibe, it is more likely that people will want to get to know you.

  1. Bring a Friend

Invite a colleague or friend to join you at your next networking event. Having at least one familiar face can help you calm your nerves and will give you someone to introduce to others. Try to avoid only speaking to that friend though — remember the point of the event is to meet new people!

As an introvert, it can be hard to open up to others and to build rapport with new people. However, statistics show that upwards of 80% of jobs are secured through networking, so avoiding networking opportunities altogether can turn out to be a critical career mistake. Focus on your strengths to help with this process, and remember that the goal is to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.