Money & Careers

Career Networking for the Introverted

While it is true that the largest percentage of job offers are landed through connections people have made, networking can be a struggle whether you’re a shrinking violet or the life of the party.

Networking, for many of us, conjures up an image of a bunch of suits meandering around a conference room with plastic name tags pinned to their lapels, exchanging business cards and drumming up insincere banter with other suits. More recently, that picture also includes amassing hundreds of LinkedIn and Facebook connections, the majority of whom you will never get to know.

For those who would rather chew off their own arm than drum up conversations with strangers about their job search, a change in perspective about what networking really is can be a great start.

But before you make that first networking step, it’s crucial to know the two most important rules about why people do or do not get hired in the first place:

Managers will only hire people they like to work with.

You must be likeable if someone is going to want to spend eight or more hours with you every day. This doesn’t mean promising to ply office mates with brownies or painting a permanent smile on your face while you discuss potential job opportunities. It means that your networking conversations will lead a manager to understand that you’ll be a drama-free employee or co-worker who goes out of her way to make the manager’s job easier. Demonstrate examples of how you have gotten along with all kinds of people and all generations in the workplace. Avoid discussions about personal challenges with commuting, needy family members or other stressful scenarios that would lead employers to believe you might be a high-maintenance hire.

To take this a step further, remember that toeing the company line sometimes means that you have to put your own values on the back burner. While you never want to overlook social injustices or tolerate downright unethical behaviors at work, an employer expects you to place the company’s priorities above all else while on the job. While you are developing networking conversations, you may need to bite your tongue when political discussions arise or if you sense that your deep belief in minimizing team meetings or avoiding company socializing is not going to resonate well. You don’t want to be like George Costanza in that Seinfeld episode who resisted when a potential boss offered him pie and said, “You’ll take a bite if you’re one of us”.

When managers consider you to fill a job, you are there to solve their problem; they are not there to solve yours.

Job candidates often derail themselves in networking scenarios and formal interviews by leading the conversation with the perspective of what a role with the company is going to do for them. Whether you are looking to escape a bad boss or boredom, to make more money or add a new skill set to your own repertoire, do not make the mistake of expecting a potential hiring manager to care. She has a problem — someone has retired or moved on — leaving a gaping hole in her already-understaffed team. Demonstrate how you can make her pain go away. This, above all, will get her attention. Save your personal dilemmas for friends and family or personal reflection to help sort it out.

Once you have practically tattooed these two cardinal rules into your forehead, you are ready to start networking.

Don’t worry about building new relationships yet—build on existing ones.  

Yes, certainly turn to relatives, acquaintances, your college alumni group, sororities and fraternities to let them know you are looking for a job. After all, these contacts are well within your comfort zone; they get you. But instead of immediately asking them for something—a job lead, an interview request—offer something valuable to them, instead. Offer to put them in touch with people they may want to know. Send them an article you found about some obscure thing you know they love, but no one else usually cares about.

Then mention that you have a sincere interest in digital marketing and that you’ve taken UX Design courses lately, or that you’ve passed a couple of certifications on you own dime. The shift in perspective is that you are showing how you would add value if you worked for their company. You aren’t asking for a handout.

Instead, you’ve demonstrated how they would benefit from a deeper discussion about bringing you in to meet their boss. Suddenly introducing you to their team is a feather in their cap—not a favor done for you.

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