I love to write about networking, and I love to speak about what I believe is one of the most important professional skills we can have in our arsenal. I think – no, I know – it is the most powerful tool we have to both enhance our personal lives and our careers. ‘Build your network and change your life’ is something I believe and practice. Amazing things happen when we force ourselves out of our comfort zones and engage the skill of connecting with other people.
Whenever I post an article on LinkedIn about networking, I get a lot of feedback, and a lot of comments. I think it is because networking is one of those skills we know we need. So, it is one we are attracted to. However, for most of us, networking is still the one skill that conjures up a lot of fear and anxiety.
At the very least, most of us would admit to a little uncertainty of exactly how we are supposed to network. This past week, I posted a quote “Your success – and your competitive advantage – depends on your ability to build and expand your network.” That got more than a thousand views and number of comments.
One comment came from a gentleman that asked a great question about how to network as an introvert, and how to network to transition from one role to another. What I love about his question is that it speaks to why networking is so critical, so important. Here it is:
“Meridith, how would you recommend an engineer who is slightly introverted network out of engineering into more of a sales role? Relating to non technical people is really hard for me, but after 23 years, and a global stage causing job pressures in the US, I know I need to grow.”
This is a man who gets it. The world is changing around him, and he wants to be prepared. Networking is the most important tool you have, if you want to find any type of security in these highly volatile times. In a world where your job can change, your company can downsize, or your position could be outsourced, the only control you have is to build powerful connections that can ensure you have information, options and the ability to flex and change as the marketplace does.
So how do you do that as an introvert? And, how do you network outside of your comfort zone? How do you network with different people? Different industries?
5 Strategies To Network Like A Pro
Embrace & Commit
First, you need to embrace and understand that networking is a critical part of career success. Research tells us that those of us who network, build connections over the course of a lifetime, and will make more money, get promoted more often, and have more job opportunity and experience less stress. So, networking is a bit like eating your vegetables. You may not like it, but you know it is good for you so it is something you need to commit to doing accurately and consistently.
Choose Your Network
You network to build your business, expand your career, and in essence, build connections that add value to your life. So, you need to choose your network. If you want to move from more of an engineering role to a sales role, as our friend in our example does. Then you need to choose a network where you meet, connect and interact with salespeople.
So much of success in networking really comes down to choosing the right network. You need to define your goal, know the outcome you want, and then choose the right network. Just the action of spending time with the right people will put you in a better position to achieve your goal.
The reason a lot of introverts do not like to network is that they do not like to talk about themselves. Well lucky for you, understand that networking is not about you. The goal of networking is not to tell other people about you, it is for you to learn about other people. You need to be outwardly focused. More than 80 percent of the conversation when you are networking needs to be the other “other” person talking. A perfect situation for an introvert. As a networker, you should talk 20 percent of the time and listen 80 percent of the time.
As an introvert, it is important to acknowledge that it takes more energy for you to network then it does for an extrovert. You’re a thinker, a processor, and you need down time to build energy. So when it comes to networking, you need to set a reasonable goal. If you know your goal, choose your network correctly, and have great open-ended questions to stay outwardly focused, you can accomplish a lot without having to network very often.
So, you know yourself, you know your energy level; set a goal that works well for you. Maybe you attend two events a month, and set a goal to meet three people. You get the idea – set a reasonable goal. Consistency is the key to networking.
When most people think of networking, they think of big events like fundraisers, chamber after hours or rotary. But networking is nothing more than connecting with other people – whatever that looks like.
So, choose events that work for your personality. If you are better one-on-one, maybe do coffees or lunches. Maybe asking a group to play golf, or shoot sporting clays works better for you. Maybe a balance of attending a fundraiser while serving on a committee is your best option. You know your personality, choose the event that works right for you.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the most important skill you can build is networking. Build your network and you will change your life. Put these strategies into place:
- Begin with embracing and committing to doing it;
- Choose your network, know the connections you need to build;
- Invest in learning about others;
- Set reasonable goals;
- And, choose events that fit your personality.
Follow these strategies and watch as you start to network like a PRO!