5 Tips For Professional Networking As An Introvert
“I’m not shy; I’m an introvert.”
I grew up believing I was an extrovert. Being the first-born and a theatre nerd in high school, I tricked myself and those around me into thinking that my constant chatter and big energy were signs of a fearless socialite. No stage or person or—when I was old enough to work—interview scared me. I wore outgoing like a skin and was even named ‘social butterfly’ in the school yearbook.
Then, during my senior year in college, I worked as an intern for a sales company in Colorado. My boss sent me to a networking conference in D.C. For three consecutive days, I wandered around a hotel banquet hall in a pencil skirt and blouse, forcing myself into small talk and sales pitches with people my parents’ age. By the time I returned to my room every night, I felt depleted, so much so that I opted out of the optional networking activities and went to a coffee shop instead. By the time my plane landed in Colorado, I was questioning my career path and my assumed extroversion.
A lot of self-reflection and a few therapy sessions later, I learned it’d all been a farce. I was not, in fact, an extrovert, but rather a ‘social introvert’—while I don’t mind social gatherings or putting myself out there, too much social stimulation depletes my energy. I’m comfortable with and even enjoy social experiences, but I always feel most relaxed and energized when I’m at home and alone. Psychology Today explains it like this: “Many introverts…socialize easily; they just strongly prefer to do so in very small groups or, at times, prefer not to interact with others at all.”
It’s been almost a decade since that trip to D.C., so I’ve had time to practice being an introvert in social settings, as well as in the workplace. Because networking is essential regardless of profession and personality-type, here are a few of my go-to tips for networking as an introvert:
1. Use LinkedIn and Introvert-Friendly Apps to Your Advantage
The internet: it’s an introvert’s best friend. While online communication still feels daunting, I find it’s much less intimidating than in-person networking. Gone are the days of showing up at an expo center to shake sweaty palms and hand out business cards. Rather, we introverts can conserve the energy that would otherwise be used during in-person meetings and network from behind our laptop screens 🙌.
LinkedIn, of course, is excellent for this. You can learn about a person before ever reaching out. From discovering mutual connections to realizing shared interests and alma maters, the ‘social media platform for grown-ups’ is a virtual gathering place of choice for networking as an introvert. Just make sure to follow the do’s and don’ts of LinkedIn—so you don’t come across like a creeper.
2. Before Sending Cold Emails, Watch Silly YouTube Videos
Cold emails are uncomfortable for everyone, I think, even the most extroverted extroverts. I loathe sending them as much as I dislike receiving them. But then I remember that we’re all human, and each one of us is simply trying to excel in our professional endeavors.
I don’t send many cold emails in my line of work, but I do for my personal writing. Pitching literary editors is incredibly daunting, especially when you’ve never written for the publication or don’t have a mutual connection. Still, editors are gatekeepers to publications—thus, the pitch emails need to be sent.
I’ve found it helpful to have a practice in place for pitch days. When it comes time to send an email, I take a few moments to collect my thoughts and set an intention for the encounter. Sometimes I even step outside for fresh air or do a mini-meditation at my desk. Jessica Dalka, Creator and CEO of Chicago Planner Magazine, suggests watching silly YouTube videos because “people can sense when you’re in a good mood and it also gives [you] a second to take a moment and remember it’s not that serious.” I personally watch dance videos (like this one), as well as flash mob videos. These clips remind me that the world is full of kind and silly people who are all just trying to connect with one another and get work done (or, in my case, stories published).
3. Be Selective About Networking Events
I rarely attend networking events—small group gatherings and intentional meetings prove to be more meaningful for me, especially in the creative industry. Following the advice of Amie Thompson, President & CEO of Creative Allies, a multicultural marketing company, I “ask others in [my] network for introductions and find networking opportunities that suit [my] style.”
On the rare occasion that I do go to a larger networking conference, I oblige by the following rules:
I’m selective. I only go to an event if it’s been recommended by someone on my team or if I know professionals from like-minded organizations will be in attendance. My goal is to build genuine relationships with people in editorial work and sustainability—I don’t need to relive my D.C. experience and collect a stack of business cards.
Eventbrite is a good starting point for research. Many event organizers publish schedules and speaker line-ups in advance. From there, you can gauge the kinds of professionals who will be attending.
I create a game plan. In the weeks leading up to the event, I choose at least three people I want to connect with at the event. This list serves as my compass for the day, and it’s something I can return to when feeling overwhelmed or like I want to run and hide in the bathroom.
I also plan out my talking points. James Rice, the Head of Digital Marketing at WikiJobs in the UK, recommends “making sure you are prepared [as this] will reduce your anxiety.” He continues by emphasizing that it’s “daunting for anyone to make conversation with strangers, but preparing what you want to say in advance could really help. Think of some questions you could ask to fill awkward silences and don’t be afraid to put your listening skills to good use by making others feel heard.”
I lean on co-workers to help with introductions and small talk. Elliot Blackler, Co-Founder of Evopure, a farm to door natural supplements company in the UK, suggests not “putting pressure on [your]self to actually pitch to people immediately. Be curious, ask questions and try to understand what that individual cares about.” I also lean into my listening skills (my favorite introvert superpower) and invite the other person to share their story.
I take breaks. Especially after long conversations, I excuse myself for a few moments to walk around the event center in silence. Sometimes, I opt out of a breakout session to sit in my car and read. It’s okay to leave and seek out solitude. Listening to your needs and refueling is necessary for introverts, especially at larger networking events.
4. Take Care Of Yourself After Networking
This is my all-time favorite part of networking (and life in general). After an event, or even after a day of cold emails, I indulge in self care. I reward myself for doing the things that feel unnatural and exhausting. An evening at a bookstore, my favorite take-out and a movie, or a hot bath usually do the trick. Reward yourself for doing hard things. Here are some of my favorite sustainable and ethical products to encourage self care.
5. Learn From Other Introverts
Finally, I look to other professionals like myself to learn more about how to thrive in the workplace as an introvert. Here are my favorite work-related books for introverts:
Quiet by Susan Cain
Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D.
Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung
Taking the Work Out of Networking by Karen Wickre
Introvert Doodles by Maureen ‘Marzi’ Wilson
What is your most successful networking tip? Share in the comments below!
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.