As I’ve posted previously, most of the mass-media networking tips you find are perfect—if you’re an extrovert. And since the general population is between 50% to 75% extrovert, most people can take the typical networking advice—go out to professional meetings, conferences, and the like and chat people up—and do fairly well at it. Not so much for introverts.
When you’re an introvert—as many, many lawyers are, since the typical Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for lawyers is ISTJ—networking is much trickier. You fight yourself to even get to the darned meeting or conference in the first place. And then, you don’t know quite what to do.
So you need to find tools that are more likely to work for you and your inherent personality. In other words, you need networking strategies for the long haul, and that means ones that play to your nature, not require you to act against it. (Going against type can make you seem dumber, according to Psychology Today.)
Here are some good networking tools for introverts that are sustainable over more than a few weeks of initial enthusiasm.
1. Pursue a hobby or interest. Yep, seriously. With the caveat that it needs to be a hobby that involves meeting others, somehow. Most solitary activities have classes for adding skills, for example. And make it something that you really, truly, deeply would like to explore. That is what will light you up and attract people to you, which is what you’re really after in life and in networking, right?
An example from my own life: I once took a class in making tassels—those lovely, ornate things used for holding back curtains. (Note how this had absolutely nothing to do with law or writing.) While there, I met an interesting woman with a similar snarky sense of humor. I was too shy and clueless about networking to ask for a card. But about a year later, I ran into her at one of those networking thingies. I remembered her, we chatted, and not long after, I ended up with some freelance work from her company. We still keep in touch.
The other people at the networking thingie? Wouldn’t know them if you put them in a lineup AND illegally clued me in to which ones I had met. Just sayin.
2. Talk to people while getting coffee, lunch and groceries. I know, this sounds like one of those extrovert tactics, but it’s actually worth trying. It gives you good practice at talking with strangers—you need that for interviews, right?—with little downside. Someone doesn’t want to talk? No big deal, they’re probably shy, preoccupied or having a bad day.
Approaching these casual chats with the right mind-set is critical—your goal here is not to serendipitously meet the VP of a company you want to work for. It’s to be open and curious about your fellow human beings, and see where that curiosity takes you. That’s it. You might have an inane conversation about the weather. Fine! Or, you might hear something really interesting you never thought of before. And that could set off a train of thought that leads you in a new direction. You could meet someone who turns out to be very important in your life. Heck, I met my husband at a Starbucks, because I was willing to be open and curious, and talk to him instead of focusing only on the work I had brought with me.
3. Use social media. For those of you who are Gen Yers or are heavy social media users, feel free to eyeroll and skip this part. GenXers and Boomers, pay attention if you are social media-resistant.
The way that people relate is changing. Remember when partners and other fuddyduddies (and maybe even you) balked at “talking into those blasted machines” when answering machines and voice mail made their way onto the scene? Well, Twitter and FaceBook are the early 21st century equivalent of voice mail, folks.
FaceBook is truly stunning in its ability to connect you with people you’ve lost touch with. Aside from the joy of that—which to me is the main reason to be on FaceBook—they might just be good contacts. FaceBook also lets you keep up with details of friends’ lives that you wouldn’t know otherwise. Your friends can know, without a lot of effort on either part, that you still take an active interest in them.
On Twitter, you can make new friends in a target industry by following interesting people (your definition of that), replying to their tweets that really grab you, and posting helpful things of your own.
4. Use your writing skills. Many introverts are pretty good writers, and are infinitely more comfortable communicating in writing than in person. So use that fact to your advantage. Blog, contribute content for newsletters, write articles for professional publications.
And use those writing skills to participate in online fora in areas you’re interested in. I’ve made some actual friends via a health-related forum I’m a regular on—people I will happily meet IRL (that’s “in real life”—and here’s a guide to online acronyms) at some point.
These networking tools don’t have the instant gratification of getting a business card at a meeting. They can, in fact, take longer to yield fruit, which doesn’t sound all that great when you are desperate to find a new job. But keep your eye on the prize here, folks: You are looking for a lasting change in your life, not a quick-fix job in which you’ll be unhappy, AGAIN, in 6 months.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and career transition coach who put herself through an endless number of informational interviews. Some of them were even entertaining, and she met some nice people. Never did get a job out of them, though. What’s your favorite tip for networking? Drop her a line at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com.