Networking at its simplest is talking to people and making connections. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it isn’t so simple for introverts. Introverts prefer not to engage in small talk. They prefer deep conversations about topics they are passionate about. Unfortunately, I would estimate networking is about 80% small talk. Also, while most introverts don’t mind socializing, they don’t want to do it for a long period of time. Job fairs, career expos, and networking nights in large rooms full of strangers can be very intimidating. Being an introvert myself, I understand the struggle.
Last year, I went through a pretty rigorous recruitment process for a fellowship opportunity that taught me quite a bit about networking. As someone who used to avoid going to events where I had to talk to people I didn’t know, this was very overwhelming. The process itself made me question whether or not the fellowship was worth it. Basically, each step of the recruitment process involved talking, whether formally or informally, with current fellowship members and potential employers. I couldn’t help but wonder, what was I going to talk to these people about? I doubted that I could sustain conversation. Somehow, I survived; and now I’m a better person for it. From one introvert to another, here are my four tips to make networking a little less painful.
1. Start with a warm up
First, find someone you know in the room or spend a few minutes talking with a friend who accompanied you. They will help you warm up, build your confidence and get some of the nervous and awkward feelings out of your system. Talk with them for a few minutes, then lose them. If you cling to someone you know the whole time, you’ll keep yourself from making new connections. Also, you want the people you meet to remember you, not your friend, so why jeopardize that by following them around
2. Be authentic After the first fellowship networking event, I realized I didn’t need to brag about my past experiences or try to impress anyone with industry knowledge. I needed to sell my personality, what I cared about and what set me apart from everyone else. This is what would make me memorable. Think about the things you love, the things you think other people will think are weird. People will appreciate your authenticity. Once you start talking about what you love or are interested in, it will likely become easier to hold a conversation. Successful networking is about building relationships and connecting with people, not just small talk, and being real with them will pay off.
3. Keep up on current events
If you are anxious about making small talk–the real necessary evil–it’s a good idea to brush up on some current events and popular culture that people will be generally familiar with. I’d suggest local news, (non partisan) politics, movies, books and relevant industry news. Do your research. With some knowledge under your belt, you won’t feel the need to improvise and you’ll start to feel more comfortable with small talk.
4. Relax and recharge
Introverts need time alone to recharge, especially after extended social interaction. If you are at an event and you are getting overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to go and hide by the food for a few minutes, step out of the room or take a break in the bathroom. Taking a minute for yourself will help you, especially if the event you are at lasts a long time or there are a lot of people you need to talk to. Don’t worry about looking awkward, no one will notice.
I’ll admit it: networking is hard and I don’t like it. As a final suggestion, I encourage you to set mini, achievable goals. You don’t have to talk to everyone in the room or even stay the whole time. Staying just 15 minutes and meeting one person could benefit you in ways you never imagined.
Rachel Brown is a first-year graduate student. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Professional Health Education. Rachel loves sharing her passion for health and wellness with others, traveling to new places, and enjoying a good meal.