Networking for Introverts | The Washington Center

Networking for Introverts

Networking. I've done assignments on networking, read studies about networking, and have had everyone from my parents to a sociology professor to TWC staff tell me about networking, networking, networking. Every day, as a working student and as an intern, I hear about LinkedIn or happy hour or whatever the latest newfangled social-professional trap has been invented to terrify my deeply introverted soul with. I admit it, I hate networking - at least in the traditional sense of the word.

 

I'm not a social person. I don't like working a room or making small talk with strangers. I fidget, I pick at my nails, and I panic over my palms being clammy and having to shake hands with people. I find networking as I've been introduced to the phrase to be overwhelming, stressful, and generally a fruitless exercise. Some people excel at networking and love chatting it up with others, sniffing out potential human resources like experienced professionals and smiling without an ounce of discomfort. As an introvert with a history of social anxiety, I am not one of these people. However, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I've managed to hold multiple positions, from City Year AmeriCorps member to photojournalist at a summer program to law firm file clerk. I have been employed every summer since I was 16 years old and steadily employed since mid-2014 even while studying as a full-time student. And, despite my distaste for traditional networking, I fully attribute this success to networking. So how can this be?

 

Well. The key is to know yourself, accept yourself, and then change the networking terrain to suit your strengths.

 

Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't test your boundaries. I've been to my fair share of networking events, and I've pushed through uncomfortable situations that left me wanting nothing more than a large blanket to hide under until I die. The thing is, I also know that these are my weaknesses and that I shouldn't force myself into these situations to the point of overwhelmed withdrawal. Experiencing these situations is fine once in a while, but I know that my networking strengths lie elsewhere, so I prefer to invest my efforts there.

 

For example: I know that where I shine is in the workplace, whether that's on the floor of the Boston Children's Museum or in the office of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. I know that when I talk to people in smaller, more organic settings, I am more comfortable and able to express myself in a more amiable and eloquent manner. I know that I am observant, considerate, and good at anticipating the needs of others, so I excel at doing small things for others that build good will. Additionally, I know I have a quirky sense of humor, that I am good with words, and that I can draw well enough. So how do I combine all of these traits together to endear myself to and make myself stand out in a positive way to others? How can I alter the networking terrain to suit someone that feels more comfortable with a pen than in a blazer?

 

A thank-you card I drew for a supervisor who wrote me a reference.

... it's an inside joke, you wouldn't understand anyway.

 

...  I get creative. I draw thank-you cards based off of strange inside jokes. I leave notes for people that I've befriended around the office if they're not in on a day that I'm working, especially if it means that they'll find it when they start their work week on Monday and need an extra shot of snickers. I try to notice if someone is having a tough day, and I try my best to make it better. Most importantly, I make everything that I give to others personal, fun, and honest - and therefore memorable. Unlike middle school, the criteria for these small gifts is the weirder it is, the better it is.

 

A drawing of one of my coworkers and her favorite Pokémon.

 

People that meet me at a networking event might not remember me, but my coworkers and peers will - and that's okay. That one guy from the networking event might forget me, but my manager at the Boston Children's Museum will remember how I make her laugh and always straighten the materials at the information desk because I noticed how much she cares about that. My fellow staff members at the summer program I worked at years ago still remember that I was always game to go grab a cookie with them after a rough day. Heck, even my elementary school students remember me for the thank-you cards I drew them nearly a decade ago. These strange doodles aren't something that everyone does and that's why it works as my trademark mode of networking.

 

Another inside joke with a supervisor that began because I wanted to leave my

supervisor a fun surprise to find on a day I was out of the office.

 

It's possible to succeed at networking even as a timid introvert. I'm living proof. All it takes is some creativity to redefine the terms of networking to suit your strengths. If you need more guidance than this, I recommend taking stock of the following and then proceeding from there:


  • Your strongest mode of communication — face-to-face, writing, phone, etc.
  • Your personality strengths — a good sense of humor, an ability to actively listen well, eloquence, etc.
  • Your unique talents — drawing, writing, recommending awesome books, etc.
  • The social setting(s) in which you're most comfortable — large groups of people, one-on-one, etc.
  • The physical settings in which you're most comfortable — in the workplace, at a formal event, at a small gathering, etc.

Good luck out there, fellow introverts.


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