Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Five Tips for the Shy Networker

We’ve all heard it a million times: DC is a networking town. That simple truth sent shivers of anxiety through me when I first moved here. I have a more introverted personality so the idea of walking up to a complete stranger at a happy hour and introducing myself made (and still makes) my stomach churn. But that’s ok. Being shy or introverted doesn’t mean you can’t network. It just means you need to find the networking opportunities that work for your personality.

So here are my top five tips for the shy DC networker.

  1. Find a buddy. Networking happy hours or receptions are infinitely more comfortable if you have someone to walk in with. Having a buddy also improves your chances of meeting people since your buddy might be able to introduce you to his or her acquaintances.

Of course, it’s not always possible to have a buddy, so here are some tips for when you need to go solo.

  1. Seek out smaller events. I love small networking events. They are much more comfortable for me because they don’t feel so overwhelming. A perfect example is WIN’s Linking Leaders dinners. These are dinners for a small group of WIN members with an advanced professional who is there to answer questions and offer career advice. Generally, you’ll have plenty of time before or after the dinner to chat with people around you. You’ll all likely be standing in a living room so starting conversation feels less awkward. 

  2. Volunteer. Volunteering for the Women’s Information Network or another group is a great way for a shy person to meet people with similar interests. As a co-chair of the WIN feminist conversation series, I have an automatic reason to introduce myself to people who attend our events and an automatic reason to introduce myself to other WIN leaders. Volunteering is also a great way to build skills for your resume and make yourself known to other people who may be looking to hire or might know of open positions that would be good for you. 

  3. Talk to your friends. TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS. I cannot emphasize this enough. Does your roommate know someone at an organization you’re interested in? Does your neighbor work in your desired field? If you have a direct contact in your desired  field or at your desired organization, ask to sit down and chat over coffee or drinks. If a direct contact has valuable contacts, ask for an introduction. My favorite networking format is the one on one coffee/drink meet-up. I like this format because it’s longer and the parameters are already laid out. Our mutual friend has already made the introduction so my new contact has a basic understanding of my goal for the meeting. I have the time to do my research and prepare my questions. I can bring along a notebook and take notes. And most importantly, I don’t have to worry about standing alone awkwardly. 

  4. Push yourself and reward yourself. Sometimes you need to try something outside of your comfort zone. For some people, that means base jumping off a cliff. For other people, that means going to a networking reception alone. You might rather eat glass than attend a networking reception alone, but every so often, it might be worth it to push yourself to do it. If you end up at this dreaded event, don’t expect yourself to perform like an Olympic networker. Just try not to cower in the corner. You might only make it 25 minutes. That’s ok. You tried. Pat yourself on the back for trying something scary. Buy yourself a frozen yogurt or a new nail color. Feel good about your act of courage. And then do it again.

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