Networking Tips: For Introverts, from an Introvert
When I was accepted to graduate school, orientation week ended with a networking event. As an introvert, and as a survivor of a rigorous orientation week, I was not looking forward to the painful forced smiles, awkward icebreakers, and the usual tactics that accompany such social settings.
But, alas! Social mixers and after-work social hours are often prime grounds for networking. Such events are environments where my extroverted colleagues thrive. I can hold my own in this field, but I admit this is not my natural habitat.
Entering my second year of professional nonprofit work after my graduate studies, I realize that there are aspects of networking my fellow introverts and I can hone well.
I’ve summarized a few tips I use to fine-tune my networking game:
Take Note of Addresses in Those Massive Emails
From time to time we all receive those massive emails that are sent to our programs (these emails include policy updates, new program rules, etc.).
My former supervisor asked me to Google the addresses that appeared to be local with one of these correspondences. This basic and somewhat stalkerish task yielded a list of similar nonprofit leaders in our shared program. I then sent an email to each colleague to introduce myself. This simple correspondence created a valuable peer-to-peer mentorship among us; we now share program tips and encouragement via email (my preferred mode of communication).
Think Beyond Trainings
It is easy to attend a training session with the myopic scope of that single event: learn what you need to know, take notes, and download what you can to your colleagues back at home.
However, taking time during coffee breaks to speak to fellow attendees could help. You can learn about peers, their organizations, and future partnerships.
Often funders’ advice is limited to the legal parameters of their programs. However, your counterparts at other nonprofits can provide peer advice on how best to administer a program through practical problem solving.
Trainings can also be useful for your own professional development as you can ask attendees about their career trajectories, hopes and goals.
This tip will oddly have a similar feel of a mixer (the situation described at the top of this article). However, the difference is the audience. The technical nature of trainings will help an introvert “fall back” on a topic to initiate or save a conversation. A fall back or icebreaker that is much deeper than “the weather” or “how the local sport team is doing”.
You never know who is sitting next to you. Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Often times, executive directors attend technical trainings in place of their staff. With your technical knowledge as an ice breaker, you can approach executives with confidence; especially if you have a track record of success in your program area.
Career advancement may be available just beyond that introduction.
Build Coalitions For the Sake of Partnership
Build Coalitions and partnerships as soon as possible. Do not wait to do this when you need something. Also, do not be afraid to help others in your network. I had a colleague who needed housing data for a noncompeting grant application. I checked with my director to see if the data was public, provided the approved data, and when I needed help with data from my colleague, he reciprocated without hesitation.
These soft coalitions can be formalized with Memorandums of Understanding to ensure that partnership terms are clear.
Its tough to think long term as such efforts cost time and energy upfront with little promise of a return on investment. However, we should think of it as an investment with rich potential.
We face unknown challenges. One thing that is certain is that these challenges will require stronger coalitions. As budgets tighten funders are more and more looking for nonprofits that work in groups rather than on their own to reduce replicated services and to get more out of their invested dollars.
Leave Pens with the Check
If appropriate, leave your business pen with the check after you pay for dinner. This is a passive way to get your name out there. Very many people, including myself, take pens with them.
Share and Promote Milestones
One of my colleagues taught GED courses. I attended one of the GED graduations. To my surprise, I saw several members of my professional network there. This venue was provided by my colleague but it allowed me an inadvertent opportunity to network and gain extra face time with my network while adding a few more colleagues to my associations.
Volunteer for your colleagues and their special events. Also consider becoming a volunteer for an organization outside of your expertise. This maximizes your exposure and widens your knowledge base. If you ever want to change careers, past volunteer work in the new field of choice will prepare you for that next step and provide a competitive advantage over inexperienced applicants.
–Encouraging Last Words
Being an introvert does not mean you have a permanent networking handicap. Remember that networking extends beyond the mixer. Most of the above actions require passive but long-term, effective action and go beyond the 60 minute social gathering.
Stereotypical strengths of introverts include our ability to be thoughtful, kind and our awareness of social bonds. The above tips leverage that skill set.
Introverts are often encouraged to be more extroverted but I argue the above steps are tools in the introvert’s networking tool kit (many recommended actions are already a natural part of our personalities) that can allow us to build strong, lasting networks.
Fellow introverts: embrace who you are.
“Calling all Introverts” Pritchard, Mary,. HuffingtonPost 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-pritchard/introvert_b_1943734.html