I am an introvert. On the Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ. I am definitely not a salesperson and often networking has felt like I was trying to sell myself and my skills to others.
I much prefer spending time having deep conversations to engaging in small talk. Over the years I have gotten better at small talk, but it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. However, as my career has grown, I have wanted opportunities to write, publish, and present. Additionally, I don’t always want to do these things alone, so I have needed to find colleagues with similar interests.
Fairly early in my career, I was introduced to a new way of networking by Alana Muller. At the time she was President of Kaufman FastTrac, an entrepreneurship program in Kansas City. She also had her own business discussing networking. She told stories of how her networking was often one-on-one conversations. She went out for coffee or lunch with people. She didn’t see networking as growing a lot of shallow relationships, but instead, saw networking as relationships to invest in. This was a new vision for networking that I could get behind. She suggested starting by connecting with the people already in your life and then asking for their suggestions of who else you should meet. Again, this seemed more doable than other networking strategies I had heard. So this led me to being more intentional about networking. I started with people I already knew, asked them for suggestions of who I should meet for projects I was interested in working on. Then, they would often introduce me to someone new, or I would contact the person and explain our mutual acquaintance suggested we meet. Somewhat surprisingly people responded well. They were often also interested in the same projects and also wanted people to collaborate with. I started to realize that we all have a lot in common.
Over the years I have become a lot better at networking, though I continue to do it in a way that is comfortable for my introverted nature. Here are tips I have learned along the way:
- Volunteer. This is a great networking strategy because it is easier to meet people when there is a project to work on. Volunteering also brings you in contact with people you would not normally meet.
- Figure out what interests you and identify specific projects that you want to work on. If you know what you want to work on, locating people with similar interests is much easier. I believe we sometimes think of networking as something we need to do to grow, but don’t think about the specific goals we have for networking. Identifying our goals can make it less burdensome, because it is purposeful. If you know your goals, you can quickly determine whether the time and effort you are expending are worth it.
- Identify professional groups. I have gotten involved with professional organizations because networking within these groups is much easier. I can meet people when we work on projects or volunteer for the same groups. Professional groups also will host specific networking sessions and as awkward as these can be, at least if you go, you know that everyone there already has a common interest.
- Identify people you want to meet. I’m actually a big believer in the six degrees of separation. Often people know people. And while I would never suggest using people, it can help to think about who you want to meet, figure out what work they do that interests you, and see if there are any common connections.
- Ask friends to suggest people you should meet. I mentioned this earlier and want to reiterate it. Having others break the ice for you can really help make networking successful.
- Send thank you notes. In networking, following up is very important. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Make sure that you follow up with every connection you make. If you come home with a few business cards, make sure to take a few minutes the next morning and send an email letting the person know it was a pleasure to meet them. This is also a great time to let them know they should reach out to you in the event that you can ever help them in any way.” Acknowledge that someone gave you their time.
As you think about growing your professional network, I suggest you start by identifying interests and areas in your career where you can grow. What do you want to do? Are there people who can help you fill gaps in your career or help you achieve goals? Once you identify these things, you can start using the strategies mentioned above. Ultimately, be strategic in networking.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please learn more about Lauren and read her other posts about skills for special librarians; then take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterprise, used daily by special librarians to collaborate on projects and learn from each other.
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