Introvert, shy, outgoing, extroverted. These words have meaning, but they don’t do anything to help with networking. The focus needs to be on creating resources, not why someone can or can’t talk to others.
Many times when I talk about networking, someone says they’re an introvert, and therefore can’t do it. When I press for more detail, I’m often told that it’s about being shy. I don’t completely accept this theory.
The fact is, introverts aren’t necessarily shy. If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, better known as the MBTI, you know their “introversion” type has more to do with where people draw their energy than whether they want to talk to other people. So that means introverts feel somewhat drained after interacting with others – it doesn’t mean they can’t do it.
It’s OK to feel exhausted after networking. Even people who enjoy talking to others can feel that way, because networking can be a big part of advancing your career, and that in itself can sometimes be a taxing prospect.
My first recommendation is to stop labeling. Introvert, shy, outgoing, extroverted – all of those words have meaning, of course, but they don’t do anything to help with networking. The focus on this activity needs to be creating resources, not why someone can or can’t talk to other people.
This brings me to my next recommendation: Start in a different place. An interesting social phenomenon has been happening in the past decade; perfect strangers are interacting with each other online, saying things they would likely never say face-to-face and connecting with people they’d never meet in day-to-day situations. Social media can be a great place to start networking.
With this in mind, here are some tips:
Don't overthink. If you think you can’t network, you’re right. Not because you’re physically or emotionally incapable, but because you’ve already made up your mind that you are unable to do it. If you think you can try, you’re also right.
Look for help. Consider a public speaking course, or joining a civic group that asks you to present to the community.
Reach out to others. Research others who are active in your area of interest and reach out to one of them. Nothing makes people feel better than to be recognized for their efforts, and an email or message acknowledging a common interest is almost always welcome. This can be a springboard to further conversation, as well as invitations to events. (Then, you’ll already know someone at that event. If that’s the case – half the battle is won at that point.)
Join your crowd. When possible, attend events. Begin establishing a presence in the circles of interest to you. You will have to talk, eventually, but forget about whether this will drain you, because the truth is, it doesn’t matter. You still have to do it.
Remember the deeper reason you’re networking. It’s not only about your own career – if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re passionate about improving health care. I can’t think of a better reason to reach out to someone.
Rebekah Apple, MA, DHSc, is director of student affairs and programming for the American Medical Student Association.