This story is real. Some details have been changed because … well, it’s a small world. “It was a bloodbath,” whispers a Chanel-clad HR executive whom we’ll call Ginger Parker. “They canned my boss and put my nemesis in charge of the department. I called in sick the next day and made a list of everyone I could possibly contact,” she says. “It was red-alert time. I had to get the hell out.”
Parker, who is an introvert, shares how she got into gear: “I brainstormed names of everyone I could think of—friends, family, former bosses, clients, colleagues, people from elevators, shoe stores, Jacuzzis, and bat mitzvahs.” She reflects: “Thankfully, over the years, I had always been generous about connecting people, sharing information, leads, staying in touch, and offering my talents as a problem solver.
“I didn’t realize how many people would be happy to help me,” Parker continues. “The outpouring of support was phenomenal and landed me my next job within a few months in an unexpected way. An acquaintance I had met bungee jumping in New Zealand a year earlier offered to introduce me to a colleague. The acquaintance was a bond trader. I was a senior human resources manager— different worlds—but within a few weeks, I got a sizzling hot offer at a competitor, and packed my bags and never looked back.”
Parker’s story demonstrates the value of networking, which we’ll define as building business relationships for mutual benefit. Networking works best as a lifelong pursuit rather than as self-promotion CPR when you need a job or want to power up your business during down times. “I treasure that I have a lot of people in my network and that I can help make connections,” says Gary Osland, account director at mNovakDesign. “No matter what my colleagues are looking for—whether it’s a good speech writer, chiropractor, or a locksmith—they come to me. I value that they put trust in my recommendations.” He adds: “And the goodwill usually comes back to me.”
As an introvert, you’d probably rather listen than talk most of the time. You’re adept at building deep and lasting relationships. You’re trusted, accountable, and a core contributor. People look to you for your expertise. However, you’re not a schmoozer. You value your space and quiet time. Regardless, you have distinct advantages that enable you to create a strong network that can provide you with continuous support.
Why network? A CareerXroads study of name-brand firms’ use of networking found that the number one external source of new hires was referrals (28 percent), while the second largest source was online job boards (26 percent). So from the standpoint of hiring organizations, word of mouth is the best way to find you. Likewise, if you’re an independent consultant or business owner, your network—including the clients and colleagues who sing your praises—is probably what pays your bills. So how are prospective clients and employers going to find you unless you tell people in your network that you’re for hire?
In this chapter we’ll talk about how you can apply your existing gifts and resources to strengthening your professional network. However, before you make your first phone call, identify what you can offer, who will be interested, what’s in it for the other party, and what you want from your network. We’ll cover getting recognition for your expertise; intercultural aspects of self-promotion; the ways you spend your networking time; and your sphere of influence—that is, who you know; how to ask for help; how to have informational interviews, which can help you expand and deepen your network; and how to break the ice in social situations. We’ll also discuss your elevator pitch, or the all-important answer to: “So tell me about yourself”; how to handle business cards; and how to present yourself with confidence. All you need to get started is a computer, a phone, and a smile. Ready?
Position Yourself as a Valued Expert
Shoya Zichy, author (with Ann Bidou) of Career Match, offers you advice that will help you raise your visibility: “Join organizations, volunteer your time, and take on special initiatives within your company.” She adds: “Find projects in which you can work with people from other departments, and be generous with your expertise. Also, write for company and industry publications whenever possible.” Zichy emphasizes the benefit of this approach for introverts: “Rather than being known for your charm, you become known as an expert providing a valuable service.”
Zichy gives the example of the former CEO of a Fortune 500 company she knows who is deeply introverted. Her contact was aware that he needed additional visibility, but he just wasn’t the type to schmooze in clubs in the Hamptons. Instead, as an art expert, he joined the board of a major museum. “That’s a big reason why all these people serve on volunteer boards,” says Zichy. “It’s often because of who will be sitting next to them.” Volunteering on a board will allow you to interact regularly, possibly over the course of a year or more, with others who share a common interest with you. This will give you ample opportunities to form deep, lasting relationships with a select few of your fellow volunteer board members. Perfect for an introvert.
You can reframe self-promotion as a more palatable activity by approaching it as a way of connecting and sharing with people you would enjoy knowing. One of my clients went out of his way to help three of his colleagues this week. He didn’t ask for anything in exchange—and he didn’t need to. A gifted but unassuming introvert, my client helped his colleagues because he enjoys connecting talented people with attractive opportunities. The generosity usually comes back to him, often in spades, and often when he’s least expecting it. He doesn’t push or pressure anyone. Of course, not everyone subscribes to the spirit of sharing. However, my client surrounds himself with people who understand the value of relationships and who look out for their colleagues over time.
So you’re a lawyer who addresses the needs of someone who has been wronged and is entitled to justice. You’re a technical writer who can translate complex concepts into plain English. Conveying these gifts is not just self-promotion—it’s letting others know that you have what they need. Kathleen Waldron, Ph.D., president of Baruch College, suggests a forum to help you spread the word: “You could cohost a lunch,” she says. “You bring people together, and they can have an interesting conversation. You show your leadership that way, and it doesn’t demand that you’re the public speaker or that you put yourself out there, which you may not be comfortable doing if you’re really introverted.”
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Of course, some people will respond to your efforts to connect and others won’t. “Don’t take things personally,” says Max Victor Alper, Ph.D., a fine art photographer who exhibits widely throughout the United States and Europe. I’ve heard this advice before, and it’s easier said than done. Here’s Alper’s approach: “As an artist, I have developed a dual consciousness—one that is aesthetic/spiritual, and the other in tune with the real/material world. This awareness protects me from the negativity of other people. When creating, an artist exists in a zone of beauty and truth that is akin to a spiritual experience. The creative process is exhilarating, while real life frequently seems diminished.” He concludes with a reflection that’s at once grounded and expansive: “So I feel like a religious zealot who will not permit other people’s criticism to destroy my faith in this extraordinary realm of creativity.”
Let’s bring our attention back to the real/material world. My general rule when it comes to networking is this: Three tries and I’m out. If you’re a prospective client and you show interest in hearing from me, it’s our mutual loss if you don’t respond to my phone messages and e-mails. You don’t get the benefit of what I have to offer, and I don’t get the benefit of working with you. Will I let it ruin my weekend when you don’t call me back? I doubt it. You may have gotten into a bubbly stew all of a sudden at work, you may have had to leave town, or you may just be a flake. I don’t care. My time is valuable too. Besides, I have to get back to my own beauty and truth!
So what can we take away from all of this? When you invest your time and energy to connect with someone and you don’t hear back after persisting several times, free yourself up to pursue other opportunities. It beats getting sucked into the vortex of self-doubt that many of us introverts are prone to. While it’s important to be aware of how you approach others, it can be self-defeating to second-guess yourself and ascribe your contacts’ unresponsiveness to something you did wrong.
Nancy Ancowitz is the author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead (McGraw-Hill) and a business communication coach specializing in career advancement and presentation skills. For more information, go to www.selfpromotionforintroverts.com.