“Networking” is a dreaded word for most introverts (and some extroverts, too!). But networking doesn’t need to be a drag, nor should it be reserved solely for extroverts. Some of the most successful networkers I know are die-hard introverts! There are many options for networking that don’t involve huge groups of people trying to sell something to you. Instead, networking can mean simply reconnecting with former colleagues, fellow students, your internship supervisor, or even the parents of the kids you babysat for in high school.
So, how can you be successful in curating and expanding your network when you may not be in need of that network for some time?
1. Networking is more than social media updates
Although a lot of networking is now done remotely and with technology, it’s much more than just status updates, likes, and follows. Use a professional networking site like LinkedIn to share career-related content. Maybe you’ve seen some cool research published recently or you’ve heard about events you think others may want to attend? Post about it on LinkedIn! Or maybe you’re feeling ambitious, and you publish your own content on LinkedIn. Share it with your network so they see the value in being connected to you. It will give them a reason to look at your profile and check out what you’ve been up to. My favorite posts are shout-outs to colleagues or alumni who are doing interesting things in the world. That’s a great way to stay connected and be of value to others.
2. You never know when your network will come in handy
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and you want to be sure that your network knows what’s going on with you so that they can be there for you when you need them. One CareerBuilder survey found that employers expect nearly 50 percent of their newly hired college grads to remain at the company for less than two years. You’ll want your network in place when you need to make a move—by choice or not—so always be prepared with those connections. Be sure to recommend someone with whom you’ve had a great working relationship. That person will remember that you helped them out, and it can pay dividends in the future to put out the good karma in advance of when you may need it.
3. You never know who is looking to connect with you
You never know who is looking at your profile or internet presence. Your network may be the key to a new role that you aren’t even searching out! Working in alumni relations, I often have students and alumni ask me for suggestions of others to connect with—and not just when they’re looking for informational interviews or jobs. Oftentimes they’re looking for people to recruit for a potential role at their organization or to join their board of directors, and they know the value of their degree and others who have similar experiences.
4. Everyone loves a free coffee or tea. Just remember to thank them!
Are you looking to explore a new career or want to learn more about an organization that you may want to work with in the future? Consider treating someone not currently in your network to a coffee or tea to learn more about their work or organization, and ask them if you can add them to your professional network. People love to talk about themselves and their work, but be mindful of their time and be upfront about what you are looking for. Informational interviews are not opportunities to ask for jobs. And please, remember to send them a thank-you note (a quick email is totally acceptable!). I have had more informational interviews end followed by radio silence from the individual who requested the interview. Not even a thank-you note in my inbox. That’s a quick way to crumble your network and referrals.
5. You need a new job, and quick!
If you've kept up with the various people in your network (sending a congrats message when they get a new job, seeking them out for a friendly coffee to talk about challenges or success you may have had, etc.), you will have built a level of trust and can be upfront about what you’re looking for from them. See a job posted at their company that you’re interested in? You’ll be able to connect and ask for their help and any advice or information they may know about that role without having to tap dance around what you need.
Keeping up your network can be a lot to take on at first. But try to tackle it in bite-size pieces and build networking into your routine. Trust me, it will pay off in the long run.