Wednesday, September 07, 2016 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

Today's question comes from a follower on Twitter (p-s: give me a follow if you haven't already!):

"I know that networking is important when you're trying to change careers, but I loathe it. I'm an introvert and standing in a crowded room trying to find people to talk to is my worst nightmare. Do I have any other options?"

Here's the scoop: networking has a bad rap! Somehow you slap the words "networking event" on a gathering, and it goes from being any old social event to a pressure-filled, anxiety-ridden thing. But I get it, I'm an introvert too, and whether it's a networking happy hour or a friend's housewarming party, being in any group larger than 5 or so gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The good news is that, thanks to the interwebs, in-person networking has actually become LESS efficient than focusing on an online strategy. Think about it: you never know exactly who's going to show up to an event, and you have to spend a good 10 minutes with an individual before you even know if you have anything in common. True, you never know who the person you're meeting with might know, and arguably face-to-face connections can make you more memorable, but meeting randoms at events is most definitely hit or miss.

It may not be the case with you, but introverts have a tendency to be better at expressing themselves in written versus verbal communications. So use your writing skills to create connections and start building relationships straight from your couch:

1) Determine your networking strategy. If you don't have goals or a purpose for networking, you won't meet the right people and you won't see measurable progress. Make sure before you even start connecting to people that you're clear on your reason for wanting to create these new relationships. Are you trying to learn more about a particular job, industry, function or company? Are you job searching? Get clear on who you want to talk to and why.

2) Use the resources at your fingertips to FIND people that you want to connect with. LinkedIn is a fantastic professional database that's searchable, and although you may need a premium account to connect with some people, by and large you'll be surprised at just how many individuals you can reach out to for free. Don't forget about tapping into personal connections -- check your contacts in your cell phone, your Facebook friend list and your email address book. You can also see what resources your alma mater(s) offer. Oftentimes they'll maintain an alumni database that you can search, or you can use LinkedIn's alumni tool (although usually the former will directly provide contact information, which LinkedIn won't do).

3) Write out your "pitch" -- who you are, what you're looking to learn, how you found this person and why you want to speak to them -- then reach out to your contacts requesting an informational interview. Ask for 15-30 minutes of time (aim for less time the higher the person's title, although they may always turn around and offer you more) and proactively provide a few dates and times that you're available.

4) Prepare your informational interview questions in advance. Know 5-7 things you want to learn so that you can focus the conversation. Be prepared to give your elevator pitch if asked (just NEVER ask someone to recommend you for a job in an informational). Always end the conversation by asking if there's someone else you can talk to -- and be specific! The more you can tell the person about the background of the next person you're looking to connect with, the easier they'll be able to think of someone and share their name.

5) Be sure to stoke the coals of your fire over time. Send your contacts emails with updates on your progress, interesting articles you think they'd enjoy or simply a note to say hello and ask how they're doing. If you feel comfortable and are in the same geographic location, perhaps suggest meeting for coffee or taking the person out to lunch 1:1. Even if you started a relationship in the online space, there's always potential to take it to a face-to-face connection as a means of strengthening it.

At the end of the day, it's less important to focus on HOW or WHERE you met a particular contact and more on what you do to build and maintain that relationship over time. Good luck!

What other questions do you have about networking or any other career-related subject? Email me your thoughts and they may just appear in a future "Quickie" blog post!

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Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.gabriellebill.com