Networking for misanthropes
October 23, 2006 3:47 PM   Subscribe

How does a solitary, introverted type (learn how to) network?

I'm unhappy with my current job and am looking for another. The most common advice given to job searchers is to network. However, by nature I'm solitary and I do not at all enjoy socializing. I can sort of socialize when I have to (i.e. Christmas party at my supervisor's house), but it usually gives me a hell of a headache and leaves me exhausted. It's nothing I ever do on my own - I have a couple of very close friends, and then I have work friends, but nothing in between.

I have done a little volunteer work with the kind of organization I'd prefer to work with, but they call when I'm needed and when our hours work out well, and that's not often at all - maybe once in the past six months. What else should I try? I know I do best with structured interaction, something with a definite goal, rather than milling around making random conversation. Oh, and I'm absolutely neurotic about asking anyone for anything - even posting on AskMe bugs me.
posted by dilettante to Work & Money (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of organization do you want to work for?

In your same town or another? How big is your town?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:49 PM on October 23, 2006

The internet has come the rescue for the job seeking introvert.

Check out Linked-In, Friendster, Tribe, etc. Add your work pals, and see what develops.

Yes, it's a pale substitute for doing the meet-and-greet thing, but you'll be surprised at the connections that pop up that way.
posted by tkolar at 3:51 PM on October 23, 2006

Response by poster: LobsterMitten: I do volunteer work for a charity that provides legal immigration services. I think I might be pretty well-suited to that. (In actual fact, I've mostly done translations for them, but I'm not at all qualified to do it professionally and probably wouldn't want to).

As I keep trying to convince employers, I'm willing to relocate (but a little picky about where). I'm also quite willing to stay put - so either way on that. The town I'm in now is about 700,000, maybe more. I'm not sure about the metro area. It feels much, much smaller sometimes, though.
posted by dilettante at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2006

I feel your pain! A lot!

Things that have helped me to suck it up and deal:
- starting the networking by email, using that to schedule in-person or telephone discussions. Some people are bad at email, and you have to follow up by phone anyway.
- creating my own structure: these are the goals of today. Research these websites. Contact these people. It's not structuring the interaction, in this case, but the search itself. End goal: I will have a job in X location by Y 2007.
- more time (in-work and outside) related to activities that strengthen my skills in the areas I'm headed and put me in contact with the right people by industry or geography.
- who else to contact. I really do say this a lot. Get in touch with your university again and use their career services, professors, alumni database, etc. They will be an immense help, particularly for someone looking for an industry or geography change. Been there, done that.
- spend a while working on the language you use to ask someone for something, so that you have it down and can then modify it minimally. It means you can stop reading it and thinking "man, they'll never want to follow up with this", and just send it without too much sweat (after making sure all the names are in the right places...).
posted by whatzit at 4:14 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

whatzit has the right idea. Don't think of networking as the kind of free-form small-talk that a company party requires. Think of it as making calls to people who work in your desired field, to set up short informational interviews with them. The meeting will be one-on-one, and you will show up with a list of questions about the field etc. You'll get info this way, and they'll get a chance to see you and maybe keep you in mind for future positions they hear about.

Can you do some networking through the organization you volunteer through? Eg by talking to others that they work with, or talking to the director or most-competent person about how they got where they are, and what they would recommend for someone in your situation?

The university alumni network is great for this. Again, you'll be cold-emailing people (which is awkward) but with a definite connection and a definite request.

Immigration services.
Would this be legal work? Talk to the local bar or the alumni network of your law school, or look in the phone book!, to get names of lawyers doing this in your area. Try to arrange an appointment with one or two of them.

Would it be finding people housing and the like? Again, look in the phone book or in the directories of organizations associated with the place you volunteer to get a list of people to call. Call them and try to make an appointment; see what qualifications they want, see what the career trajectory looks like, see what the protocols are for applying for jobs there, see if they know anybody in the area who's looking to hire).

(repeat advice for other sub-fields)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:32 PM on October 23, 2006

learn to drink.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:27 PM on October 23, 2006

I marked your question as a favorite question as I am also introverted/and need to learn to network so I am hoping to come back to this after more people post and get tips.

I have just started 'networking' and am trying to enter another career, and this is what has worked well for me so far (with a similar personality):
-Can you join an organization for your field? I joined a medical writing organization. I then went into the list of members and emailed a few, asking if they would be willing to talk via the phone, meet in person, email (the person could pick). Try to limit what you are asking for (30 minutes tops, for example). A friend pointed out to me that it is really not a big deal to ask people for this since - the ones who want to help will reply, the rest will ignore the email.
-When you meet with the person (or talk on the phone), just as lobster mitten describes, you will have a list of questions. So it will not be random socializing.
-Even though you have a few friends (I am in the same boat), tell your friends. You would be surprised - your friends will make connections for you, ask their frends if you can talk to them about such and such field, etc.
-Finally I have really been surprised by this - but put your resume on Monster. I have had numerous jobs and headhunters call me from that site, and a few interviews. Doesn't take any work from you other than -posting it on the the site.

Best of luck.
posted by Wolfster at 6:27 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Networking is seriously overrated, and the poeple who advocate probably aren't that tuned into the job market. It's not a bad thing, of course, but it is neither necessary, or sufficient, for finding a good job.

In my experience, most jobs good jobs are introduced entirely impersonally: a resume sent in response to an ad or a placement via a headhunter who couldn't care less about you who finds you online (or whom you find online). And when there's a human connection at work, it's almost never some casual networking thing, but is instead a very close friend or someone in the family.
posted by MattD at 6:40 PM on October 23, 2006

I'm there with you in terms of being solitary and introverted. What I do to solve this is to pretend to be someone else who is gregarious and sociable. Oddly, this person is also way better at remembering names and facts about people than I normally am. This works pretty well, in my experience.
posted by Hildago at 6:58 PM on October 23, 2006

Cost me $5 bucks to answer this question.

First thing. You are facing two problems. Networking and Introversion.

The two may seem incompatible with each other. They are not.

Most people think of networking as schmoozing at some mixer with an appetizer in one hand and a drink in the other. Too bad that most networking events are designed by extroverts with little regard for how an introvert might network.

As an introvert myself, I will share my observations. I hate having to barge into conversations. I hate having to walk across an empty room feeling like a loser because no one will approach me for a conversation. I always have to initiate. I hate having just popped a Vienna sausage in my mouth when someone sticks their hand out for a handshake.

Never, Never, Never network without carrying your business cards with you, and a pen to write on the ones you get.

Hang around the registration desk, the bar or the bathrooms where you might bump into someone and be required to say, "Pardon me" and start a conversation with them.

Grab a tray of appetizers and walk around with them like a host would do at a party.

Reframe the event from networking to brainstorming or research. Brainstorming is useful for conferences. Find some cool folks from the sessions you attend, tell them that you and some other friends are meeting at XYZ Bistro for dinner on (2nd evening of conference) to talk about Social Networking Analysis or business sponsorship of personal blogs, etc. The beuaty of this strategy is you will know everyone who attends and get to do the introductions and provide the conversational topic.

Research is one of my favorite tactics for professional organization events. I go with specific question in mind that I want to get answered. It usually gives me a reason/excuse to start with a few people and be redirected by them.

Form your own SIG. When I was in the SF Bay Area, I created SNUG (Social Network Users Group) because social networking software was all the rage then. I found a place to meet and advertised the meeting on several of the SFBA event bulletin boards...I miss a viable Craig's List and! I am still in contact with a couple of the people who attended SNUG and that was over 2 years ago. Special interests between like-minded people are good ways to build and maintain your network.

Make your networking a game or contest. I actually created my own business card raffle so I would talk to folks and collect their business cards. And I was using Jos. A Schmidt Chocolate Truffles for the bait. Don't be chintzy on the prize here.

Make sure that you are networking with the type of person who will network for you after you two have met. After reading Gladwell's chapter, "Law of the Few" in The Tipping Point, I know that I needed to network with Connectors and Salesmen/Evangelists. Yep, the people who are writing on the backs of business cards are more than likely Connectors. Make it a point t go meet them.

Use a strict time limit for conversations. I will latch on to a few folks and spend the whole time talking with them over some arcane subject we found that we have in common. It is one of the hazards of using the Research method. No more than 10 minutes or 3 topic changes, which ever one is less time, with any one person or group before politely excusing yourself to go meet someone else.

Finally, networking does not take place at the event! It takes place a couple of days later at a Starbuck's or similar meeting place. Do call and set up follow ups (remember your SIG?). Follow ups are sort of the unwritten code between serious networkers. Have them often!

Good luck.
posted by choragus at 9:12 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

I consider myself introverted to a point. Joining professional organizations and attending meetings can help to meet people. Most careers have a good variety of organizations to which you can join. There are also generic organizations like Toastmasters which can be found in most cities.

When attending meetings, force yourself to randomly introduce yourself to people. Have a shot of whiskey or a cocktail if that will help to loosen you up. A conference I attended last week was difficult for me to network at. But the buffet lunch forced me to sit and talk with strangers and a few speakers said to take take a few moments and get to know the people seated next to you.
posted by JJ86 at 7:15 AM on October 24, 2006

Response by poster: Think of it as making calls to people who work in your desired field, to set up short informational interviews with them. The meeting will be one-on-one, and you will show up with a list of questions about the field etc.

Do people actually do this? It's taking away from time that could otherwise be productive (and paid)....
posted by dilettante at 1:57 PM on October 26, 2006

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