If you follow me on LinkedIn®, you might have seen yesterday’s post that, after years of following her work, I finally met a mentor of mine, Dorie Clark, in person. Coincidentally, during a coaching call today with a CFO client about networking, the story of how I first “met” Dorie became highly relevant to our conversation.
I put the word “met” in quotes above, because for a long time my interactions with Dorie were simply online conversations, virtual high-fives and back-and-forth comments, given the busyness of business that we all have come to call life. As my client and I were brainstorming this afternoon about ways she could build out her networking and thought leadership, the idea of leveraging LinkedIn naturally became part of the conversation.
With Dorie’s recent “Land Your Book Deal” workshop and last night’s dinner with her and follow conference participants fresh on my mind, I confirmed that yes, online networking certainly can work, if you choose to network with people who are good match for you and make the effort to grow the relationship. And yes, I do practice what I coach and have real-life examples of forging professional relationships online that emerge and take form offline as well.
After first hearing about Dorie and reading her work, I became an immediate and huge fan. Many months after that, I quoted her and J. Kelly Hoey (another bright light to watch and learn from!) in an article I published. When I went back to retrieve this article for my client, I was surprised (and also not surprised) to see that it is from 2 1/2 years ago!
Again, I am practicing what I coach: networking is not transactional. Identify key relationships that make sense to nuture and invest your time and energy there, because you find shared, evolving and long-term value in the connection. Don’t be in a hurry to see some “payoff.” The payoff, in many cases, is in the relationship itself.
In case you would like to read the article in which I quoted Dorie and Kelly back in March 2017, I’m reprinting it below:
Introverts make better networkers.
That’s what J. Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network, told a packed room of lawyers and investment professionals at the New York City Bar Association in late January of this year. After interviewing numerous sources for her book who are highly effective networkers, she realized that many of them self-identify as introverts.
The idea that introverts can truly shine at networking strikes many professionals – including many introverts – as a foreign concept. If they prefer being alone to lighting up a room and are driven more by introspection than connection, how can introverts be great at networking? After all, extroverts more easily strike up a conversation, keep it going and follow up with less fear. By their nature, they crave interactions with others. So how are they not the best networkers?
To get to the right answer, we need to be asking the right question, and that is: “What is the purpose of networking?” Effective networking, after all, is not an exercise in having the most Twitter followers or connections on LinkedIn. It is not, in fact, a numbers game at all. The goal of networking is to build an interconnected group (i.e. network) of individuals with whom you can create – over time and with meaningful energy invested – mutually beneficial relationships. A smaller network of more powerful relationships has infinitely more value than a so-called Rolodex of people who are weak contacts at best.
If you are looking for a place to start, remember that everyone already has a network. Everyone on the planet, in other words, has fellow alumni from high school, college, professional programs, work colleagues, neighbors, family, friends and/or other groups of people who form a network. Add to this basic network the people you may meet at yoga, tennis, church, the public library, nature walks, car shows, birthday parties or the myriad of other activities that may populate your day, and you may already have hundreds or even thousands of connections. If you start to actively associate with those in your existing network with whom you have a professional affinity, rather than envisioning networking as something that “other people do” or “only others do well,” you will make that first step toward actively creating an integrated network that works for you, rather than only belonging to a passive one created by default, not design.
The key to tipping the balance is to reframe the act of networking. It does not need to be a business-card exchange in a crowded event with strangers – something Kelly calls “random acts of networking,” which is generally ineffective – but it instead can be seen as an ongoing project of building relationships. By their nature, introverts are very thoughtful about how and with whom they communicate, so although they may not network in as many settings with as many people, they are more suited to creating a greater return for their ongoing efforts.
So how, as an introvert, can you effectively network in a non-threatening way?
Just as you would invest your money wisely, you can target your time invested to achieve the greatest return on such investment. This means, as I said above, that you first understand why you are networking so that it is a purposeful exercise. Are you building a network for a career transition that you foresee undertaking in the next 12 months, for example? If so, you will want to network with people who are in your target field or have undertaken similar transitions, who can help you along your way. Are you planning to write a book? You may wish to build a network of authors and experts in your area of writing, as well as others who are at the same stage in your writing journey, so you can support and share ideas with each other.
On a practical level, Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It and a self-proclaimed introvert, has great advice for other introverts who wish to grow their networks. As she offered in an interview with Forbes contributor Kathy Caprino: “There are plenty of new and interesting people to meet who already have some connection to you, so ask for suggestions from friends and colleagues about who they know that they think you should connect with.”
Connecting with warm contacts, in other words, is a good place to target your networking efforts as an introvert. As Dorie says, you will already have a starting point, and the common ground will allow you to build a professional relationship more quickly. In addition, if you grow a network through current connections, your target networking audience will be hand-chosen rather than arbitrary leads, so they are likely to be better matches in any case.
This emphasis on warm connections does not suggest that introverts should avoid conferences and other big-ticket events altogether. Rather, in their characteristically thoughtful way, introverts can carefully choose and plan a limited number of events that are likely to bring results and how to achieve them.
As I mentioned in my own book, Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals, to network effectively, you need to show that you actually value the other person. Many people miss this crucial point, which is one reason so many introverts (as well as ambiverts and extroverts) have formed a negative impression of networking. They have been “networked to” rather than “networked with,” and (wishing to escape further uncomfortable interactions such as those in the past) have turned off to networking altogether.
Showing you value the other person by focusing on the relationship – and not what you can “get out of them” – can transform networking from what may feel or seem like a selfish, needy or transactional endeavor to a fundamental human connection among people who can enhance each other’s lives. With this end in mind, introverts, as well as extroverts, can create a network that works for them.
Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume writer and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She served as a corporate attorney for 15 years before launching her coaching practice, including roles at White & Case LLP and a hedge and private equity fund manager. Anne Marie is based in Stamford, CT and serves an international clientele. Her online learning platform is accessible here.
This article, other than the introduction, was original published on Forbes.com and is accessible here. Image above copyright 2019 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.