How Introverts Can Grow Their Professional Networks During Social Distancing

an introvert grows her professional network during social distancing

I found a way to network without going to large events, making cold calls, or sending messages to random people.

When I say “professional networking,” most people think of a large room full of people shaking hands and trading business cards.

In a world of social distancing, these events aren’t coming back any time soon.

But people still need to network. Job seekers are still out looking for opportunities. People who grow their businesses through professional connections will be looking to rebound when the crisis has passed.

Even in these uncertain times, the cold, hard fact is whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to grow your own business, the strength of your professional network will determine your success. 

I learned this the hard way.

As an Introvert, I Hated the Idea of Networking

On October 12, 2012, my position at a large real estate company was eliminated.  I’d worked for the same company for 9 years. As I rose through the ranks and was promoted, I never made an intentional effort to grow my professional network. I’d heard I should be networking, but to me, that meant going to industry events and wandering through a room full of strangers. 

As I started my job search, I read online advice about networking, but it all focused on getting better at preparing for and navigating large in-person gatherings. There’s nothing wrong with this advice. In fact, some of these best advice on attending networking events as an introvert is from articles on Introvert, Dear by Nina Jervis, Kelly Poulson, Katrina Razavi.

Nevertheless, as an introvert, standing in a room of people I didn’t know was the last place I wanted to be.

You Don’t Have to Go to Large Events or Make Cold Calls

 People who know me are surprised when I tell them about my aversion to networking events. I’m a public speaker. At one point in my life, I worked on a cruise ship as an entertainment host playing games and organizing events for guests. Today, I work in a corporate office and lead teams of people. I have no problem interacting socially with the people I already know. 

But when it comes to talking to new people in a large group, I freeze up. I slowly back myself into a corner and wait for someone to have mercy on me and start a conversation.

So, when I had to find a new job, I found a way to network without going to large networking events, without making cold calls, and without sending messages to random people on LinkedIn. I discovered how to connect with people and grow my network in a way that was comfortable for me.

After I landed a new job, I continued to connect with people and expand my network. Over time, people asked me to help them become better networkers. I started coaching executives who were in transition and looking for their next career opportunity. I created group coaching programs for people who wanted to become better at networking in order to make a career change or to grow their businesses.

Over time, I developed the following 5-step approach to help introverts connect and develop deeper professional relationships in a calm, low-stimulus environment. And, this approach works in a virtual, non-face-to-face environment, which is perfect for the current world we are living in.

5 Steps to Successful Socially-Distanced Networking

1. Start with who you already know.

This step uses the concept of “dormant ties,” which was featured in Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take. He refers to a study conducted by MIT where executives were asked to list people they had worked with in the past. These relationships were dormant because the executives had lost contact with their coworkers. The executives were asked to get in touch with these former colleagues and ask for their perspective on certain problems the executives were trying to solve.  

The study found the dormant ties not only responded at higher than expected rates but also gave insights the executives found very valuable. The conclusion was because dormant ties already knew the executives, they didn’t need to decide if they liked and trusted them before providing help. 

In times like this, reaching out to dormant ties is a great way to continue your networking. Of course, you need to be sensitive about what you are asking, but it’s a good time to get back in touch with people you haven’t talked to in awhile to ask how they are doing.

2. Connect online, then get offline.

Once you identify who you already know, you’ll want to connect with them via email, LinkedIn, or other social media. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, you already know these people, so you don’t need a long, complicated pitch on why you are contacting them. Just a simple, “Hey, you crossed my mind the other day and we haven’t talked in a while. I wanted to see how you were doing?” Your connections may respond right away or take some time. Be patient. 

When they do respond, you’ll want to move from text-based conversations to real life, voice-to-voice conversations. While you can connect online, in order to build deeper professional relationships, you need to talk offline. In this case, by “offline,” I mean via phone or video call using tools like Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. There are a ton of different options out there. I’ve been using Zoom to schedule virtual coffee meetings. While I have the Pro plan, you can use the Free plan to get started.

3. Listen and give.

Sometimes having conversations with people we already know can still be intimidating.  Often, my coaching group students will say, “What are we going to talk about?” My advice is to ask the other person about their favorite topic. Everyone has the same favorite topic. It’s the one topic they know the most about: themselves. When you are having your one-on-one conversation in real life, ask the other person about themselves, and then listen.

Let them do all the talking, but as you listen, think about what you can give them. Maybe they are working on a tough project at work. Give them your ideas or opinions. Maybe you know someone else who can help them. Give them the person’s information and connect them. Maybe you read a book that would be useful for them. Give them the title of the book.

Giving to other people does a couple of things: It makes the other person want to give you something in return, and it makes you more comfortable asking the other person to help you.

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4. Be easy to help.

Inevitably, when you’ve connected with someone online and created offline conversations, and when you have listened to them and given what you can, they will ask, “How can I help you?” The key is to be easy to help. People want to help each other, but it must be something they can easily do. 

What does it mean to be easy to help? If you know someone your connection can introduce you to, ask them to make the introduction. If you’re interested in searching for a new job, create a target list of companies and give it to your connection. This will help your connection think of people they may know or other companies you should consider. Find a way to remove as many barriers as possible so your connection can easily help you.

5. Show up every day.

The first four steps work together in a cycle: Start with someone you know or are introduced to, connect with them voice-to-voice, listen and give, be easy to help, get introduced to a new connection, and repeat. However, this last step is the most important because if you don’t show up every day and continue to connect with people, your network won’t grow. It sounds like a slow process, but sometimes, building relationships takes time. 

Don’t be overwhelmed by this process. You don’t need a goal of connecting with a hundred people. Take small steps. Contact one dormant tie each day. Have one voice-to-voice conversation a week. Give yourself time to grow these professional relationships but keep showing up every day. Remember what Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

These five tips will help you get started and will allow you to continue to network while we are all in lockdown, but if you’d like to learn more about professional networking and specific actions you can take to grow your network, check out my free, on-demand webinar titled, Networking for Introverts.

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