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If you prefer staying home instead of going out, or would rather socialize in small, intimate gatherings over large ones, you're likely an introvert. Research has recently categorized introversion into four different types; some enjoy some socialization but infrequently, while others find socialization awkward or anxiety-inducing.
Regardless of what type of introvert you are, the art of networking is typically seen as an unpleasant chore. With advanced planning and a few goals in mind, introverts will be poised to be as successful, if not more, than their social counterparts. Here's where to start.
Have a Plan
Whether attending a small work event or a larger industrywide gathering where hundreds of professional peers are present, come prepared with a plan. Having an agenda will help you focus on who to speak to and what questions to ask.
If your motivation is to find a new job, zero in on the people in the room who can connect you to open opportunities. If the purpose is to learn more in your existing profession, seek out mentor candidates or those who can direct you to the best resources. This will help you focus on small goals instead of being overwhelmed with too many choices.
Be Yourself and Think Small
If you don't like noisy convention center networking events, create your own. Jon Levy, Forbes contributor and behavioral scientist, advises introverts to embrace what makes them tick. Not everyone is good at having thoughtful and meaningful conversations with just a few people. So those who can laser focus should join in or create their own networking opportunities over coffee or smaller roundtables with a few associates. It's these intimate gatherings that will lead to deep connections.
Ask Insightful Questions
As part of your plan, determine what questions you'd like to ask of specific contacts. And then embrace what introverts do best – be thoughtful and ask deeper questions.
What introverts may not realize is that those who seem to excel at networking events tend to flutter around the room making small talk with a large number of people, without making a few important and close bonds. If you are better at one-on-one conversations, let that shine and ask the kind of questions that show you really know your stuff and put time and effort into preparing for your conversation.
Keep in Touch with Colleagues
Tech executive Karen Wickre explains in her TED article, "At some point, every one of us will have to ask for help from someone else." As a self-described introvert, she recommends keeping in "loose touch" with colleagues, even if that's just forwarding a funny news story every few months.
The point of these connections is to ensure we have (and retain) a network in place so that when the time comes to make an ask, it won't feel awkward or out of the blue. And all these loose connections will, in theory, be mutual. They might come to you for advice or, conversely, recommend you for a job or project when they think you'd be the perfect fit.
Listen and Follow Up
After all your advanced planning and insightful questions, you're much more likely than the social butterfly to receive top-notch advice. Don't let this go to waste: Listen carefully to what colleagues or mentors are telling you. Then walk away with a mental to-do list. That might involve anything from forwarding your resume as you previously discussed, to sending a thank you email the next day gently reminding your contacts to make an introduction to third-party sources.