If you're a naturally introverted person, getting close and sharing with people can feel unnatural and difficult, but it's not impossible. The first thing you have to realise is that you are not alone. Many of your peers, celebrities, dignitaries and people from all walks of life are introverts and yet they manage to overcome it, and so can you.
Even if you're inherently shy, you still need to network if you want to advance in your IT career. Why? Check out these stats from different publications regarding networking's role in today's career paths:
The Wall Street Journal reports that 94 percent of successful job hunters claimed that networking had made all the difference for them.
Only 4 to 10 percent of the people who apply to jobs online are successful in obtaining employment. (Richard Bolles, What color is your parachute)
In other words, networking works. Whether you're looking for professional development, a new job or just trying to climb the tech ladder, it's easy to see why it's so important.
How do I break the ice? What should I talk about? Where do I start? If you're reading this, chances are you may be asking yourself one or more of these questions. To find answers we asked industry professionals how they deal with the pressures of networking and how to keep the conversation going.
1. Rejection happens, get over it
Rejection is a part of life and, in most cases, not something to be taken personally. You have to understand that the more you try something the better your results will be-that is, practice makes perfect. You will encounter people in your career and life who simply cannot or will not help you. Forget it, put it behind you and move on.
2. Remember that networking is a two-way street
You may have trouble networking because you don't think you have anything significant, such as a job or a contact, to give back to someone who helps you. Chances are you may have something to offer that you didn't consider.
"Helping others to succeed will help you to succeed. When making any type of connection, ask questions and listen intently," says Caitlin Sampson, career consultant and cofounder of Regal Resumes.
3. Play off your strengths to start
"Start by assessing your strengths, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners.
Introverts often are good listeners, which is an enormous asset. Think about how you can use it to your advantage as you talk to people about who you are, what you can offer an employer and how you might help other networkers.
Maybe it's some SEO advice to help increase web presence or thoughts on software or hardware someone is considering purchasing. Ask yourself what are my strengths? You've got something to offer. You just have to figure out what it is.
4. Keep it simple
"If you are just beginning to network, start with those people closest to you and those who make you feel most comfortable. Leads and contacts can come from family members, friends, neighbors, alumni, and co-workers," says Sampson.
5. Build a networking strategy
The next step after you've thought about what you have to offer people in your network is to come up with a networking strategy, according to Valeras. For the introverted, starting small is often the best practice according to experts.
"You may be more comfortable starting one-on-one. To get one-on-one meetings, create a list of places where you can find people, says Valeras. Here are seven steps that may help:
- Assess your strengths so you know how you can share
- Start one-on-one. For those of us who are shy this is often the easiest route
- Create a list of places where you can find people. This list could include alumni associations, professional associations, health clubs, family and friends
- Categorise each person. Base this on whether the connections are easy, moderate, or challenging to make
- Set guidelines. Detail whom you will call, how many people you will contact per week, and how you will approach them.
- Be prepared. Research the person's credentials and connections. Develop a "want" for each contact so you are clear on what you want to communicate and how they can help you succeed. Prior to each meeting, script a list of questions.
- Thank your contacts.
6. Join online groups and communities
"For individuals who are timid about face-to-face contact, the internet can serve as an ideal networking avenue. This helps job seekers to gain confidence and build relationships prior to meeting in person, says Sampson.
The rise of social media has made it much easier to find like-minded professionals to network and share ideas with. While Facebook reigns supreme there are other social networks that may be more relevant to your situation - like LinkedIn for example, which even has groups such as Shy Busters or Toastmasters where people share stories and tips for overcoming shyness and adversity.
"Ensure that you always maintain a professional presence with your online profiles," says Sampson. There are entire websites dedicated to the stupid things people do on Facebook. Don't be one of those people who when being interviewed has to explain comments or pictures in your online profiles.
7. Do what you say you are going to do
How many lost opportunities are due to poor follow-up? A lot.
Not doing this can not only prevent you from networking well, it can also kill your career. If you promised something to someone, a link to an article, help with their site or whatever the case may be, get it done expediently.
8. Attend actual groups and join communities
Join a local development group or related organisation, even if you just show up and listen. "I would not consider myself shy at all and even I cringe sometimes at the prospect of a room full of people I don't know," says Tracy Cashman, partner and general manager of the IT group at staffing firm Winter Wyman.
The major benefit of going to local meet-ups to network is that talking about something you are already knowledgeable and passionate about makes starting conversations that much easier.
This is where you're sure to find people who are interested in the same things you are, not to mention you can add another bullet point on your resume. "Joining and participating in relevant technical societies and organisations can contribute to your bona fides," says Mickey Mantle, coauthor of the book, "Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams. It's a great way to grow professionally and network at the same time.
There is a good chance there are developer meet-ups, programming workshops, bootcamps, courses and seminars in your area. Cashman's advice: "Try not to think of it as working the room--just make it your goal to have two or three good conversations, not necessarily to talk to everyone there. The way to open up a conversation, you ask? It's not rocket science: "Hi. How are you? My name is _____."
9. Start a blog
"With a blog you can demonstrate your areas of expertise, gain credibility in your field, and draw interest from potential employers," says Sampson. There are a multitude of choices including Blogger, WordPress, Flavors.me, About.me among others. An active blog provides great exposure and serves as an additional method for individuals to develop a deeper understanding of what you can offer.
10. Create and refine your elevator speech
Prepare a 15 to 30 second sales pitch that describes who you are, what you do, and how potential contacts or employers can benefit from a relationship with you, Sampson says. Having something prepared to say can make breaking the ice so much easier. That said, you don't want it to sound rehearsed.
Keep it simple and bounce it off someone you trust to help you refine and clarify your message.
11. Keep your business cards with you
The opportunity to build your network can occur anytime and anywhere, this is why it is important to carry business cards. Items that you want to include here are simple: your name, title, contact information and areas of expertise. "Also, it is essential to ensure that your resume is current. You never know when the perfect opportunity is going to present itself," says Sampson.
12. De-stress yourself before or after stressful situations
Do networking situations make you feel anxious? Exercise, transcendental meditation, yoga, Tai Chi or just straight meditation are all useful tools to help alleviate tension and clear your mind. "Techniques such as meditation, yoga or exercise can help to release endorphins that reduce stress and create a positive mindset in social settings," says Sampson.
The bottom-line find something that works for you and use it.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.