Networking for introverts

“It’s all about who you know” is terrible news for the introvert.

Networking for the sake of networking is awkward for extroverts and introverts alike, but come on. Introverts have a huge disadvantage. We all know those warm, gregarious types who feed off meeting new people, working the crowd, taking names and being generally memorable. That’s not us.

I watch those people—those politicians—like they’re doing magic tricks and think, “I should try that.” Instead, I do a lap with someone I know, eat a mini cheesecake, suffer sensory overload and scramble out the door for The Daily Show.

The main problem with traditional networking? It’s fake as hell. What people really mean when they say “network” is “charm the pants off someone who matters.” It’s the strangest component of career-proofing, but being good at what we do, statistically, will only get us so far, no matter where you want to go. As one of my introverted friends said, “Meritocracy only works if people know where to look.”

More than 70 percent of people land jobs through networking, according to the U.S. News & World Report. How?

Most jobs (80 percent) aren’t advertised, which means we have to get our info from the inside. Not only that, but people in the right places can vouch for us, serve as references and provide inside information about prepping for interviews. Like it or not, networking is worth the energy, and we need to schedule it into our homebody lives.

Luckily, mingling at group events isn’t the only way to network. In fact, I’m not convinced it’s the best way. There’s nothing more awkward than sidling up to a stranger and basically saying, “Can I have your business card so I can use you one day?” The whole thing smacks of insincerity.

Instead, apply for leadership positions in your own organization or volunteer at events, and networking will be just a happy windfall of those professional experiences. You won’t be the bored person in attendance wandering around sweating, unsure about what to do with your hands; you’ll be the busy person with a purpose, and people will be seeking YOU out to have a real conversation without the small talk (even if it’s, “Where am I suppose to be?”). You’ll also be offering something in return, so you won’t feel like a total boob.

Networking is almost more important for students than anyone else. After all, we’re sinking thousands of greenbacks into our degrees with one objective: to get a job upon graduation. With the market saturated by degree-holders, however, most employers won’t hire graduates just because they have the same credentials as a hundred other applicants. In fact, 40 percent of graduates are underemployed, according to the New York Daily News. We need something else—or someone else—to give us an edge, and we need it before tossing our caps.

Luckily, school is a great opportunity to network. Apply for internships, maintain good relationships with professors and follow up with guest speakers. Conduct job shadows, interview sources for papers and get involved in student organizations. Use digital tools like LinkedIn and online portfolios, and set six-month reminders to share career updates and reconnect with professional friends. Remember, people actually want to help others, and you can return the favor when you can.

There’s something to be said for standing our ground against using people, however. I’d rather be the cheese that stands alone than fake it for even a minute. Luckily, that can pay off. Refraining from trying to wring something from a contact leaves a better impression than appearing too eager and invading their space. People appreciate honesty instead of a standard approach and a real person instead of a Stepford candidate.

It’s a balance. Realize our own limitations but know what needs to be done. Be true to our own convictions but don’t be left behind. Be connected to people but still be in our right minds. There’s no denying that networking is crucial to our futures, but knowing ourselves and finding the right approach for us is, too.