Being an introvert makes some things difficult. It’s hard to be open and let strangers into your life. Small talk doesn’t come easy, and it’s hard work to establish rapport with new people. That means things like attending networking events and meeting new people—crucial elements of the job search—can be pretty intimidating.
I’ve picked up a few tips and habits over the years that have helped me navigate the social side of my career. Do I get excited about being in a big room full of strangers to meet? Not so much, but it’s not so bad anymore, either. Here’s how I handle it:
1. Prep what you’re going to say ahead of time
TheMuse.com suggests that before you head into your next social event, spend a few minutes thinking about what you want to learn from others. Have a few questions ready to ask new people, such as “How did you get started in your career?” or “What are you passionate about?” If being put on the spot makes you nervous, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing questions down and practicing ahead of time. Also, think about what you want to share about yourself—you can’t rely on another person to carry the conversation for you!
2. Find a networking partner
Networking doesn’t mean you have to dive in alone—having a friend with you can make large-scale, intimidating events less scary. So bring a colleague or friend to your next networking event or conference. If you do have to fly solo, try to reach out and make just one connection. That way, you’ll have someone to sit with during lunch breaks and someone to wave hello to and introduce to others. And you’ll probably be surprised at how much fun you’ll have!
3. Try to make others feel comfortable
Keep in mind that most people at networking events feel the same way you do: nervous as heck. So, instead of dwelling on how scary it is to start chatting with a stranger, think about how by doing so you’ll be helping other people feel more comfortable. Maybe that girl alone at the table doesn’t know anyone either and is just hoping that someone will come to talk to her. (“Have you been to this specific event before?” is always a great conversation opener.)
4. Pay attention
Once you do start a conversation, it can be tough to relax if you’re constantly thinking about how you’re going to respond to what people are saying to you. So try shifting the focus to your new acquaintance, instead. Ask lots of questions and practice your active listening skills.
5. Smile often
You don’t always have to initiate—but if you’re hiding against the wall with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re not giving off a very approachable vibe, either. So try to relax, smile, and look as warm and casual as you can—it’ll open the door for someone to walk up to you and start the conversation.
6. Step outside of your norm
As a challenge, vow to meet four people I knew and four people you don’t know every month. Through these connections, you can gain referrals, professional insight and many other valuable tidbits that you didn’t know before stepping outside of your comfort zone.