No matter your personality, you need people in your professional life—for advice, information, opportunities, and more. The best way to find people who will help you is to help them and build relationships early. For extroverts, this may come naturally, but for introverts, it can be a little more difficult.
Warm up existing connections. You already have a network with your current and former colleagues, coworkers, and classmates. Start by getting back in touch and warming up those cold connections. Congratulate them on achievements, such as an award or publication. Start a conversation, find out what is going on with them, and look for ways to be helpful.
Be selective. Don’t attend every event, but make the most of the ones you do. If your insecurities prevent you from talking to anyone, you’ll feel that it was a waste of time, and for good reason! Choose events that work for you, whether it is a conversation over coffee with one person or several quick chats with strangers at an event.
Use the buddy system. Find a friend who can introduce you to people at an event, or regularly attend the same event where you will interact with the same people repeatedly. They can then introduce you to others. Be a buddy by introducing yourself to someone who isn’t talking to anyone; they will be grateful that you approached them.
Plan your conversation. Ask questions to get others talking about themselves. It may be less stressful for you, and you’ll learn more by listening. Encouraging others to share helps you identify people with whom you share an interest. If it’s a chemistry meeting, everyone there is interested in chemistry. But if you discover that someone also shares your interest in fly tying, you’ll have a much stronger connection.
Have an exit strategy. Just knowing there will be an end can make it easier to start. You could say, “It was great meeting you. I hope we run into each other again soon,” or “I really enjoyed our conversation, but I need to get some water/get rid of this glass.”
Take advantage of virtual networking. Many introverts find virtual networking less stressful than in-person networking. Join a group on Twitter or LinkedIn, participate, and meet all sorts of people. During presentations, use the chat feature to talk to other attendees, and get their contact information so you can follow up.
Help others. Volunteer to judge science fairs, run committees, and other events. Working together provides a focus for meetings and can remove some of the stress. As a bonus, if you do a good job, you will be remembered favorably.
Follow up. Don’t let your connections cool. Connect on LinkedIn and add people to your address book. Send the article you mentioned, or follow up in other ways. Contact them before the next meeting and arrange to continue your conversation.
Networking is a career-long game, not just a way to find your next job. You won’t become best friends with everyone, but those you do connect with will make the effort worthwhile.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to email@example.com.