Professional Networking for Introverts
Many professionals equate the word “networking” with the word “nightmare.” It conjures up images of being 3’ tall in a room full of terrifying foreign-tongued giants and one of them holds the only key to the exit. Yet, depending on the source, it is estimated that 60-80% of all open professional jobs are filled through networking. Does this mean only the most extroverted people get the best career opportunities? Of course not. It means that networking has more paths than awkwardly approaching strangers and delivering a shaky elevator pitch!
Gone are the days of beginning a relationship with company with the expectation of remaining until retirement. While many life sciences paths include a commitment to several years of research, the likelihood of spending an entire working career in only one or two organizations is slim. So, it is important to ensure you have the strongest possible network when you are ready to evaluate new opportunities. This doesn’t just create potential connections for referrals to posted openings, it also increases the likelihood you will have access to roles that never make it to the public eye.
The hardest time to build a network is when you’re in an active career search. The most successful networks are those that are nurtured and lack any perception of being used for immediate personal gain. While there are ways to approach new connections when actively job searching, a network that’s been carefully tended over time is more likely to bear fruit. Committing to growing your professional network should be as important as broadening your skills, furthering your education, or any other career investments.
Confidence is built through growth and small wins. Just like your first introduction to math wasn’t trigonometry, your first list of professional network connections to seek out should be people within arm’s reach. Write down a list of 5 people you’ve met or have something in common with who has ties to your industry. If your first reaction is, “I don’t know 5 people in my industry other than my co-workers,” you’re probably not looking at the bigger picture. People don’t have to be directly associated with your area of expertise to be connected to your industry. For instance, a lab technician with children could add the family pediatrician to their initial list of 5.
Think beyond one degree of separation. The targeted connections don’t have to be a direct link to a company that hires professionals with your skills, they can also be people with close associations (such as the significant other of someone who works for a similar organization). That’s the great thing about networking, a random mention over coffee about someone leaving a role could spark someone in your network to say, “I may know someone who might be ideal…”
Many people struggle when it comes to talking about themselves to acquaintances, especially if it feels forced or rehearsed. Choosing 5 people who are not complete strangers allows you to practice and adjust your approach with people you perceive as more “forgiving” if you stumble or hesitate. However, that very thought is what is key in all networking – be authentic. It’s human nature to be more at ease with others when we’re not concerned about pretenses. Yes, you need to be professional, but showing someone you are open and honest will make you memorable and more likely to forge a long-term professional connection.
Following Up with the newly-minted professional connection is the most important step of all. Within 72 hours of the initial contact, reach out via email, LinkedIn, or even better – a handwritten note, showing appreciation for the encounter. Whether you spoke about your professional objective or not, it’s vital you make this small gesture. Following up articulates respect as well as strengthens the authenticity of the exchange rather than leaving them wondering if they were simply a part of a spam campaign.
Networking takes time and preparation, but it is one of the single-most powerful investments in your career no matter your industry, path, or experience level. It’s estimated that at least 40% of all available positions in the U.S. are never advertised and are filled through networking. Thoughtfully, strategically, and consistently nurturing your professional network will significantly increase the chances of not only meeting but surpassing your career goals and objectives. Starting with just 5 people can provide the confidence and momentum to discover pathways to opportunities that otherwise might have never existed!