This guest post was written by Lana Cook, a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University
I have always been on the shy side, an introvert in today’s parlance. I grew up with my nose in a book. Though I played with the neighborhood kids and joined team sports, I savored those solitary afternoons reading Anne of Green Gables for the twelfth time. No small wonder that I went into an English Ph.D. program. So when this bookish introvert hears that ‘networking is the key to success,’ my first reaction is to cringe. Palms begin to sweat, nightmarish visions of spilling my drink on a distinguished guest, fears of interrupting a conversation or appearing stupid cloud my mind with self-doubt. But, then I remember what networking is at its basis: the exchange of ideas with like-minded people.
Keeping that premise in mind, my confidence has grown as I now see the tangible benefits of meeting new people to circulate ideas, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. The risks are minimal, but the rewards can be potentially life changing. Here are my tips for networking, even as an introvert:
Go To Events
This should be no-brainer, but it took me a while before I felt comfortable attending events alone. Be on the lookout for conferences, symposiums, workshops, speakers and panels to attend. Leave an impression by making an effort to speak to a few people. Sometimes I will make goals to meet a set number of people. At first it may be forced, but eventually striking up conversations with strangers becomes natural. People are attending these events for often the same reasons: to connect with others, build communities, and exchange ideas.
Stay For the Reception
Post-event receptions are a great time to network. People are more relaxed and willing to meet new people over a few nibbles and beverages. Don’t feel like you have to stay until the bitter end, and be careful not to overindulge on alcoholic drinks. You want to make an impression while you are there, but keep that impression positive and professional.
This advice is a bit cliché, but is often repeated because it’s true. Though sometimes we have to channel our inner confidence by ‘faking it until you make it,’ make sure that performance still rings true to who you are. Posturing as someone you are not will not only feel disingenuous to others, but can also lead you astray of your own values.
Get Your “About You” Down
Though you should act naturally, it is also a good idea to have a basic script to share when people ask you about yourself. Many recommend having an elevator speech, a quick five minute summary about yourself and your work. For myself, that’s a few sentences describing my educational background, current research project and career goals. This summary should not be robotic; think about it as a customizable personal statement that reflects your individual personality and makes you stand out from the sea of people in the room. When speaking to people outside your field, avoid using disciplinary jargon and try to appeal to overlapping interests and shared goals.
Watch the Gossip
It is easy to get caught up in office gossip, and some experts say that a little gossip can help us strengthen networks. But, when meeting new people, avoid talking negatively about others, your department or company. It is a small world and word can travel quickly through our interconnected communities. Negativity will reflect back on you. You want to be remembered for your positive energy, intelligence and ideas, not as the person who spreads malice or rumors.
Follow Up On New Contacts
After meeting new people, follow up by adding them on LinkedIn accompanied by a short personalized message. If you meet them again in person, do not be discouraged if they do not remember your name or even face. Reintroduce yourself and graciously refresh their memory about your last meeting. For example, if you met them at a conference recently, ask them what they thought about the keynote speaker or how their research is progressing.
Keep an Open Mind
I have learned that networking is a lifelong process with its own ebbs and flows of activity. An open mind allows you to take in the flow of that experience rather than predetermining events and closing yourself off to others. So, take a deep breath, put on a smile, and get your fabulous professional self out there.
Join me the first Thursday of the month here on The Works as I countdown to graduation. My final post will reflect on my graduate school experience and the value of finishing up one chapter of your life before beginning another.
Lana Cook is a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University. Her dissertation traces the development of the psychedelic aesthetic in mid-twentieth century American literature and film. Lana is a 2013-2014 graduate fellow at the Humanities Center. She received her bachelors of arts at University of New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or Linkedin. You can view her portfolio at LanaCook.net.