Networking for the Introvert: How to Put Yourself Out There If You're A Shy Girl

Networking is a fundamental part of getting into just about every industry, and unfortunately for the shy girls out there, it’s almost completely unavoidable. You might dread showing up to career fairs or grabbing coffee with a possible mentor because you don’t know how to approach the situation, or because getting to know people in general is harder for you than for most. But since you also know you want to do everything in your power to gain the success you deserve, we’ll help you out here: we talked to Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, and got all the tips you need to make the hardest parts of networking just a little bit easier.

1. Start online, and work your way up to in-person networking

Sometimes your words come a bit easier behind the screen than when you have to make direct eye contact with somebody, and that’s okay—at least at first.

You can use an app like Bumble Bizz or LinkedIn to start conversations with others in your industry of choice. Once you make an intriguing profile and start connecting with people in your industry, presenting yourself as an accomplished and eager young career woman will be so much easier.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should let your shyness translate to online, too; don’t be afraid to be the one who reaches out to someone else you find interesting. If you’re unsure of where to start, an alum of your college can be a great first person to reach out to, since you know they’ve been in your position before.

No matter who you’re talking to, once they get to know you online and learn more about your passions and skills, you can show up to that lunch or coffee meeting feeling more confident about what you bring to the table.

2. Don’t make it scarier than it actually is

Career fairs can be awful for the shy girl—there’s so many people, and you have to introduce yourself over and over. Um, no thanks. But when it comes down to it, networking with somebody is just a conversation. And yes, conversations with new people can still lead to a sense of dread for the introvert, but there’s a couple things you can remind yourself of before you let your nerves blow that job fair out of proportion.

“These events are similar to things you’ve done already, like interviews when applying to colleges. Think about what you did for those that helped relax you,” Dezell suggests. We’re sure that after doing those college interviews back in high school, you realized they weren’t as horrible as you had originally thought, and it’s the same with networking. All you have to do is talk about what you like and what you want—when you think of it that way, it helps take some of the pressure off.

Also, even if the person that you’re talking to is super-accomplished and shows up in a crisp suit with a super-firm handshake, remember that they’re still a human being, and deep down, they probably have many of the same thoughts you do. “It’s far from just college students that find networking events intimidating,” Dezell says. “Professionals of all ages struggle as well. Too many only have to network during the periods of their careers when looking for a job, so they get little practice.”

We know this sounds an awful lot like that time your mom told you the spider in your room is just as afraid of you as you are of it, but luckily, you’re not dealing with a spider this time. You’re simply dealing with talking to another person. That’s not so bad, is it?

3. Prepare a spiel beforehand

If you’re hoping to avoid stumbling over your words in front of a possible future employer, writing down and rehearsing an intro before you arrive can help you get into the groove of talking with people more easily.

So what should be in your introduction?

“As a student, this should include information about your major and what types of jobs you’d like to explore,” Dezell recommends. This should be easy enough—after all, you’ve probably sat through enough orientation icebreakers in your time to have this down pat anyway. “After this, ask for feedback on other potential fields your contact might think you could explore. Indicate that you’re interested in speaking to as many people in those fields as possible to learn as much as you can. If your contact hasn’t thought of it already, that will prompt them to suggest you reach out to some of their own contacts.”

Just saying your introduction in the mirror or to a friend (more on that later) will help you work out any kinks in coming across as authentic, enthusiastic and sure of yourself. Doing some light research on the person you’re talking with can also help you figure out what kind of knowledge they have and exactly what they can share with you, too.

As for career fairs, your introduction will come in handy as well, because you can make a memorable first impression just by looking put-together. If you don’t walk into the room feeling great to start, Dezell has a tip to get in some extra practice. “Start out at the booth of a company you have limited to no real interest in,” he says. “This allows you to practice your questions and introductions to work out any bugs before seeing employers you have greater interest in.”

4. Know your worth

A lot of your shyness and reluctance to network might stem from that nasty thing known as “impostor syndrome.” It’s easy to feel like you don’t offer anything to the more accomplished person you’re working with, but avoid this type of thinking.

If you’re hesitating on reaching out to someone because of this, Dezell advises, “Focus your conversations on asking for advice. People love to give their expertise, especially to students about their careers.” If you share the same interests, why would they not want to talk to you about it? But if you still need an extra reminder to keep up your confidence, remember that you do bring something to the table.

“As a student, you do have something to offer,” Dezell says. “You have current knowledge about what’s being taught now.” This is especially true when you’re networking with someone from an older generation—you provide insight about social media, the Internet and your generation. Use that to your advantage and be confident in your own experiences and skills.

Looking for the perfect place to get started? “One area to attend networking events at is professional associations in the fields you want to work in,” Dezell says. “Assisting in a job search is a great way to attract members. That’s something else you offer.”

5. Do it with a friend

Rehearsing networking with your friends may sound silly, but we promise that it can help, and come across more naturally when it’s the real deal. You know how a lot of sororities practice before recruitment? Think of this as something similar—by learning how to master small talk just by doing it a lot, you won’t end up floundering for something interesting to say during an awkward silence.

The best plus of this is that practice has no harmful consequences—if you mess up now with your best friend, all you have to do is start over and try again. Even better is the fact that you can switch off being in the hot seat with others, so that everyone gets a chance to improve their networking skills.

This strategy works for job fairs as well, Dezell points out. “Something I’ve found that helps many is planning to attend [a job fair] with a friend or colleague,” he says. “Practice introductions with each other ahead of time, then split up to meet some people. Meet back up every 30 minutes or so to compare notes.”

Having a friendly face with you as you start putting yourself out there can help you relax during the process and feel more comfortable. Plus, you can both be each other’s voices of encouragement and positivity, when you might normally have a negative view of networking, so you won’t dread it as much.

6. Make it a year-round activity

We guarantee that many, if not most, of people aren’t all that great at networking. Why is this? According to Dezell, it’s because they simply don’t do it enough.

“Don’t limit your networking activity to only times you’re looking for a job,” he warns. “This is a big reason many people are uncomfortable networking. Many occupations don’t require it, so we get little practice at it. Plus when it becomes associated with job hunting, which is often an unpleasant experience, it’s easy to see why so many don’t have positive views about networking.”

So even if you’ve already scored that internship, don’t brush off the opportunity to meet someone for coffee or to head to a networking event in your area. It would be a waste of an opportunity that could help you down the line, when you are actually on the lookout for new work.

Plus, a job opening shouldn’t even be the center of your conversation, Dezell says. “As counter intuitive as it sounds, in a networking meeting, you shouldn’t ask about job openings. Trust that if you’ve made a good impression on your contact as a student with a plan for her career and eager to learn as much as possible, you’ll find out about any openings they have. The key is that it will be making that strong impression that will make your contact want to refer you.”

If you’re focused less on the job and immediate consequences of your networking meetings, and more on simply getting to know about the people you’re talking to and their experiences, networking will feel less life-or-death for you, and thus less intimidating. Also, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and soon enough it can become second nature for you.

We know that even just hearing the word “networking” probably makes you want to run and hide, but you don’t have to drag your feet going into it. By using these tips, you can make networking less of a stressful situation and more of an opportunity to learn about your field and to let people know how accomplished you are.