Q. I am an introvert by nature, and not at all comfortable with putting myself into networking conversations. I know networking will help me get a new job, so I really want to overcome my fears. Do you have any tips for introverts?
A. You are not alone in your anxiety. But there are plenty of shy people who master the skills.
Start by assessing your strengths. Introverts often are good listeners, which is an enormous asset. Think about how you can use it to your advantage as you talk to people about who you are, what you can offer an employer, and how you might help other networkers.
Next, think about a networking strategy. You may be more comfortable starting one on one. To get one-on-one meetings, create a list of places where you can find people. This list could include alumni associations, professional associations, health clubs, family, and friends. Categorize each person based on whether the connections are easy, moderate, or challenging to make.
Develop a plan that details whom you will call, how many people you will contact per week, and how you will approach them. Create a list of specific contacts and start with the easiest people on your list.
Research the person's credentials and connections. Develop a "want" for each contact so you are clear on what you want to communicate and how they can help you succeed. Prior to each meeting, script a list of questions.
During each meeting, give the person your 60-second professional statement. From there, you can ask for feedback on your resume, perspective on the industry, and advice. Ask about your contact's professional path and job search tips.
Use every opportunity to build rapport. If the contact mentions something you feel is a mutual interest, use that as an opportunity. Finally, toward the end of each meeting, ask for recommendations of recruiters and other professionals to meet, and possibly for introductions.
Thank your contacts. Most importantly, differentiate yourself by offering to help your contact by providing a "give" from your network.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.