Monster Member Will Asks: I'm really a friendly guy, and I have excellent relationships with people. But I tend to have a few good friends rather than many superficial ones. I like to have long quiet dinners with people where we can really talk about what we're thinking and feeling. I've always hated fraternity parties and mega-events where you go to be seen. I guess you'd call me an introvert.
Well, I've been told by my boss that I need to be more outgoing and do more schmoozing if I want to get to the executive level in this company. I'm afraid that's just not me, even though I really enjoy my work in finance. Do you think my career is dead-ended? And where could I go to find work where networking and selling yourself are not so important?
What The Expert Says: Don't despair and don't bail out yet. Schmoozing can definitely be learned. That's the good news. The news you probably don't want to hear is that in today's communication-driven world, just about everybody has to do it -- even people in nonprofit organizations. So there isn't any place to hide. But help is definitely available. In fact, companies are now offering virtual online networking as an essential professional activity. They call themselves "corporate relationship builders." Still other companies actually teach entrepreneurs, executives and nonprofit leaders alike how to connect and schmooze effectively. One way to start in an arena that's familiar to you would be to visit a professional association and see what it has to offer.
The four steps below are perfect for introverts who need to beef up their ability to get connected to the right people. Try one of these four simple strategies and see if creative connecting doesn't end up seeming a little less odious to you:
- Make a list of everybody you know who has some relevance to your professional or community life. Put the names, along with their phone numbers, addresses and emails on an index card in a dedicated file box. Keep them alphabetically, adding names from time to time, watching this mother lode of networking possibilities grow. Then, once a month, leaf through the cards to pick out a name for "One Call," when you call a different person to talk about what's new, react to events in your field or set up a lunch or some other kind of networking opportunity. Keep the contact dates on the card along with a brief note of what you discussed. Go through the cards periodically to remind yourself of who's out there for you.
- Create one script. Before your next company, social or community event, spend half an hour scripting a few questions or ideas for discussion that might come up. Then identify someone you'll seek out at the event, and find a way to discuss your scripted topics. When you've done your one conversation, then you're off the hook, and you can spend the rest of the time enjoying the food, the activities and some intense conversations with people who are close to you. You might get to like this game and want to do more than one (particularly if you're getting some good info), but that will be your choice, because your homework is done.
- Think about all the people you know and identify one fan, a person who thinks you're interesting and fun to be around. Ask that person to make a list (either in writing or out loud) reminding you of what makes you good company. This might seem like a weird assignment, particularly for a person who values privacy, but it's part of helping you to feel less self-conscious about putting yourself out there. Keep that list someplace you can find it easily, and every time you are about to venture out for a meeting, reception, event or party, have a look at that list to remind yourself that, even though public connections are not your favorite game, you have lots to offer people.
- Finally, one coach. By all means, find yourself a coach who can help you get this schmoozing thing in perspective, so that you can do it in a way that's consistent with your view of yourself. Lisa Gansky, founder and CEO of Global Network Navigator, the first commercial site on the Web, advocates building your own brand, no matter what field you're in. Here's what she suggested in Fast Company magazine: "One of the best ways I've found to keep enhancing your qualifications -- and fortifying your brand -- is to build a network of talented people to think and grow with." A coach can help you think of networking (aka schmoozing) in this way and polish the skills to make it seem more natural for you.
Please don't let your introverted preferences get in the way of building the kind of career you want. You'll be surprised at how far these strategies can take you. Good luck!