A networking guide for introverts

According to author Karen Wickre, introverts have at least three “superpowers” that can help them tackle networking.

A networking guide for introverts

Author Karen Wickre on harnessing introverts' superpowers.

As an executive in Silicon Valley for over 30 years, Karen Wickre has built a reputation as a networker extraordinaire, connecting her many friends and colleagues with each other in ways that have created more opportunities (and some just plain fun) for all. Yet, in her new book, Taking the Work Out of Networking, she describes herself as an introvert—hence the subtitle, An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count.

Introverts aren’t necessarily shy people,” Wickre says. Quoting the Urban Dictionary, she adds, “Some may have great social lives and love talking to their friends, but just need some time alone to recharge afterwards.”

Three superpowers of introverts

By Wickre’s lights, introverts most likely enjoy at least three natural advantages—which she calls superpowers—over their more outgoing peers. Harnessing these superpowers can boost your career while also improving your networking game.   

The first superpower is listening. “Extroverts may seem to be listening, but they’re often just waiting for their turn to talk,” she observes. Introverts, by contrast, “would rather draw out the other person than put themselves in the spotlight. So, they tend to learn more, even from small talk, than extroverts do.”

The second superpower is a knack for observation. “Introverts are often really good at people watching,” says Wickre. “We notice details about people’s behavior, their style, their mood. All of that can be important in getting a relationship started.”

And third, “because introverts are usually curious about human nature, we’re imaginative about the possibilities of meeting new people, and thinking of ways they might connect with the people we already know.”

Even so, Wickre’s book isn’t for introverts only. It’s packed with three decades’ worth of real-world advice and insights anyone can use. “You don’t have to change who you are or concoct a phony-feeling persona to meet people easily,” she writes.

Monster recently spoke with Wickre about making connections that count.

Q. Many people think a strong network means large numbers of contacts, but you say quality matters more than quantity. Why?

A.  The traditional “work the room” idea of networking is to meet as many people as possible, but there really is no magic number of contacts you need to know to be successful at this. Of course, you can make a lot of connections, but to mean anything, you have to know each other pretty well, so fewer is generally better.

This is especially true in a job search. It only takes one person to open the door to an important opportunity or insight. If you’re looking for a new job, even if you have hundreds or thousands of connections, concentrate most on the ones who know you the best.

Q. In the book you describe how you maintain your network in just about 10 minutes a day. How does that work?

A.  Ten minutes a day is really a small amount of effort, and it keeps you in touch with people. First thing in the morning, I read the news and send any items along to people who might be interested, with a little note saying something like, “This reminded me of you. What’s your take on it? And how are you?”

Another part of my daily routine is to reach out to people I’ve met recently, to follow up on our conversation, whether I’m offering to help, or asking for advice, or otherwise continuing with whatever it was that we talked about. Again, this usually takes just a few minutes. Then, at the end of the day, I send out a couple of “thinking of you” emails, with no particular agenda, to people I haven’t seen or heard from in a while. Making it an everyday habit to stay connected with people can make an enormous difference, particularly in a situation like a job hunt, where you may suddenly have to ask for someone’s help.

Q. We often hear that office parties are a good chance to network with higher-ups, but introverts (and others) often dread them. Any advice?

A. I sympathize with people who don’t want to go. Honestly, I’d rather walk the dog. But this is really more about reputation management than networking. Once in a while, you can skip the festivities if you have a really good excuse. I skipped one because it was on a boat. I get seasick, and people who know me know that I once threw up in San Francisco Bay. But in general, do go, or you risk being seen as “not a team player.”

You don’t have to stay long. My advice is, go early and circle the room twice, making sure you’re seen by anyone who needs to see you there, like your boss. Then you can leave. If you have kids, they’re often a good excuse.

Q. You write in detail in the book about using social media for networking. Why is it important to join groups on those sites?

A.  Groups are great for people who are just starting out or changing careers. You can “lurk and learn,” keeping an eye on what articles people share and what issues they’re talking about, which can be really useful information in job interviews. Even if you’re well established in your career, people sometimes mention in a group that they’re looking for an expert on XYZ or a panel speaker—and there you are.

Q. Is there a common networking mistake job hunters make?

A.  Yes! They often stop networking after they’re hired. It’s important to keep it up, partly because you never know when you’ll be job hunting again, and partly because you need to network within the company that hired you. Have regular coffee dates or brief walk-and-talk meetings with colleagues you’d like to know better, or who are doing things that interest you. I learned this very early at Google, where my projects led me to all different parts of the company. Years later, I still have those friendships and professional connections with a lot of great people.

Network like a superhero

Still not sure if you can tackle networking? We can help with that. Join Monster today. As a member, you'll get weekly career advice emails filled with expert suggestions on how to keep your job search strong and how to advance your career. Also, as a member you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. 

Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s On the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?