For some people, striking up a conversation with a stranger at a conference or grabbing coffee with a business acquaintance is a breeze. But for others, those two scenarios are their worst nightmare. If you identify with the latter, you’re not alone: According to Myers-Briggs, about 50 percent of Americans are introverts.
Although it may be tempting for introverts to delay networking until it is absolutely necessary, don’t wait until you are desperate for a new job — or desperate to find the perfect person to fill an open role. A 2016 Linkedin survey of 3,000 people found that 85 percent of jobs were filled via networking. Even if you are happy with your current position, you never know who you might meet or what opportunity may find you. Networking can also help employers find someone to hire. It’s a competitive job market and networking can help you meet a great candidate before they hit the open market.
The good news is you live in a great place to network. Austin folks are famously friendly, and the capital city is home to many unique networking opportunities, from events to conferences to festivals. Read on for my tips on how to best take advantage of them.
Mingling in a room full of strangers can feel down right daunting. An easy first step is to connect to people you already know. Start by connecting with former coworkers for coffee to catch up and ask for an introduction to others with similar interests or backgrounds. You can also turn to people you already know socially. Strike up a conversation about work in your social circles and see where it leads. You may have people you already know who can introduce you to someone who could benefit your career.
Engage via email.
Once you’ve got a little networking mojo going with people you know, take it one step farther by reaching out to people you don’t know well. Send connection requests on LinkedIn and just say you’re building your network and would like to meet for coffee. Many won’t respond, but some will. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and most people love talking about themselves and their careers.
Try something new.
With a population of more than 2 million people, the Austin-Round Rock metro area can be overwhelming for introverts. One way to make networking in a big city feel more manageable is to join a group where you share a common interest, which makes starting conversations easier. Whether you want to meet new people, give back to the community, or develop yourself professionally, there’s a group for that here in Austin. Here’s just a sampling:
Leadership Austin: Founded by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1979, this organization provides training on all things ATX. There are four tracks to choose from. Essential and Emerge, both of which require applying and selection, tuition, and large time commitments. (Essential is particularly competitive.) Experience Austin, which is a five-week session open to the public, and features tuition. And Engage, a monthly series of speakers over breakfast at the new Central Library that is open to the public and costs $25.
Networking Austin: This professional networking organization provides networking and referral opportunities to help people grow their businesses, from bankers to physicians.
Creative Mornings– A free monthly breakfast lecture series for Austin creatives. Past topics have included Change, Craft, and Game. (Past talks can be watched on the website.)
Young Men’s Business League: Members of this 100-year-old social service organization serve the Austin Sunshine Camps while creating business connections and fostering leadership development among its members.
Texas Women in Business: This membership-driven nonprofit helps women achieve their personal and professional goals through mentoring, networking, service, and more.
One organic way to network if you are a small business owner, entrepreneur, or freelancer is to join a coworking space. Austin is quite the coworking hub, with 66 coworking spaces. That’s more than Boston or Seattle. Coworking spaces are great for organic networking, as you can chat with other workers in the kitchen, elevator, or hallway. And coworking spaces often offer casual events, such as speakers, happy hours, or workshops for the people who work there. Just being in the same vicinity with all the other workers immediately makes it easier for you to approach them for a conversation, advice, or hiring opportunities.
Use South by Southwest to your advantage.
One of the coolest things about Austin is all the festivals the city hosts. Whether you work in technology, pharmaceuticals, publishing, or even cyber security, there is something for any industry. Of course, the biggest conference and festival of them all is SXSW. The first two weeks of March, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world descend on the city for panels, parties, and networking. (And you don’t even have to buy a badge: According to festival officials, 77,896 people attended the conference in 2017, while more than 400,000 participated in SXSWeek.) A few weeks before the event, post on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook to see who in your network will be in town for the conference. Offer to meet them for a beer, go to a panel or event together, or show them around town. Who would pass up that offer?
Give a talk at a meetup or conference.
If you’re one of those people who is far more comfortable giving a formal presentation than mingling, try sharing what you know at a conference or meetup. That way, people will approach you with something specific to talk about, taking some of that initial awkwardness out of the equation.
Scale your networking by partnering with a recruiter.
You can multiply your network when you have an advocate helping you look for a job or find your next hire. Good recruiters already have a strong network and will use their contacts to make connections on your behalf, and you reap the rewards.
Just do it.
At the end of the day, the only thing that’s not OK is to not network. Try out a few of my suggestions and see what works best for you. However you do it, making new contacts is a win for your career and your company.