Proven Networking Tips from an Introverted Engineer

My career has taken one unexpected turn after another: I transitioned from a Communications and Political Science degree to IT, from digital agency work to online ticketing, and from large companies to a startup. At this point in my career, working as Lead Dev Ops Architect for a promising startup launchpad, I believe I am on the right track; and looking back, it was my professional network that got me here.

As an engineer and an introvert, this is somewhat hard to swallow. Certainly, expertise and experience is the foundation of any career, but research has repeatedly shown that professional networks lead to more opportunities, faster advancement, and increased knowledge.

For many of us (myself included), networking does not come naturally and can often feel forced or burdensome. Given the importance of an active professional network, how can non-extroverts change their mindsets to realize the benefits of networking?

Harvard Business Review offers four strategies to help, based on their research:

  1. Focus on Learning – Approach networking situations as opportunities to grow, advance, and accomplish, rather than an obligation.
  2. Identify Common Interests – Look for common goals and interests when meeting new people; commonalities are more likely to lead to more authentic and meaningful relationships.
  3. Think Broadly About What You Can Give – Focusing on what you can offer others—whether it is something tangible like money, information, connections, etc. or less obvious like gratitude or unique insights—rather than on what they can offer you tends to make networking more rewarding.
  4. Find a Higher Purpose – Networking can feel more authentic when concentrating on collective benefits or goals (e.g., supporting your company or industry) rather than personal ones (e.g., advancing your career).

These strategies are great ways to improve your attitude toward networking and increase the quality of those interactions. On a more tactical level, here are a few networking ideas on how and where to apply these strategies:

  • Grab lunch or coffee with colleagues you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Attend work social functions and introduce yourself to coworkers outside of your department or level.
  • Check out a local meet up or conference – introduce yourself and socialize with other attendees. (Quality connections > quantity of connections.)
  • Take advantage of social situations – look for commonalities and shared connections.
  • Utilize networking apps and web sites – they can be great tools to help enhance, maintain, and grow your professional network.

Above all else, though, never burn bridges; it’s a small world, and you never know when, or in what capacity, you will cross paths with someone again.

You don’t have to be a social butterfly to have a quality professional network; the key is to strive for authentic conversations and step out of your comfort zone once and a while. Find what works best for you, your personality, and your goals. Just remember: you get from it what you put into it. Professional networks require time, effort, and persistence, but they can result in rewarding—and potentially unanticipated—opportunities and relationships.

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