How Introverts Can Learn to Network Effectively

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Author Karen Wickre talks about her book, Taking the Work out of Networking: An Introvert's Guide to Making Connections That Count

71IZIxZK8pLLearning how to network effectively is an invaluable skill to have when it comes to discovering job opportunities and making career connections to get ahead. But such socializing doesn’t come easily to everyone. In her new book, former communication executive Karen Wickre offers introverts advice on how they can build long-lasting relationships to enhance their careers. She was an editorial director for Twitter and a senior media liaison at Google, among other jobs. Wickre, who describes herself as an introvert, recently joined the Knowledge@Wharton radio show on Sirius XM to talk about her book, Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Knowledge@Wharton: Why is networking not fun for some people?

Karen Wickre: Apparently, [it’s not fun] for many people. People seem to even hate the word. I think it’s because we think of it as a transactional kind of thing that we have to do. We have to do it because we need a new job, we want to find a different opportunity, something has come up that puts a time pressure on us. Therefore, we think, “I have to go out and network.” It doesn’t have to be that way — that is the point of my book. But I think that’s why people dislike it. They feel like it’s kind of phony and transactional.

Knowledge@Wharton: If they viewed it a little bit differently, as more of a relationship rather than a requirement, it might be more acceptable?

Wickre: Exactly. I found a great line from [networking expert] Ivan Misner that I used in the book, which is, “Networking is less like hunting and more like farming.” You could substitute “gardening,” but it’s the same idea. Hunting is very transactional, whereas farming or gardening are cyclical, ongoing. You’re weeding, you’re planting, you’re watering, you’re nurturing. That’s the nature of making connections that count in your network.

Knowledge@Wharton: Networking is important right now because there’s more turnover in companies. People are not spending 30 years at a company and getting the gold watch anymore. It’s three years, five years, seven years, and that person is off to the next company, right?

Wickre: There’s never been more job fluidity. The fact is you can’t just have one network for your one job that you’re going to have for life, because those days are over. You have to continue to make new connections, have people to reach out to when you have a new question, a new quest going on. If you make a daily habit of being in touch with people, it’s not so scary when you need to do it.

“If you make a daily habit of being in touch with people, it’s not so scary when you need to do it.”

Knowledge@Wharton: You call yourself an introvert. How has this shaped your approach to networking?

Wickre: I am an introvert in that, at the end of a busy day, I need to go home and regroup and have quiet time. At the other end of the spectrum, an extrovert says, “I want to go to dinner and then the afterparty. I can take it all in.” Introverts tend to need to just be quiet and think things through for a while. It doesn’t mean we’re not sociable. It doesn’t mean we’re shy. I’ve been that way for my whole life.

But what has happened over time is people have said to me, “How is it you know who everybody is and you have a big network?” As I started to think about that, especially in relation to this book, I kind of broke down the process. Frankly, I do a lot of connecting online. If I had to fill my schedule with coffee dates and lunches, I would never make it.

Knowledge@Wharton: What is the difference between the quantity and quality of a network?

Wickre: It’s never a follower count. It’s really not the size of the network; it’s who you know that is as helpful and thoughtful as you are. I’m sure some do take pride in [having a large network]. In the old days, we would have said they have a big Rolodex. I’m sure there are some who are interested in that, but I wonder how genuine that network is in the case of a crisis.

Knowledge@Wharton: You mention in the book that introverts possess some characteristics that can really stand out in networking. Can you tell us about that?

Wickre: This is non-scientific, but rather based on my own observations over the years. I do think these are qualities that people who want to genuinely connect have, and I do believe introverts have. First and foremost is … being a good listener, because most introverts never want to go first in the conversation. They want to wait and see what the other person has to say first, then wade into the water. It’s not just waiting for your turn. It is also taking in what the other person says and having some understanding of how they are and why they are.

Related to that is the power of observation, of being able to observe behavior and style in the manner that we do when we people-watch. That’s a wonderful skill for connecting so that you can correctly gauge characteristics. Is someone anxious? Are they open and friendly and candid? Are they worried?

The third is simply being curious. I’ve always been curious about other people. Why are they the way they are? What got them to wherever they are in life? That kind of thing. Being curious also means the default answer should be “yes” if somebody says, “Would you meet my friend who has a question for you,” or “I want to put you two together because I think you’d like each other.” Just say yes. It doesn’t have to be yes today. It doesn’t have to be yes in person on a deadline. But make it more a yes than a no.

Knowledge@Wharton: How much do you think networking is enhanced because of digital communication?

Wickre: I think greatly enhanced. None of us would know as many people as is possible online. We have contacts with people around the country, around the world, that we would never be able to have strictly in person.

Knowledge@Wharton: The referral is an important component to networking. Sometimes a third party plays the intermediary in trying to solve an issue. Can you talk about that?

Wickre: No one has the whole answer that somebody needs, whatever the question is. If it’s an issue, if it’s a job opening, it typically is pieced together by a few people, which is a thing I actually like about this kind of connecting and networking. We’re all trying to problem-solve one thing or another, and you’re piecing together the answer for yourself. I will often say, “I’m not the right one. I don’t have that expertise. But let me introduce you to so-and-so. They know more than I do.” You make the introduction. It’s really an ongoing chain. It really is like this gardening metaphor.

“I do a lot of connecting online. If I had to fill my schedule with coffee dates and lunches, I would never make it.”

Knowledge@Wharton: You talk about no-pressure networking. What is that?

Wickre: The main thing is to build the muscle around staying “in loose touch” with people, which is people you don’t necessarily know well or see often. We have our various social channels, plus email, to stay in touch with. Simply, if they come to mind for some reason, their team wins or loses, you want to just send a note saying, “Hey, great about last night, sorry about last night. How are you? Let’s catch up soon.” That’s a moment of staying in touch. If you do that with six or eight people a day whose mental paths you cross, you’re in loose touch. They may respond, they may not. But then when [the time comes, you can say], “Hey, I have a follow-up question for you,” or “When we have that catch-up call, here’s what I actually want to talk to you about.”

Knowledge@Wharton: But you want to make sure those loose contacts are intentional, correct?

Wickre: For sure. One thing is, no broadcasts. You’re not sending the same “hope you’re well” message to 10 or 20 people at a time. It’s one-to-one, but it’s not every day to the same person. If you remember that one of your former colleagues is a big sports fan and their team did something, then that’s the one to reach out to for that. It’s not everybody who you know who might be a fan of that team. It’s because you thought of that person.

Knowledge@Wharton: During the holidays, there are a lot of different work-related parties. How should introverts manage that?

Wickre: Networking is not really the thing you’re doing at a work holiday party. It’s more of a political moment, as it were. It’s important to see and be seen by the people who count at your own company party, obviously, so that you’ve been recorded as being present. But if it’s too big, there’s really not much you can do except have a little small talk as you make the circuit.

My advice over the years, as the company parties I’ve been to have gotten bigger and bigger, is you kind of have a drink in hand, you’re making eye contact with the crowd, no phones, and you’re circulating loosely and stopping to chat every so often. I give myself an hour or an hour and a half tops to make the rounds, see a few people, say hello, make sure I’m seen by the CEO, and then I leave. Because I know the rest of it is going to be probably too much liquor and not enough food — and it is a work obligation, at the end of the day.

Knowledge@Wharton: As you were learning more about networking, how much of the process involved putting yourself out there and taking that step?

Wickre: That’s a very good question. I think that, within my comfort zone, I put myself out there in familiar settings where I know a few people. But even when I was at, say, a conference where I really didn’t know anybody, I made note of the fact that while standing at the coffee bar, waiting in line, waiting for the keynote, I could have a moment of chat with somebody. “Oh, you work at so-and-so company? May I follow-up with you? Could I have your card? I have a question to ask.” You’re not doing all your business there; you’re just getting the contact to pursue away from the conference. That’s an easy way to go about it, and that’s kind of how I’ve done it.

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you follow up with a connection you just made at a party or a conference?

Wickre: If it was a fleeting introduction, remind them how you met, what you’re interested in, what your question is — at their convenience. Always at their convenience. Do they have time for a call or a follow-up email to say a little more about whatever the thing is? Or, if they’re local, could you meet for coffee? To me, that’s the best kind of follow-up. Give the other person context. If they don’t answer — and sometimes people don’t answer — I generally will give one more try. But I always say in that additional note, “If you’re not the right one for this, or if you think someone else could help me instead, please introduce me.” That’s OK, too. Don’t put all the pressure on this one person. And then you hope for the best.

“You can’t just have one network for your one job that you’re going to have for life, because those days are over.”

Knowledge@Wharton: You spend a little time in the book talking about LinkedIn, which has become vital to a lot of business people in the last decade or so. But there are probably some protocols for using LinkedIn and making those connections, correct?

Wickre: It’s true. It has become kind of a default look-up engine for people. People I know in long-term jobs say, “Oh, I don’t do anything with my LinkedIn.” That may be fine, but it’s not only recruiters who are looking. It’s also people looking for speakers and panelists, for board members, for all kinds of things. So, it is good to keep it up at least quarterly. There’s a preponderance of people who do want to connect. If you’re one of those who sends out those “I’d like to join your network,” which I think is the canned language on LinkedIn, please add your own explanation because it’s an invitation to ignore you if you don’t explain why you want to connect with that person. What’s the question? What’s the interesting thing you want to share?

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you compare the connections and conversations on LinkedIn with Facebook? Companies are getting more interested in looking at people’s Facebook pages as part of their hiring process.

Wickre: It’s true. I think recruiters look at every social channel, or many of the popular ones, when they’re considering candidates. Facebook was designed much more for personal and one-to-one connections. Obviously, it’s outgrown those bounds. But I say in the book, in terms of making connections with people you don’t know, Facebook is not ideal for that except maybe in the private groups. From the candidate’s point of view or the recruiter’s point of view, I would say LinkedIn is the best place to put a business polish on everything. A professional polish. On Twitter, if you use it, the same thing is possible. People do have two Twitter accounts if they want to have fun on one and do more [work-related] stuff on the other. I think you can blend them. [Ask yourself:] What is my discoverable face to the world? What is it that I want people to be able to find?

I have a chapter called “Mixing the Personal and Professional” because, frankly, we’re all doing it to some degree now. [CNN journalist] Jake Tapper has a Twitter account for his dog, Winston. If we ever met Jake, we’d say, “How’s Winston?” — because that’s out there and we know that. We’re more used to sharing more in public, and I think it makes us more interesting as people. In the old days, you’d have this at the bottom of the resume: “Also likes skiing, hiking and surfing.” Now, we have a lot more ways to show that we have other interests, and I think it’s more dimensional. Again, you have to control and decide what it is you want to say about yourself.

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