Networking for Introverts: the guide to make meaningful connections

January 9, 2021

As a naturally born introvert, I have shied away from networking for a while, thankfully though I learnt how to view it in a positive light early in my career. This revelation allowed me to connect and build long-lasting relationships with senior professionals, which significantly impacted my career and personal development.
I have now developed an introvert-approved guide to connect with people while providing value to others.

Provide Value

Networking often gets a bad reputation because it is perceived as a transactional relationship connecting to exchange business cards. We network to establish a connection for a possible future relationship.

A common mistake is believing that, once you made that first contact, you are done and can move on. In reality, like all relationship building, it requires trust and creating trust needs time. Helping others by providing them value can act as a catalyst. To dispense benefit, you don’t have to go out of your way, consider it as an action you can do that will get you a “Thank you!” back.

Provided you won’t manage to help everyone you meet; I understand that, especially when you are first getting started, it’s hard to identify how and what value you can provide. There's a hack to find what you can offer to a new connection: ask what the most gruelling part of their job is. People love to complain (it is part of human nature), and you are likely to get a detailed answer to the pain points they are facing. Moreover, it will allow you to find out how you can help out those you meet. You are not required to know how to solve their problem right away. You can always follow up and then suggest a potential solution. Helping others reach their objective will in turn make you reach your goals.

Share Resources

An excellent way to provide value is through sharing resources. What is great about this is that you can do it both online and offline.

While I was an intern at Nielsen, I have learnt that travel suggestions are a powerful networking tool. Being an Italian living abroad, I often received questions on what to see and where to eat from colleagues travelling to Rome, Milan, Florence or Venice. As a despiser of small talk, it was an easy way for me to genuinely help and connect with colleagues my senior as it gave me a topic to talk about and a way to create a connection.

As a consequence of my offline travel destination sharing, I created a Visit page on my website, which allowed me to share travel recommendations to anyone who asked me. Then, as a voracious reader, I’ve added a Book Notes page, so that I could do the same with book recommendations.

Don't worry, you don’t have to create your resources to help others. In most cases, you can share online articles or videos on themes that can be useful to your network. To make it more personal, I suggest you highlight the portion(s) of the article you believe are of primary interest to your connection. There are several ways to do so, and my personal favourites are Get Liner and Hypothesis. If you share a resource with someone higher up in the job hierarchy, I highly recommend you underline the relevant aspects, it will save them time and realise you thought about what to send them.

Screenshot of Liner highlited article

Make Mindful Connections

While with your friends you can just text them and ask them how they are doing, you cannot do that with someone you don't know that well. It could come off as a waste of their time, plus they rarely give you insights on that person.

Before you go ahead and connect with a weak tie, have a thorough look through their social platforms, do not limit yourself to the latest posts, this has two benefits: 

  1. It will answer some basic and generic questions you might have on them and what they do. If and when you decide to get in touch, it will lead you to ask more critical and relevant questions.
  2. While you may agree with their latest post, you may find out you do not share their overall vision, and you could be wasting your time engaging with that person rather than someone more compatible with you.

Moreover, when you connect with someone you want to be memorable, you need to be persistent as you will only be as impressive as your last interaction. You cannot hope the other person will keep you top of mind if you do not make an effort of keeping in touch.

Create a System

To make mindful connections, I suggest you don't lean on your memory alone. After meeting someone, record some personal details about them, for example:

  • their birthday, 
  • the company they work for, 
  • the name of their significant other,
  • allergies, 
  • any recommendation they have shared (or you gave them). 

This will help you remember them better and make your future interactions much more thoughtful. 

There are many ways in which you can note these details down. My preferred method is using a database. It allows me to filter according to one or more criteria, making it easy to find people with similar interests, needs or based in a particular city.

There are ad hoc apps for contact and relationship management; UpHabit is my tool of choice for the job. I enjoy it because it is easy to use and has a web interface, so I am not confined to my phone screen.
To get a start at using a database and not make things overly complicated, you can use AirTable (which is like Excel, but more powerful and better looking). I’ll share with you the template I used to manage my connection quickly and easily. 

AirTable personal CRM screenshot

Have a follow-up strategy in place; this will allow you to connect with people on a regular or semi-regular basis. An effective way to do this (and that I use) is to create a regular newsletter. You could do this by using your email inbox and emailing the people you know. Still, I opted to use ConvertKit as it allows me to design better-looking emails. Plus, if someone wants to opt-out, they don't have to contact me personally to do so; they simply click "Unsubscribe", no hard feelings.

My emails include useful digital tools in the marketing sphere, books I believe would be interesting to my contacts, podcasts or articles they might enjoy. Since first sending these regular emails, I have noticed that people will often reply or get in touch with you and already have a conversation starter.

A tool that helped me merge the digital and the physical world is MyPostcard, this is an app (available for iOS and Android), where you can design postcards or thank you notes and send them out. There have been times when I wish I could have attended an event, but simply couldn't (e.g., a friend's graduation which happened in a different country) or wanted to send a "Thank You" note and this app made it extremely easy to send a postcard within seconds. Their prices are low, but they provide big smiles to the receivers. 

The last suggestion I have to create a system is to set up Google Alerts for the people or companies you care about but are not yet comfortable contacting to share a resource. These will allow you to get notified via email whenever the person or company you are interested in gets mentioned on the web, which will make it much easier for you to congratulate them for exceptional results and show your support.

Schedule Important Relationships

Existing friends are part of our network, and while we take time to schedule work meetings and medical appointments, we hardly ever schedule important relationships. To maintain contact with those you love, keeping in touch is essential. 

If like me, you are an ex-pat (or, navigating through a global pandemic), an effortless way is to set up a recurring Zoom call. I used to do this long before Covid-19, and I usually have a regular rotation of friends I call right before dinner, and with some of them, we prepare our dinners as we catch up over video call. 

To schedule calls and dinner invites, I use Woven as it allows me to see all my calendars in one place, plus it also makes it extremely easy to show other people my availability and choose which time and date works best for them . As it has an integrated keyboard in iOS, this is my preferred tool as it makes it extremely simple to organise something even if I am on the go.

Every month, I set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour to develop new connections. I do this by reviewing my notes and see if I can add value or help one or more of my contacts. As I go about my day I note down new articles, resources or contact’s needs and, if I cannot address something immediately, I’ll get back to them in the allotted time.

Second Degree Dinners

A while ago, I came across the concept of a Second Degree Dinner, which is a great way to meet new people and expand your network. As introverts, you most likely do not enjoy large groups as they often do not allow you to make meaningful connections. Still, we do enjoy meeting new people, but we much rather do it in smaller groups. 

You need two hosts (yourself and a friend), and both of you will invite someone else you find interesting (even better if your counterpart doesn't know this person). The invitees have to extend the invite to one other interesting person you don’t already know. You will end up with 6 people, and everyone will get to meet new people. The best part is that as you will meet pre-vetted people, you will be likely to meet people you will get along with. 

I suggest you sit between people you don't already know and away from your co-host as this will better allow everyone to interconnect with new people. 

Given we are facing a global pandemic and social distancing is a theme that has been accompanying us for the last year, know that something similar can be done via Zoom. Rather than dinner, you can do drinks as they are easier to organise virtually, but it works just as well. Plus, it will create a change in what can be a very repetitive schedule, and it makes the opportunity to meet in person as soon as it is possible to do so again.

After the dinner or the Zoom drinks, to keep in touch, you can create a WhatsApp group to share pictures of the evening and any resource (books, TV shows, articles…) mentioned. It is also an easy way to share emails or LinkedIn profiles.

If you invited someone, and they couldn’t make it keep asking them, life can get busy, and it might have been impossible for them to make it that time, but they might make it the next. Don't take it as a rejection.

Networking for Job Seekers

If you are a job seeker, networking on LinkedIn is going to be your primary focus. Therefore, you should maintain a complete and up to date LinkedIn profile that includes a photo in line with the environment you want to work in (don't wear a suit if that is not the vibe of where you would like to work).

Similarly to what I detailed initially, you should provide value and share resources and not merely scroll through the job offers. Sharing takeaways from industry events or webinars you have attended is a great way to show your active participation in a given sector, plus it allows you to tag the speakers and raise your visibility. Or you could also summarise what you learnt from the articles you found online. Whatever you go for, try to post anything of value and to it at least twice a week for LinkedIn to favour you. 

Equally important is growing your network by connecting with everyone you meet on LinkedIn. When you request a connection, I suggest you send a personalised invitation, not only it is considerate, but you will have a higher chance of obtaining the connection and begin a conversation. To help you out I have included a template below:

Hi [Name], 
We know each other from [Whatever you know them from], and I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn to keep in touch. 
Best regards, 
[Your Name]

When someone connects with you on LinkedIn, regardless of whether they sent you a personalised invitation or not, send them a thank you for joining my network message. Again, this allows you to start a conversation with them, and it is a great way to provide them with value.

Before you send a random and generic welcome message, do your homework. Have a look at this person’s profile, at what they posted and what comments they have left, so you can include something that might help them in your first message. 

Towards the end of your message, don't forget to tell them what your area of expertise or job is so that they know for what they can reach out to you.

To avoid a "writer's block," you can use a template (I’ve included one below). In this way, you don't have to rewrite a similar message, plus what you can offer won't change that often as your areas of expertise are limited, just like everyone else's.

Hi [Name], 
Thank you for adding me to your network!
I see we have a few shared connections such as {Connection's Name} from {Company/University}. 
It looks like we have a common interest in {topic}, I have recently read [LINK] on the subject that could be of interest. 
Currently, I work for [Company name], an [Insert what you do and what you are aiming to provide your clients with].
Let me know if I can help you in any way as I like to help my network!
[Your Name]

Finally, do not forget to seek other people's time wisely. Do not connect with someone asking general background questions you could have found the answer to through a simple Google search. On the other hand, do not have insane requests when connecting with someone for the first time. 

I had a recent graduate who had no shared connections and whom I had never met ask me to introduce him to some of my former colleagues as he would have liked to work in a company where I had previously worked. 

LinkedIn redacted message on iphone XR mockup

If you have no connection with someone you cannot ask for these kinds of favours, even if I might be available to introduce someone to my network, I cannot present someone I don't personally know. When someone introduces you to someone else for a job position, you have to consider that they are putting their own reputation on the line for you. 

Therefore, when you connect with someone on LinkedIn ask more detailed and specific questions that can give you some insight, but be considerate of their time. 

Actionable Next Steps

  1. Create a system that will allow you to keep in touch quickly. You can use my AirTable template to get started. (Or use UpHabit if you prefer dedicated software) Note down 20 connections. Check if you have any resources you can share to provide value or if you can connect one or more of your contacts. 
  2. Would you like to keep in touch with some of your connections regularly? Set up a regular personal newsletter using ConvertKit and share monthly updates and exciting reads.
    Send out a couple recurring invites scheduling regular dinners or chats with friends you want to keep in touch but are not currently close by.
  3. Want to meet new people? Host a second-degree dinner with a friend and both invite one person the other doesn’t yet know. Have your invites invite one person of their own too, so everyone meets two new people. If you can’t host a dinner, you can also opt for virtual drinks over Zoom.
  4. Send personalised invites on LinkedIn and take the time when someone connects with you to send them a considerate welcome to my network detailing in the end what your area of expertise is and how you can help them out if they might need.

By doing this regularly, your network will grow, and you will be able to connect with more people creating meaningful relationships.

Photo by Sam Farallon on Unsplash

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Alessia Cappello

Alessia eases brands, agencies and publishers measure their online advertising effectiveness. She is a digital marketing and advertising enthusiast by day. Passionate about the intersection between technology, art & culture by night.

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