Throughout college, I was the “shy girl.” I often wondered why it was hard for me to open up to strangers and attend social events after a long day at school. But I was so used to being labeled as “shy” that I never thought of changing it—it was just my identity.
Finally, at my first job, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and a light bulb went off: I’m an introvert. I realized that there are many benefits of having my personality type—we introverts tend to be reflective and have close relationships, to name a couple—and I became proud of who I was.
But being an introvert makes some things difficult. It’s hard to be open and let strangers into your life. Small talk doesn’t come easy, and it’s hard work to establish rapport with new people. And that means things like attending networking events and meeting new people—crucial elements of the job search—can be pretty intimidating.
I’ve picked up a few tips and habits over the years that have helped me navigate the social side of my career. Do I get excited about being in a big room full of strangers to meet? Not so much. But it’s not so bad anymore, either. Here’s how I handle it:
Before you head into your next social event, spend a few minutes thinking about what you want to learn from others. Have a few questions ready to ask new people, such as “How did you get started in your career?” or “What are you passionate about?” If being put on the spot makes you nervous, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing questions down and practicing ahead of time. Also think about what you want to share about yourself—you can’t rely on another person to carry the conversation for you!
2. Find a Conference Buddy
You don’t always have to go at it alone—having a buddy can make large events much less intimidating. So bring a colleague or friend to your next networking event or conference. If you do have to fly solo, try to reach out and make just one connection. That way, you’ll have someone to sit with during lunch breaks and someone to wave hello to and introduce to others. And you’ll probably be surprised at how much fun you’ll have!
3. Be That Person
Remember that most people in the room at any given networking event feel the same way you do: scared to death. So, instead of dwelling on how scary it is to start a conversation, think about how by doing so you’ll be helping other people feel more comfortable. Maybe that girl alone at the table doesn’t know anyone either and is just hoping that someone will come talk to her. Be that person! (“Have you been to this before?” is always a great opening line.)
4. Be Present
Once you do start a conversation, it can be tough to relax if you’re continuously worried about what to say next and what the other person is thinking. So try shifting the focus to your new acquaintance, instead. Ask lots of questions and practice your listening skills!
You don’t always have to initiate—but if you’re hiding against the wall with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re not giving off a very approachable vibe, either. So try to relax, smile, and look as warm and casual as you can—it’ll open the door for someone to walk up to you and start the conversation.
6. Challenge Yourself
This year, I took on a networking challenge—I met with four people I knew and four people I didn’t know every month. Through these connections, I’ve already gotten an interview and many referrals—not to mention my newfound confidence and a clearer sense of direction in my career. Even if you don’t go this far, think about how you can challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. It might have unexpected—and great—results.