Networking: are you more of a Lisa than a Donald?

This month I’ve been working with a few clients in career transition who consider themselves introverts. Although technically brilliant, deeply knowledgeable about their field, credible and well liked within their small but perfectly formed network, my clients are having trouble making the switch into their chosen targets. I’ll do my usual audit of checking out their marketing collateral to see if their Achilles’ heel lies in a poorly tailored resume, or a pedestrian sounding pitch. I’ll test for interview smarts to see if they’ve conducted thorough due diligence on their target and can build a business case for their candidacy; nine times out of ten none of these areas are the issue. For my introverted clients, the Achilles’ heel is much more daunting than a one-to-one stress interview or finding time in their busy schedule to craft a targeted resume. Instead their real challenge lies in what I define as the introvert’s dilemma- how to build your brand with people you’ve never met and are maybe just as happy not to, when you are in an active job search. In fact it’s an issue for all of my introverted coaching clients, not just those in the job hunt- to further our careers in our current vertical we all need to self-advocate and find ways to articulate our professional successes to people we may not know so well. So if you find the idea of having to give your professional pitch to yet another new or ancillary contact daunting, here are some tips to help you navigate the interaction and manage your energy:

  1. Create buffers: A recent client of mine loved her career in the fashion industry, but as a self-confessed introvert she was less keen on division wide meetings with her highly extroverted (and highly opinionated) fashion forward colleagues. She found the meetings to be a huge energy drain and rather than speak up, kept quiet- a tactic she knew was hurting her brand. But by building in 10 minute time buffers before and after every divisional meeting, our fashionista was able to restock her energy reservoir, process her emotional response and think about the talking points she wanted to make at the meeting ahead of time in a way that worked for her.
  2. Realign your expectations: If you are more Lisa Simpson than Donald Trump it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to work the room at your firm’s annual summer cocktail party. Instead, aim to meet one or two new people. As you build up your networking muscle, you can increase your target networking number by one at each new event you attend.
  3. Find your safe station: Are you planning on attending a conference you know will help boost your visibility in your new target career field, but dreading having to spend two whole days with complete strangers? Then try of identifying two or three people you’ve already met at least three times who will be at the same conference. They will become your ‘safe stations’, people that you can hover back to after you satellite out to make new contacts. You’ll find that coming back to familiar faces and safe topics at the end of each new interaction will make the process significantly less stressful.

My fashionista client tried elements of all three of these tactics and through one-on-one coaching and 360 degree feedback from team members, she was able to promote herself in internal and external networking scenarios in a way that resonated with her and felt authentic, as opposed to generic and forced. Her end result? She scored a new job and a bigger title at a rival fashion brand in a culture that was much better suited to her introverted, thoughtful leadership style. She’ll never be fully comfortable with the idea of meeting new people and speaking up in a room full of extroverts, but through deliberate practice and managing her own inner critic, she’s well on her way to being a little less Lisa, and being a bit more Donald, we hope you can too!