How to network as an Introverted Student Affairs Professional
How to network as an Introverted Student Affairs Professional
Being asked to network as an introverted student affairs professional can be challenging. Especially if you are the kind of person that just wants to sit home and catch up on Netflix. As precariously balancing Introvert / Extrovert, I identify and empathize with you! Networking is definitely challenging if you just don’t feel like connecting with anyone.
But meeting other people in the field and learning more about them is important. It’s just as important to share more about yourself for your own personal and professional development.
Now let’s focus on 10 key areas to prioritize in order to successfully network as an introverted student affairs professional.
#1 Know you’re not the only one
You are not the only introverted student affairs professional out there. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last one. It’s okay to identify as an introvert. That’s part of who you are and what gives you energy. It’s how you go about your daily life. Recognizing that you’re not the only one that feels this way is important. The next step is branching out and meeting other professionals.
#2 Buddy up
Networking is going to be difficult for an introvert. That’s why I recommend my mentees find a buddy or someone else that they can hang out with at conferences, events, or professional development activities. Ideally this should be someone in your immediate peer group. Alternatively, you can also volunteer to become a mentee for a professional organization like NASPA or ACPA. There you will be connected with a mentor who can help you navigate the often complex process of networking at large professional events. I’ve helped out dozens of new student affairs professionals this way. The key outcome here is to pair up with someone who can help introduce you to more people.
#3 Prepare ahead of time
One situation where every introvert student affairs professionals freezes up is when they don’t know how to ask and answer some basic networking questions. Those can be questions like “how did you get started in student affairs?” or “what institution are you at right now?” or “what do you like most of your current work?” These are great (and safe) questions that you can ask any potential new contact. But don’t stop here. Also prepare your own answers for the same questions as they will most likely be asked right back to you. Have those answers prepared and “in your back pocket.” This will help alleviate much of the stress behind networking as an introvert.
#4 Challenge yourself
I’m a gamer and I like challenges. When I was first faced with the daunting prospect of networking in student affairs as a shy new professional, I took it as an opportunity to create some of my own challenges in my networking path. I would setup a personal goal to share and collect 5 business cards at a single conference. I would make myself go to a session that I had little knowledge about. I would volunteer at the event in order to meet other young professionals. And what would I do after that? I would reward myself with a few hours of quiet time in my hotel room with a book. It was setting those individual goals that made networking more manageable for me when I first got started.
#5 Take baby steps
Is setting up your own challenges might be too much of to ask for? Then you can work on taking some baby steps when first starting out. Often the first step to an introduction is just a smile. So commit yourself to making eye contact and smiling to just one person you don’t know. After that you can try something more active, like waving to someone you don’t know. At that point, you can say hello to someone you’ve just met. Your path will just snowball to a point where you can introduce yourself, start to ask questions about them, and engage in a meaningful but brief dialogue.
#6 Define your approach
Up next, you’ll want to define your approach. Some of the hardest parts of networking as an introvert is approaching a group. But you don’t’ have to do that. Often you’ll find it easier to just wave and smile at one person to start a conversation. Some of the best opening conversations I’ve had have been sitting down at a conference presentation and introducing myself to the person sitting next to me. A good way to break the ice in this situation is to ask the person “is this seat taken?” while pointing to the one next to them. I follow it up with “I don’t know much about this topic, how about you?” This is good way to gauge their knowledge in this area with the person you just met. If they are really knowledgeable, then you can listen to what they have to say, if they aren’t then you can both learn and share insights together.
#7 Listening skills are your assets
One of the greatest strengths of being an introvert is that your listening skills are on point. You can harness that during your networking in order to really gather and assess what the other person is saying. Sometimes I’ve been in positions where I don’t know what to say in response to what a person just said. So I just rely on one of my oldest tricks: paraphrasing. If I don’t know what to say I’ll try to summarize what the person just said to me. Did they recall an anecdote about having a tough time checking into the hotel? “Sounds like you’ve had a rough day so far.” Are they excited to attend this conference presentation?” “You sound like you like to learn.”
#8 Quality over quantity
Many introverts think that they need to meet as many different people as they can. That doesn’t have to be the case. Part of taking baby steps is doing things that are comfortable at first - then working on taking more challenging steps later on. Likewise, you should start off with developing quality conversations with people you just met rather than try to talk to as many people as possible. Rely on getting to know more about the person and have them talk. You’ll quickly find how much people like to share what they do and what they’re most proud of.
#9 Follow up after the conference
I’m old school, so I still like to collect and give out business cards at conferences. You can choose to do that too if you’d like. The point is that you should share your contact information and collect the same information from your new colleagues. Then in the weeks following your meeting with them, follow up with an email or message over social media. Share that you enjoyed meeting them; remind them of the circumstances of your meeting (place and location); and something that you talked about. Following up with your new contacts after you’ve met them solidifies your connection with that person.
#10 Work your new contacts for additional ones
This is the part where networking really pays off. After meeting these new contacts, ask them if they know anyone else in the field that you should be talking to. You’re especially looking for others who work in the same functional area as you, share the same interests, or otherwise have anything else in common. This is where you can grow and expand a quality network at an exponential rate!
Networking as an introverted student affairs professional can be tough. But it can be done! Rely on these ten tips at your next conference or networking event for a clear path to success!
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Runyan, A. (n.d.). An Introvert's Guide to Networking. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.themuse.com/advice/an-introverts-guide-to-networking