Out of network? Networking ambivalence and me

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, honestly, it’s probably some of both, but I prefer to play up the “what” over the “who” because I am a miserable networker.

I’m not unfriendly or antisocial (usually); I’m an introvert. Many of the personality traits of introverts are me in a nutshell, such as:

· Desire private space and time
· Are happy to be alone – can be lonely in a crowd
· Become drained/overwhelmed around large groups of people
· Need time alone to recharge
· Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
· Act cautiously in meeting people
· Form a few deep attachments
· Think carefully before speaking (practice in my head before I speak – and especially before I make a phone call)
· Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
· Limit their interests but explore deeply
· Communicate best one-on-one

(Note – this list was adapted from a blog post related to gifted education – it seems that introversion is found much more often among gifted children. Hmmm.)

Even my blog is an introvert.

These characteristics make it a challenge for me to participate in traditional networking activities, although I’ve tried to overcome it – sort of. I’ve joined professional organizations – but don’t go to meetings. I’ll attend a seminar – but I’ll bring a book to read before it starts. It’s not that I’m incapable of socializing – it’s actually become a bit easier for me as I’ve gotten older – but I’ve just never gotten comfortable with it in the context of “networking.” I’ve also internalized a lot of early, and probably old-fashioned, teachings about not being “forward” or “pushy,” and waiting to be asked rather than asking – plus, there’s an intimidation factor and fear of rejection fed by receiving a lot of put-downs and brush-offs in my younger years. Consequently, as you might imagine, I don’t have much of a professional network – mainly a few people I’ve worked with who have also become friends, and it’s too geographically dispersed to be of much practical use.

And yet, I understand the value of having a network, so I keep giving it a shot. It seems that for someone like me, who among other things is more comfortable with writing than talking sometimes, online networking might be a great approach. (Hey, online dating worked out really well for this “eHarmony Success Story.”) Work It, Mom! recently complied some online-networking tips from discussions in their forums:

  • Find some blogs written by people in your field/industry and become part of the conversation. Post relevant comments, respond to other comments, ask good questions. It takes time, but you will then become part of this blog’s community and can meet people who might be good for your network.
  • Ask people for advice. What you can do is send an email to a person whose comment you liked or found relevant and ask them if they would have a short bit of time to talk to you about their (job/career/expertise/insert here whatever the purpose of this part of your networking is.) Also, don’t hesitate to email the blog author directly and ask for feedback on something/a question about developing your career/writing/whatever fits your life at that time.
  • The key to networking is to do this on an ongoing basis and establish these relationships slowly.
  • Another important aspect of networking is giving something back to your contacts. So say you had an email exchange with someone – send them an email later on with a link to a site they might find interesting, or a book, blog, video, article, etc.

I’ve been doing some of these things for a few months now, but they’re in connection with my blog, which has almost nothing to do with my career (wish it did). I don’t even have any real desire to find blogs in my field. There are some HR and management blogs that I read regularly and learn from, but accounting blogs? I’d like to be interested, and I’d be open to suggestions about any to check out, but the fact that my expertise is pretty narrowly focused leaves me out of a lot of topics; non-profit accounting and finance don’t involve many tax or SEC concerns, and most of the non-profit-oriented blogs I’ve come across are program- rather than administration-focused. (Oh, maybe that’s a specialty blogging niche I could explore! Probably not – as I said, I’d like to be interested, but I’m just not.)

One of Work It, Mom’s purposes is encouraging networking opportunities for its members, and the article offers some site-specific recommendations:

  • Check out some mom’s profiles and read about their careers. Leave them a post on their profile or send a message with a question you might have.
  • Comment on articles written by other members and/or send them a private message saying you liked the article and here is a follow-on question.
  • Post questions/thoughts/topics on forums or in Q&A and connect with professional moms that way. After a good exchange with someone, send them a message through Work It, Mom! with a follow up question, comment, or resource for them.

I’ve been doing these things since I joined the community. I’ve left comments and participated in the forums, I’ve rated nearly every article I’ve read, and I’ve written a few for the site as well. Still, one thing I just can’t get comfortable with is flat-out asking someone to be part of my network, even if we’ve had a number of online exchanges – it’s the fear of rejection thing. And I’m still waiting to be asked to be part of someone else’s network. Now, I understand that ideally, networking is a mutually beneficial relationship, but it may not always be clear early on what exactly those benefits might be. Still, if “who” you know really does matter more than “what” you know, could it be that you just never quite know how knowing a certain “who” might turn out to be valuable?

And in the midst of all this, I have to wonder whether most people are populating their online networks with people they already know off-line – LinkedIn basically recommends that approach (and Jory Des Jardins has a fantastic post re: LinkedIn “ettiquette” on BlogHer, btw) – but not having much of an existing off-line network is my problem in the first place. I also wonder about my own motives in networking seemingly just for the sake of networking; I’m always open to helping people if I can, but I’ve gotten every job I’ve ever had the old-fashioned way, and I don’t have my own business to market. Is it coming from that fear of rejection and its flip side, wanting to feel (and see onscreen) that I’m included? Is the fear that I won’t be included part of what’s keeping my away from the “social networking” websites like Facebook? (Truthfully, I’m pretty sure my age is a factor in that one too.)

Maybe I need to internalize another lesson – the one in this list of tips that says “do this on an ongoing basis and establish these relationships slowly,” let this evolve more organically, and just relax. Or maybe there are other people who are just as ambivalent and afraid of rejection as I am, and we’ll end up being part of each other’s networks eventually.

UPDATE 8/22 – An adaptation of this post has been published on Work It, Mom – and I’ve got two people in my network there now. 🙂

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  • A friend once told me this definition of introvert and extrovert:

    An introvert is someone who, if she has five minutes out of busy day, uses that time to be alone a bit, to gather her thoughts.

    An extrovert is someone who, with five extra minutes, uses it to call a friend.

    It’s a question of how you recharge. It made me feel a lot better about being an introvert! (I had always thought it was a bit of a moral failing.)

    Some people are networking pros and I’ve always been jealous of them. But, I think, it’s a skill like anything else. Like knitting.

  • WG – Thanks for sharing your friend’s definition of introverts and extroverts. I like it, and it makes me feel better about being an introvert too.

    I know what you mean about envying those networking pros. I think it brings me back to those old feelings of being left out from when I was a kid – which probably came from my being an introvert. And while I agree about networking being a skill, I think the people who really do well at it are probably extroverts. 🙂