Luke is a STEM PhD student. He is getting close to completing his degree, and while this is exciting, it also means that he will be looking for a job soon. Networking, especially at conferences, is a central part of the job-hunting process for Luke, but thinking about it gives him intense anxiety.
Why does networking bother Luke so much? Well, like some of you reading this, Luke is an introvert. This means that, although he enjoys spending time with close friends and occasionally meeting new people, social interactions leave him drained. Luke feels overwhelmed by large groups of people, and he worries he won’t know what to say or will tire himself out after just one conversation.
A big part of Luke doesn’t want to bother with networking at all, but he knows that this could be a key strategy for finding the job he’s been working toward throughout his studies. Luke brought this problem to his coach, and what they talked about was really eye-opening.
Problem 1: Feeling overwhelmed. Luke mentioned to his coach that he feels overwhelmed by large conferences, specifically by the pressure to speak to a lot of people. Sometimes this paralyzes him and leaves him unable to approach anyone.
Possible Solution: Setting goals. Luke and his coach decided setting small, achievable goals might help Luke feel less overwhelmed. Before his first conference, Luke and his coach set a goal for him to reach out to two contacts he knew of through mutual friends. Doing this online is somewhat easier for him than face-to-face, and practicing talking to new people in this manner increased his confidence and forced him to think about what he wanted to say. Then, at his first conference, Luke set a goal to talk to three people. This way, he had a specific number of interactions to navigate, and he took some time deciding who he felt most comfortable approaching as well as who his most valuable connections could be. Focusing on these smaller goals helped him step away from the big picture and create a more manageable social situation for himself.
Problem 2: Not knowing what to say. Sometimes, because Luke feels over-stimulated in social situations, his mind goes blank. Especially when someone asks him questions about himself (“What is your research about? What are your career goals?”), he feels flustered trying to find the right words.
Possible Solution: Connecting to your intention. What does Luke really want to get out of networking? What career is he interested in? Who does he want to meet? Reconnecting to these inner guiding points can take some of the guesswork out of what to say, if you know why you’re talking in the first place. Luke spent some time in a conversation with his coach reflecting on what he hoped to get from the conference and what sort of career he was most interested in pursuing. He even took some notes with him to reference, just in case.
Problem 3: Feeling drained. Like most introverts, Luke isn’t antisocial, but he does feel drained after social interactions and needs some time to recharge in between. It’s very easy to tire himself out during big networking events, meaning he can’t put his best foot forward in every conversation.
Possible Solution: Taking time to recharge. Managing energy is so important for introverts. With his coach, Luke identified some ways to recharge. The days before and after his first conference, Luke made sure not to schedule any other networking or other social events, taking the time to relax and do some activities he really enjoys, like reading and playing with his dog. At the conference, he made sure to take breaks in between conversations, either grabbing some food, taking a moment to sit down and journal, or talking with his best friend on the phone. This gave him some time to rest his social interaction muscles before diving into the next conversation, leaving him more refreshed and confident.
Although Luke is still not exactly excited to network, his conversations with his coach and time spent reflecting made him feel more empowered to handle it. His first networking event was still very draining, but he learned a lot and was able to meet some important connections.
Luke’s story is just one snapshot of how an introvert might handle the challenge of networking. If you identify as an introvert and are facing similar challenges, remember that you can find solutions that work for you through coaching and reflection. If this work seems like a lot to take on, remember that it is really worth it—after all, it could get you that much closer to the career you are striving for.