I’m Josh Joseph, senior officer in planning and evaluation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, here to talk about getting more from networking as AEA’s Annual Conference approaches.
I’m also introverted. Not shy, but not a natural mingler either. Where some folks get energized by big gatherings, I still remember when meeting people at professional events felt more like an obstacle than an opportunity for career growth.
Much of the networking advice I’ve been given—like developing an elevator speech—hasn’t gone far enough. Below are a few lessons learned, followed by some tips for addressing common challenges that many people, including introverts, regularly face.
Lesson Learned: Content matters. Networking is about sharing and listening for information and ideas that you care about—not making small talk in crowded rooms. Your deeper interests can help anchor you in any conversation. Try not to let networking stereotypes and imagery distract you.
Lesson Learned: Look for common ground with others. Shared interests are like magnets for networking. They tend to make discussions more engaging and useful, and they increase the chances of following up.
These lessons, while important, are limited in helping to pin down your professional interests and increase your comfort. Below are some tips to get at these frequent concerns.
Hot Tip: Look inside before reaching out. You’re probably busy at work and may resist this, but trust me. At least a few days before heading to an event that includes networking, set aside time to reflect on two key questions and then jot down your thoughts:
- What do I hope to learn? (e.g., are there work challenges on which you could use advice?)
- What do I have to share? (e.g., how might others learn & benefit from your work?)
You’ll have a clearer sense of purpose and will be primed to talk about and learn things that are more relevant and engaging.
Hot Tip: Focus on what you enjoy. We’re most comfortable and confident when talking about things that interest us and “light us up”. We know what that feels like away from work, but it’s also true professionally. Interest shows on our faces and in body language and people absolutely respond to it. Conversations can feel almost effortless. So find what sparks you professionally and tap into it.
Hot Tip: Be ready to listen. Networking isn’t a competitive sport—it’s about give and take. Engaging topics often emerge by chance, so ask questions, keep an ear out for connections and, above all, strive to be a good listener.
Two final thoughts: not every conversation will be golden and there isn’t a right way to network. It’s worth trying different things. Instead of crowded rooms, you might prefer connecting over breakfast, a cup of coffee, or in quiet hallway. Find what works for you and go with it.
Rad Resource: While there are plenty of networking resources out there, this NYTimes blog—An Introvert’s Guide to Networking—is worth a look.
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