Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 11, 2019
“Networking is a profession; become a professional at it.”
OK, hotshot, that has a nice ring to it if you are an extrovert, working the room, glad-handing the need-to-meets, easy with a quip, along with an inflated sense of importance and tall (that leaves me out).
But what if you are an introvert? Many people are, and they also deserve to make career connections and advance their professional futures, so who can help the shy? Meet Karen Wickre. Her new book is “Taking the Work Out of Networking.” She contends that the problem with traditional networking is that it is often seen as “phony and transactional.” It is hard work to dive in and fit in. Personally, standing next to a group where I really don’t know anyone and waiting to be acknowledged is painful. I feel like a ghost.
Wickre says, “Networking is less like hunting and more like farming.” You are trying to start a relationship, to find some commonality, some place you can both stand without stepping on the other’s toes.
One of my pals, Cliff Boro, uses the line (he got it from a famous venture capitalist), “You need to drill wells when you don’t need the water.” Again, easy for him to say. He is a world-class networker. He knows everyone. Another pal of mine is an insurance salesman. My name comes up every eight to 10 weeks, and I get invited to lunch. He is just “keeping me warm.”
Wickre defines herself as an introvert. What she means is that after a day at work, she needs to go home, regroup, have quiet time and breathe. At the other end of the spectrum, some folks get to 5:30 p.m., and they are ready to go out for the evening, to a networking event and beyond. (I have never understood the “after party” — perhaps because I am asleep at 9:30 p.m.)
Wickre is “sociable” but on her own terms. Her days are not filled with lunches and coffees, but she still seems to have a large network, which she measures by “quality v. quantity.” We all have a large number of “acquaintances,” but most of us can really only count friends on one hand.
Wickre applauds the introvert. She says that his nature leads to him being a better listener. If you lob in a few questions to someone, expressing interest in the answers, you may find that they can talk for quite some time. But you can also be shy, uncomfortable, embarrassed and awkward — and still be willing to jump off the Oceanside pier into the surf (pushed, perhaps).
Finally, Wickre suggests that the introvert should be curious. This character trait needs to be developed and needs to be sincere. I like hearing the other person’s stories. I am genuinely interested. But while I write a public column, putting myself out there every week, I am also reluctant to talk too personally in a group of people. I think careful and caring probing and listening is an excellent model for beginning the networking dance. I try to talk less at the beginning. The introvert can be a good observer, but you need to share — otherwise you are merely a voyeur.
Unfortunately, you also need social media. But, caution. Telling someone you are eating a steak in the Delta lounge at JFK on your way to Paris is frankly stupid and does not encourage any kind of meaningful reciprocal networking.
She favors “the loose touch” for maintaining relationships — just periodically lobbing one in. But “don’t broadcast” — (like sending the same “happy new year” message to 568 contacts from your Outlook list on Dec. 31.)
One thing we introverts like to do is to “be seen at the event, cocktails only, showing them you were there” and when they go into dinner, you are gone girl. Give or get two business cards and adios. She recommends a “follow-up at your convenience” email, with a reminder (You remember me, I was the fellow in the blue cape with the red hair opening a pot dispensary).
She likes LinkedIn. The recruiters like it. I hate it. But she says it works.
In the final analysis, we all have a public persona and a private one. Let’s keep it that way.
Rule No. 601
Hi, don’t I know you from somewhere?