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Professional Networking Online: 5 Ideas for Introverts

You need to be actively networking.

This statement is the mantra of many career advisors working with job seekers, but it's not always the easiest thing to do– especially for introverts. Professional networking can be described as meeting people, usually informally, with whom you may be able to forge a connection and extend your career development and employment options.

There's no denying the importance of networking. The old saying "it's who you know" is often the case when looking for a new job. A 2010 study from staffing consultants at CareerXRoads [PDF] found that "referrals make up 26.7% of all external hires … making this category the most efficient source by far" for hiring managers. So, how do you get referred?

Online networking for career-related goals can help you locate and get to know people already working in your field. The hardest part, or perhaps the most intimidating (speaking as a confirmed Introvert), is getting the conversation started – breaking the ice with someone you haven't met, but want to meet, and letting them know you are on the job market. Traditional networking takes place in a wide array of face-to-face settings, such as conferences and meetings, but online venues are powerful for networking as well. Here is a short list of actions you can take now to start networking online:

  1. Watch and learn. The Brazen Careerist blog advises us to "open [our] eyes and observe." Adapt this advice as an online activity and look for more details about the individuals and companies you would like to add to your professional network. The amount of web-based information available with a simple search makes online observation not only possible, but also a very effective tool for finding out about jobs and careers. Knowing more about your field and the types of employment available will be helpful in those initial networking conversations, online and offline. The Riley Guide lists the following as an advantage of online networking: "You can listen, engage, or be engaged as you wish. No one can see you sweat…" You can also learn a lot about online networking this way. As you connect with, follow, and "friend" professionals in your career field, watch how they interact online and borrow a few effective techniques.
  2. "Make the large group smaller." This guidance from Katherine Brooks in Psychology Today, encourages us to narrow our focus and find just a few folks to connect with versus trying to address a large group all at once. Brooks describes this technique as it applies to an official "networking session" at a professional conference, but similar challenges exist when faced with large online communities. Find smaller groups and conversations, and specific individuals with your niche interests, in these larger communities and reach out to connect online. LinkedIn is a great example – with millions of active profiles, it's beneficial to start small by first connecting with people you know (i.e., classmates, workers), and perhaps a LinkedIn Group, to focus your attention and efforts. You can then build your network successfully from that starting point.
  3. Try a "pre-introduction." Harvard Business Review blogger, and introvert, Lisa Petrilli "stopped being afraid to be the one to reach out." She emphasizes that getting comfortable meeting people in person is important, and that social media can help you get started with pre-introductions. Make the move to connect online with others who will be attending face-to-face events on your calendar. Getting to know them first through social media and online profiles (i.e., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) can ease the stress of networking functions and "lead to a more relaxed and productive in-person connection."
  4. Use your online learning skills. Networking could also be called "developing professional relationships" and as an online student you are already doing this in your classes with instructors and peers. You are also already mastering some of the technology and communication skills necessary to make the most of online networking and job search opportunities. According to the CareerXroads report, corporate career websites established by individual companies (22.3%) and job boards, such as and (13.2%) were the second and third most influential sources of external hires. Through both synchronous and asynchronous means, you are engaging in online discussions, attending meetings, navigating course sites, completing administrative tasks, and meeting new people every academic term. You are also getting a lot of practice with email and other types of writing required for your courses, but also valuable in the working world and for online communication in general.
  5. Refocus your online connections. It's the need for marketing and self-promotion in the job search and networking process that often runs counter to the introvert's tendency to remain private and less likely to ask for assistance. Take the focus off of yourself and place it on others – employers and professionals working in your field of interest – to find out what they are doing. You will learn a lot in the process and may even find a comfortable role as a "connector," building relationships while helping others do the same through social media and online networking communities.

Whether it's joining a new online community, attending a virtual event, or reaching out to introduce yourself through a networking profile, find one new avenue that appeals to you and get started! As an introvert you'll need to find the motivation to take that first step – creating the foundation upon which you will continue to build relationships throughout your career – and you may be surprised at the positive response you receive. What are your favorite ways to network online? Share your experiences and recommendations with us here.

Image credit: dmitridf, Flickr, CC-NC-ND