Network Like an Introvert

When I first heard about Karen Wickre, I was amazed. Her bio, in shorthand, is this: Google at 51 and Twitter at 60. How many people break into Silicon Valley’s most coveted spots after the age of 30? Not too many. According to this study Baby Boomers are 60% less likely to be hired in Silicon Valley, and ageism is so prevalent that Intel is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. My takeaway from Wickre’s impressive bio was that she must be an excellent networker. There was never a doubt in my mind that she earned it, but in a highly competitive environment, you have to make your merit known.

Thankfully, last year Wickre came out with a book to show others the way, Taking the Work out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count. As an introvert myself, I really appreciated what she had to say. And the importance of networking has only increased as we change jobs ever more frequently — an average of 12 times over a lifetime. In an iconic essay that Wickre brought up, “A Brand Called You,” published back in 1997, Tom Peters says, “Linearity is out. A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It’s full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense.” All the more reason to stay in touch with others who can give you a helping hand!

My takeaways:

  • Don’t reach out only when you need something. As someone who has held numerous leadership roles, I often hear from former colleagues and employees, and I really enjoy keeping up those relationships. But if I only hear from someone when I’m “needed,” it’s hard not to feel used. I want to be more than a means to an end, which is why Wickre’s next point is crucial
  • Make time for “loose touch.” Staying in touch with your extended network is no easy feat, so give yourself a few minutes at the start and the end of every day to reach out to a few people you haven’t connected with in a while. Wickre suggests that in the morning you share an article that makes you think of them and in the evening you could take a few minutes to thank a few people who have helped you over the years. As Wickre says, “Nurture before you need it.”
  • Listen and observe. As introverts, we’re natural observers, and that helps us build connections with others. For instance, when I want to reach out to someone, I pay attention to their interests, as opposed to just talking about myself, which I don’t enjoy quite as much as I should.
  • Be open to helping others. Networking can feel really transactional, but it doesn’t have to. Make time for it, whether it’s just pointing someone in the right direction over email or meeting up in person. When people contacted Wickre hoping to land a role at Google, she would often share a few paragraphs about her experience there, and to those hoping to get a verified Twitter account, she would send them helpful links. She operates from a “pay it forward” mentality because you never know when you might need a hand.
  • Share your journey and successes. Wickre enjoys hearing from people who had reached out to her for support with updates on their career path. Everyone wants to contribute to others, but we don’t always know whether we made an impact or not. When job seekers keep their updates succinct, it feels like a little gift.

Here’s what I would add:

  • Helps others come to their own conclusions. If someone has reached out to you for a connection or career advice, your role is to be an objective listener. I recently supported a former employee who was at her wits end — should she leave the company? Demand a raise? Give up some of her responsibilities? Instead of delivering “a plan,” I helped her gain some perspective.
  • Women need to balance networking with excellence. Women, who tend toward perfectionism, should be sure to balance their hours in the office with hours outside the office, making connections within their own company. It’s important to take opportunity to break into the Old Boy’s Club and hobnob with professional peers and superiors, even if that’s setting up a series of one-on-one meetings. When I was CEO of a startup with an all-male board, following this advice helped me be a better leader.
  • Women need all-women networking, too. A new study shows that women-only networking is vital, as many fields and most leadership positions are still male-dominated. This could be regular coffee dates with your peers, or professional networking groups that bring women together in order to get precious intel that it might not necessarily occur to men to share. What matters most is getting honest feedback from at least one to two women about how women are treated in particular workforce you’re looking to join.

At some point, Wickre quoted marketing pioneer Ann Handley, who reminds us, “People do business with people — not faceless, soulless edifices.” At heart, that’s what networking is about: making meaningful connections with people so we can make a difference in our careers and the world at large. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?