Reserved. Shy. Quiet. These are not adjectives that people would use to describe me, but I am an introvert. I get overwhelmed when there is more than one social event on my calendar for the week, I am exhausted after court, and I am very private. I need time alone to reenergize, and while I may know lots of people, I only share my life and passion with a select few. I am not only an introvert, I’m an imposter too; or at least I suffer from imposter syndrome. Whenever I walk into the courtroom or present at a CLE, I feel anxious, embarrassed, and unsure why I am there.
Despite these internal struggles, I am proud to say that I have a very successful career, business and a vibrant social life. I doubt that many of my colleagues and friends realize how taxing it is for me to attend social events, run a business, and be a zealous advocate for my clients.
It has not been an easy journey, but I have accomplished a lot through the support and guidance of those around me. For me, meaningful networking has launched my career and has made me the strong lawyer and leader that I am today. Here are a few tips for those introverts/imposters who need a roadmap for their journey:
1. Redefine the word “networking”
We are told throughout law school that networking is a requirement for those who seek a successful career in law. For introverts and imposters, the word “networking” has a negative connotation. However, networking is more than throwing yourself into a room full of other type-A personalities who are looking to “connect.” For the introvert, networking is the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with an individual, group, or institution. For the imposter, networking is the chance to work on your confidence and sense of belonging. Do not just expand your network, but expand your connections.
2. Listen, ask questions and engage
Most people, especially lawyers, love to talk about themselves. Ask genuine questions and actively listen. This should be easy because this is what introverts are famous for: listening. From there, try to find a common interest or two, and then engage. If the person you are speaking to is also an introvert, ask the famous question: Tell me about yourself. This question should buy you at least 2-5 minutes of small talk. Finally, use the person’s name you are speaking with at least three times within the first few minutes you meet. If you do this, you are more likely to remember their name and the other person will be impressed that you took the time to remember who they are. This will not go unnoticed.
3. Start small
If you are overwhelmed with the idea of walking into a room full of attorneys (or other professionals), then start small. Join a mentoring program that focuses on one-on-one mentoring. Go to a CLE before jumping into a happy hour. Have lunch or coffee with a co-worker or, if you are bold, opposing counsel. Everyone eats lunch and coffee is a must for most.
4. Follow up
You may have found yourself too stressed and anxious to make a meaningful impression. The truth is, most people do not remember who they spoke to at a networking event. To make a lasting connection, follow these three easy steps. First, at the event, make sure you get a business card from the person you spoke with. Second, jot down a couple of things about that person on their card. Third, after the event, send a follow up e-mail and ask them to have coffee, lunch or a drink to discuss a common interest or continue the conversation. If you remember their name, their interests, and send a follow up e-mail, they will not forget you.
5. Own it
Yes, you may feel uncomfortable and you may say or do something that was, well, awkward. Own it. Don’t feel ashamed and try not to overanalyze (I know, that is pretty much impossible for the introvert/imposter). This advice has carried me through some uncomfortable situations. Whenever I slip up, mispronounce a word or trip on my own feet, I laugh and move on. I have slowly learned that, even though I think I have embarrassed myself, most people do not notice or simply do not care. Plus, it makes you human.
Networking for the introvert/imposter may not be easy, but it is manageable. Find what works for you and never give up. With time and effort, your network, career and confidence will grow.