In The Zone

Networking can be essential for professional success, but having to be social can put anyone squarely out of their comfort zone. Here are some strategies to network with ease

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Ever turned up to a workrelated gathering and realised you didn’t actually want to be there? Does the word “networking” and being faced with a large group of strangers, bring out your insecurities? According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamp-lit desk.” If you prefer the latter, here are some ways to help you flourish.

Arrive Early

Try arriving at the function early. This way you can get a feel for the room and have people coming in to meet you, rather than you going in to meet them. This also allows you to start with smaller interactions, rather than having to face a big group all at once.

Ask For An Introduction

If you make a connection at an event, it’s tempting to stick with them for the duration. Force yourself out of your comfort zone by creating a goal. Set a number of people to meet within a certain amount of time. If you know someone there, join their group and ask for an introduction. If you’re nervous in conversations, remember you don’t have to speak the entire time. Use well-placed insights to demonstrate intelligence rather than speaking continuously. 

Baby Steps

If approaching even one person scares you, take it one step at a time. According to research, people are happiest when doing something slightly outside their comfort zone. Begin with a safety net. For example, walk up to a stranger with a friend in tow. Start the conversation and let your friend take over. Once you’ve done this a few times, take the conversation further – tell a story.

Act Like An Extrovert

“Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly,” says Susan. When needed, you can act like an extrovert, and still maintain your authenticity while doing so. Just remember to reserve the quiet time you need for balance later on. 

Take Note

Bad at remembering names, even immediately after being introduced? It could be because while people are introducing themselves, the little voice in your head is saying “Don’t forget their name”, and consequently drowns out the very thing you were listening for. Help avoid this issue by repeating their name back to them, and then later writing a quick note on your phone. Remind yourself of context – where you met, or what the person was interested in. You can then reconnect with them through social media or email afterwards.

Networks in a Nutshell

It’s important to bust the myth that only senior executive roles are secured by network contacts. That is fundamentally untrue. In a study published in the journal Career Development International in 2012, US academics Robert L Laud and Matthew Johnson discuss the tactics that result in career advancement – tactics that can be applied to all levels, sectors and industries. In their research, networking ranked very highly at sixth out of 15.

Networking involved sharing information and making your contacts valuable resources. It is crucial to develop a valuable network over time – and not just when you want a new job. While there are many different forms of networks, they generally fall into three broad themes:

1. Operational Networks

Include not only direct reports and superiors, but also people who have the power to block or support a project and key outsiders, such as suppliers, distributors and customers.

2. Personal Networks

Can provide essential referrals, information and often developmental support, including vital coaching and mentoring.

3. Strategic Networks

Provide opportunities to look at the bigger picture through mentoring or simply a different perspective on your organisation.

Why Network?

According to Sher-li Torrey, the founder of Mums@Work and career coach at Workforce Singapore, networking is important because many available jobs – especially in multinational corporations – are shared internally before being placed on a job board.

“The more you network in the industries you hope to join, the more possible job opportunities you may hear about.” She also reveals that some bosses like to hire candidates that are referred by someone they already know.

“A referral is having someone make the effort to vouch for you, and the only way this can happen is through networking,” Sher-li shares.

Networking Can Be Effective When You:

 Are organised and plan your meetings with questions
 Take time to build rapport with your contacts
 Establish goals and the purpose of your network
 Tell a unique story about yourself in a way that allows people to remember you
 Are professional, listen, act thoughtfully and build your network on respect
 Enjoy the process – don’t consider it a burden
 Move away from the computer – while email and social media is useful, engagement should also be done face-to-face

 Follow up promptly


It’s more important to build real-life relationships than virtual networks in cyberspace and women need to get better at it. Heather McGregor, the author of Careers Advice For Ambitious Women, clarifies that even in the age of social media, it is important to be able to build face-toface relationships. She says that because with so many people connected through the Internet, it is difficult to distinguish between them. To do so, Heather says you can ask yourself three questions when you meet new people:

Do I like this person? Do you enjoy their company, do you feel valued by them, and would you be happy if you were stuck in a car from one end of the island to the other with them?

Do I admire this person? Do you admire their achievements, skills, or something else about them, for example, their generosity and kindness? Are you inspired by them? Can you learn from them?

Do I trust this person? This may be a gut instinct at first, but will be based on experience, so you usually have to meet them several times.