How To Build A Network If You’re Shy AF

Today we are talking networking! This is a huge part of nearly all industries (Entertainment, Marketing, Politics, Entrepreneurship, the list goes on) – you may have heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This phrase can be really disheartening for the shy, introverted folks who have a lot of talent to show but may not thrive in social settings.

I absolutely *DREAD* networking events – I’d rather cut off all my hair before having to elbow my way through the sea of overzealous, perky ponytail, prestigious university new grads whose noses are so damn brown from all their ass-kissing. But I get it, you gotta do what you gotta do. I really couldn’t care less, but hey I’ll sit down and ask strangers’ about how their snot nosed kid’s soccer game went like I care (LOL am I revealing too much about myself right now???). And there’s nothing more cringe-y than having to listen to people aggressively brag about themselves (with pitches that are just so obviously rehearsed/inflated)?? I cannot roll my eyes any harder in my head. And then when it’s your turn to “brag” and you know everyone is just silently sipping their cocktail as they judge you and your accomplishments (or lack there of). UGH IT’S THE WORST!! OR what about when they start talking sports and you just have to awkwardly nod your head even though everyone knows you don’t follow.

I think this pictures encapsulates my uncomfortableness and awkwardness when it comes to networking events. yup.

I really am very shy when it comes to new people or certain settings and TBH I used to feel really hopeless when it came to my future. I used to think, “Wow, I actually know my ish, but probably <so and so> will get into a better accounting firm than me because he/she talks better than me.” But I guess that’s on me – I’m the one who didn’t want to put myself out there.

I HATED recruiting events (so much so that I just wouldn’t go) and networking events (you’ll find me on the side just munching on the hors d’oeurvres). In college, I did not even go to the career fairs because that’s how adverse to them I was. I did end up going to a private one (invite-only for the top 25 accounting students, I couldn’t pass it up) and once I got the job I wanted, I thought I was done with all the social baloney. WRONG!!!

I picked the career where networking is freakin’ #1!!! That’s ALL they talk about – it’s their top advice whenever people ask about how to be successful in the firm. They make it sound like networking is the only thing that matters. Just shoot me now is what I thought to myself. I’ll never survive here. Especially not against all these “top campus picks” and type-A folks who just pounce on every partner they see.

me in my head: “plz someone get me out of here – when is this event over – should I just kill time in the restroom” LOL

At one of our welcome events, someone asked, “How can we avoid just being ‘a number‘ in a firm of hundreds of thousands of employees?” Wow – I had never thought about that. How can you stand out amongst a HUGE place full of the “best of the best”? Their answer was brutal. “Honestly, it is really easy to become invisible here. Everyone that works here is brilliant – so unless you have something special that makes you stand out, you’ll be just ‘another employee.’ To climb up, networking is KEY. If you can’t do that, then maybe this isn’t the place for you.” My heart sank.

BUT! I’m here to tell you that you absolutely can break through the seemingly impenetrable social wall. Hell yea you can! I am not the best at “talking” but I’ve been able to organically build a strong network (so strong that at this point I don’t want to leave) without having to give in to some of the braggart antics that rub me the wrong way. Here is some of my personal advice and thoughts on how you CAN build yourself a network (even if you’re shy AF) and how you CAN build a name for yourself (even if you’re not the most aggressive)!

+ Hard Work Speaks Louder

You know what, sometimes you DON’T have to “talk the talk” – you can just let your work speak for itself. I have a senior coworker who is SUPER quiet. He does N-O-T like to talk. In fact, you probably can’t even find him at work because he literally hides from everybody. But he is bloody BRILLIANT. He does not speak a single word yet everyone knows him for his great work.

If you are one of those intelligent people who work hard but you simply aren’t talkative, I hope you take heart that people DO recognize effort and talent. Even if it might feel like those outgoing people are rising above you, remember that at the end of the day, people want on their team those who ACTUALLY have the ability to back it up when it comes down to work time.

+ Find People Who Value You

While of course you should always try to help all others, remember it’s quality over quantity. No matter how nice you are or how good your work ethic is, not everyone will like you. That’s just how it is – no worries, it’s usually just because your personalities or working styles might just not match each other’s.

BUT when you DO find those special people who VALUE you, INVEST in you, and UNDERSTAND you – OOH BABY! It’s amazing, like serendipitous. It becomes so effortless and is a win-win-win for everyone around – everyone not only enjoys work more, but the work output and productivity is also better! I become very loyal to these people – my partners in crime. Make your network stronger by having people who you KNOW have your back. And don’t worry, you’ll find them (see my next point!).

+ Don’t Try To Be Someone You’re Not

BE AUTHENTIC. This sounds so obvious but a lot of times people will act differently or try to make themselves look a certain way when they’re networking or meeting with certain people. Should you try to show your best self? Yes. And no.

First of all, the smart people will 100% read through your fake ISH so easily LOL. It can be smelt a mile away when someone is trying to kiss ass or oversell themselves. It’s a bad look – just sayin’.

Look, I get it – you want to appear to be the perfect employee, or you’re trying to fit the character mold that they’re looking for you to be or you THINK you’re supposed to be. Or, most often, you want to say what they want to hear. But there’s so many things wrong with this. You’ll have built yourself a network using a fake profile and you’ll be surrounded by people that you have shallow/disingenuous connections with because you weren’t yourself, but now you have to try to live up to it??? It’s exhausting to pretend to be someone you aren’t and you won’t be happy long-term. Fact.

If you pretend to fit the status quo, then how do you expect to stand out? By being YOU (your true “you”), you’ve automatically and effortlessly upped your uniqueness. Yes – be your best self, maintain a sense of professionalism, and don’t cross certain lines – but also be honest, be genuine, be yourself. There’s nothing more refreshing.

+ The Snowball Effect

Sometimes, you don’t have to try so hard to network, people will do the advocating and networking for you! This is the power of REFERRALS!

I find people will do referrals for a few reasons:

  • Sometimes, people will refer you due to an ulterior motive – it looks good for THEM if they recommend someone good. And sometimes, they’ll even try to take credit for how good you are when they refer you, like “I trained her myself!”
  • Or, even if you’re not the greatest at work, people are ALWAYS tryna do less and pass on work. So, they may refer you and bring you onto a team to give you one of their old responsibilities or positions
  • Lastly, there are those special, wonderful people who refer you simply because they truly believe in you. They want to mentor you and help you be the best you can be. There’s nothing in it for them besides they have your best interest in mind and they want to pay it forward. I am truly grateful for persons like this.

Referrals are a great way to expand your network, especially if you’re shy – because again, they’ll pretty much do the networking for you! But at the end of the day, do not forget that you always have to be your own #1 advocate. If you want referrals, you have to do the level of work that is worthy of referrals. But also, it can be as simple as just telling people that you want to get referred – let them know you’re looking for more work or that you want to get connected with x type of people! It’s these smallest things you can do that often come with great payoff!

+ Quick Tips

Lastly, before this post get’s any freakin’ longer, I’ll leave you with some quick tips:

+ Network with the juniors, those in your class or those below you. People always try to go for the big fish (the directors, the execs, etc), but you will need these peers as you grow together in your careers. It is critical for your long-term success

+ Ask people questions about themselves. People LOVE to talk about themselves LOL, and if you’re shy, then it’s less talking for you!

+ Say their names. It seems subtle, but names are extremely powerful.

+ Practice networking with the cashier, the bank teller, the airport staff, or even your UBER driver LOL. Not only will it brighten their day, it will help build your confidence to talk to others

+ Go to recruiting/networking events with a friend, it provides a huge relief/comfort in these intimidating settings. & if you’re both shy, at least you can be shy together! lol

+ Lastly, don’t go to the networking event if you don’t want to LMAO. Especially once you’re settled in. These industries will take from you as much as you give them. If I am tired, I am NOT forcing myself to go to the dinner. Ya girl is going back to her place to put on a face mask and order some UberEats

I hope this helps!!! Thank you SO MUCH for reading! Let me know if you have any other networking advice!!