Ask The Headhunter: How can an introvert make professional contacts?

BY Nick Corcodilos  September 2, 2014 at 11:11 AM EST
Networking is crucial to finding a new job, but introverts shouldn't let their shyness hold them back. Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon/.

Networking is crucial to finding a new job, but introverts shouldn’t let their shyness hold them back. Photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon/.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I am an intelligent, hardworking analyst who is also an introvert. Once I’m on the job, I’m fine and people like me. But getting contacts lined up to meet people to get the interview for the new job is difficult. There seems to be so many steps with so many people that I don’t know! I’ve read most of your web articles and haven’t seen this addressed. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me?

Nick Corcodilos: Believe it or not, I was quite introverted when I was young. I would freeze up entirely in front of a group. It was painful and embarrassing. Gradually, I realized I had to deal with other people, and I started listening to friends I trusted – they helped me practice appropriate behaviors until they became second nature. I’m still introverted in many ways – but I’ve learned to behave in more outgoing ways. It doesn’t always work, but each time it does, I enjoy the rewards and I try to do it more.

I know quite a few folks who’ve tried Toastmasters groups to good effect. Toastmasters participants help one another hone their public speaking skills, working with one another in a safe, supportive setting. Their small successes make it easier for them to be a bit more outgoing with other individuals and in other settings.

“The secret to this technique is that most people love to talk about their work if you ask them.”

I don’t doubt being introverted can cause difficulties, but most human behavior is subject to conditioning and learning. (Look up social learning theory – you might find it intriguing and helpful.)

The only wisdom I can offer is this: Think of one or two small behaviors that are more outgoing, then practice them as much as you can. For instance, walk up to someone (in an appropriate setting that doesn’t feel threatening to you) and say, “Hi, I’m [your name].” Reach out your hand at the same time to shake hands. Then say, “I understand your work involves XYZ.” Then have a simple, honest question about XYZ – ask, and let them talk.

The secret to this technique is that most people love to talk about their work if you ask them. If they ask you about your work next, talk as much as you feel comfortable. If you get nervous, you can always just say, “Thanks, it was nice to meet you,” and move away.

Take one step at a time, but keep practicing. You’ll get to enjoy your little successes, and it will not seem phony or contrived as you get better at talking to others. This is the fundamental behavior behind meeting people to get interviews.

Here’s an excerpt about making new contacts from ”Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition),” (pp. 6):

Scope the community:
You could skip the résumé submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in [your] community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of. [See “Meet The Right People.”]

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work. The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

Jobs aren’t found on computer screens and in postings. Most jobs are found and filled through the personal contacts we make and turn to.

Dear readers: Do you find it hard to talk to people when you want to make professional contacts? How do you break the ice?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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