Networking Tips for Introverts from an Introverted Engineer

by Ben Biller on May 8, 2014

Networking Tips for Introverts from an Introverted EngineerIf you’re an introverted engineer like me, networking is probably not on the top of your list of favorite things. In fact, it’s probably something that’s downright dreadful. But I learned early in my engineering career the importance of business relationships, and that networking was a necessary evil that I had to overcome if I wanted to be successful. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish whatever you want to in life. You just have to be self-aware, and once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, you learn how learn how to use your strengths to help you overcome your weaknesses.

Here are some tips I’ve learned throughout my 30-year career that helped me grow from a timid young engineer to vice president of a top engineering firm. Maybe they’ll help you along the way, too.

Join Professional Societies

Professional societies are one of the best ways to connect with people who share your interests, which means conversations may come more naturally. The great thing about engineers is that many of us aren’t gregarious by nature, so professional societies allow us to network and hang out with like-minded people. It puts us at ease. That said, this one was still a stretch for me. But I received many great opportunities as a result of my professional society memberships. I found I especially enjoyed the American Society of Civil Engineers, and if you’re not yet involved there, you should check it out. Networking is all about building relationships, and I built relationships in the first five years of my career — many with senior-level executives — as a result of membership in several societies. Even better? In many cases those are relationships I still have today with people who have been great mentors throughout my career.

Create Your Own Opportunities

Remember, no one is more interested in your career than you are, so seek opportunities to differentiate yourself from others. At one point I became active in a professional society and decided to get on the board as a way to move up within the organization. One afternoon, I called the president and asked him how I could become a board member. He said, “You just did.” The point: Sometimes you just have to ask, because most people don’t do that. There’s a lot of truth to the expression, “The world is run by those who show up.” So show up and create opportunities.

Use the Buddy System

Walking into a crowded room with someone you know can make large events less intimidating. It can also go a long way toward making you feel more comfortable walking into an otherwise uncomfortable situation. Next time you head to a networking event, take a colleague or friend. Or, if you must go alone, try to find at least one person to connect with so there’s at least one familiar face in the crowd of strangers. One of my favorite books is “How to Work a Room” by Susan RoAne. It has some great tips to help you successfully navigate your way through events, including how to start and end conversations with strangers.

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Like most introverts, networking didn’t come naturally to me. One year out of school, I got involved in Toastmasters. It was hard for me to stand in front of a group and give regular presentations, but I somehow managed to swallow my fears and do it. That experience was tremendously beneficial and taught me the importance of great communication skills. As professionals, whether you’re an engineer or in some other profession, communication is a key element of success. Anything you can do to improve your communication skills, whether written or oral, you’ll never regret the time invested. Toastmasters teaches you to be a well-rounded communicator, which includes being a great listener. And being a good listener is another great way for introverts to connect with others.

There you have it: My secrets of successful networking tips for introverts . What about you? Are you a fellow introvert? What tips do you have for overcoming introversion and being successful when at networking and developing relationships? I’d love to hear your ideas!

As the Vice President of Transportation at Burns & McDonnell, Ben Biller has worked in the transportation industry in a variety of technical and leadership roles for 32 years. 

Other posts you might enjoy:

Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog: Why Networking Is Important for Your Professional Development

Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog: 5 Tips to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

  • Adaora Johnson-Ofoegbu

    Howdy Mr. Biller,

    I glad I happened across your post today. I recently graduated with a Bachelors in chemical engineering and am taking my first steps out into the professional world. Its reassuring knowing that behind the expensive suit and the elite job position stands another person who may have the same social weaknesses as me. I found your post helpful and your story inspiring. I’m hoping that with these tips I too will overcome my anxieties. On the contrary I’m a proactive problem solver. Tomorrow I’m attending a networking event with a friend hosted by The International Society of Automation. It will be a great start to learning how to be sociable with strangers. I’m putting myself out there, because i know the importance of networking in this industry and am determined to improve myself. Im eager to meet with Burns & McDonnell representatives at the upcoming Texas A&M Engineering Career Fair. I’ll strive to show them that I have what it takes to be a professional.

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