Introverts: Not Networking is Not an Option! (A Brief Interview with Holland-Mark CEO Chris Colbert)

I am happy to report that I successfully bounced back from a surprise April 2009 layoff from a former employer and landed a great new job two months later.  Networking made all the difference in the world.  In fact, in terms of what really worked in my job search, networking was the world.

Just to be clear, this is NOT effective networking! (Source: University of Melbourne, Australia)

Just to be clear, this is NOT effective networking! (Source: University of Melbourne, Australia)

Without networking, I never would have found this job, or for that matter, another good offer for an appealing extended consulting opportunity. I was not one of hundreds of resumes in someone’s email inbox. Neither opportunity was advertised anywhere. In fact, the opportunities were not even fully defined yet when I first explored them.

If I did not have my network which I initiated before I was laid off, if I had not cultivated my network with new contacts after I was laid off, I would still be unemployed.  It’s that critical.

Holland-Mark CEO Chris Colbert led a thought-provoking presentation at last week’s Bentley University Success Network meeting which I believe inspired attendees to build and nurture their networks.  Effective networking is made possible by your personal brand (Brand U); who you are and what makes you unique (what Chris refers to as your One Simple Thing).  Chris’ presentation was recorded and should be available on the Bentley University website soon (stay tuned).

I spoke yesterday with Chris about his presentation and dug a little deeper on how job searchers predisposed to introverted behavior might be at a disadvantage, as they might be more reticient or even shy about approaching others and developing a network to succeed in their job search.  The bottom line is clear: Not networking is not an option.  But introverts out there who bristle at the thought of getting out there and networking should take heart: Networking is not about winning a popularity contest or using phony flattery to manipulate others to help you.  At its core, networking is all about being authentic.

Read on for my chat with Chris Colbert.  I hope you find it helpful.

Mike Urbonas: You led a very outgoing and engaging talk at the Bentley University Success Network, and yet, you said something like, “This is all an act; I’m actually an introvert by nature.”  I think a lot of people can relate to that and unwittingly hold themselves back due to introverted tendencies.  How did you break through it and get past it?

Chris Colbert:  I think there were two factors.  First, I always had the benefit of being responsible for other people who worked for me.  With the exception of three years, throughout my career I have always been head of my own company and knew that development of new business was the company’s life blood.  I had to reach out to as many new businesses as possible, develop new business, and in so doing, make payroll.  A lot of people working for me counted on me to do this.  Really, it’s a case of sink or swim; if you have to swim to save your life, you’re going to learn how to swim.

I also came to realize that introversion is a fear-based emotion; a fear of rejection or failure.  People must resolve to do whatever they personally have to in order to overcome it.  They simply must reach out to as many people as they possibly can.

MU: Networking has always been vitally important for the job search, but it seems to me that’s never been truer than it is right now.

CC: I’ve never seen a market like this before.  The old models and methods, not only for job searching, but also for business itself, aren’t working anymore.  The “one size fits all” model for job searching is over.  Sending out 100 resumes with the plan of seven of them turning them into interviews and one job offer doesn’t work anymore.  I wonder how many people at the Bentley Success Network event still hold onto that old model of job seeking.  It’s stunning to me how many people don’t have a network.  Even I struggle to network sufficiently, at the high level I think is essential in this market.

MU: I suppose some people look at others’ LinkedIn profiles and see people with “500+” connections, but it’s often obvious many of these are trying to just bulk up their connection count, without really knowing who those people are.

CC: Right.  It’s definitely not just the size of the network, but how you engage with your network: with authenticity, not just as an overt asking for help; that is, networking with authenticity and just not out of desperation.

MU: What role does blogging and other online communication tools play in interacting with your network with authenticity?

CC: I think blogging is an excellent networking resource; an excellent way to offer value to others.  When I am writing my blog, I always do so with the hope my posts will help someone out there.  (NOTE: Link to Chris Colbert’s blog here.) In fact, I have two blog entries in progress but I haven’t published them yet, because my thoughts aren’t quite together on the topics sufficiently, in my opinion, to be of real value to the reader.  So, I took a break to organize my ideas better, to ensure they are of real value to others before I publish them.  It’s that important.

In a related question from the Bentley event, a person asked me, “How frequently should I follow up with someone?”  I think you should follow up as often as you have content that may be of interest and benefit to them.  Really, it is essential to be of value and help to others.  Doing so requires a high level of intellectual and creative engagement.

I also think it is well worth becoming an expert with LinkedIn.  It seems like an incredible tool to affect new relationships.  The common perception is that introverts are more methodical and analytical.  I don’t know how true that may be, but if it is, introverts might possibly be more adept at understanding the nuances and special features of LinkedIn to help cultivate communicating with other people.

MU: Okay.  Suppose someone out there is reading this and agrees with everything you have said so far, both from your talk and from our conversation here.  They want to turn over a new leaf, overcome any introverted tendencies, and develop an authentic network.  How should they start?

CC: There is no one silver bullet to it.  But I would definitely like people to recognize that today is the first day of the rest of your networking life.  Therefore, your task is to create value for everybody you meet and you will eventually, just naturally, get value back.

I’d like to give one little example.  I genuinely appreciate the hard work of the guys who work at the parking garage where I work. I have always made it a point to let them know that when I talk with them.  Recently they went way above and beyond to help me with parking a friend’s car in a safe place while he was away.  To say they helped me out is an understatement.

Now, I am appreciative of those guys not because I ever expected anything from them; that’s not authentic.  Instead, it’s about committing to live in such a way that you just want to give help and value to everyone else, whether that be genuine respect and appreciation or help with some specific situation or offering information of value to others.

People should be fully aware that literally every single engagement with everybody everywhere is a potential opportunity, whether personal or professional.  The guy at the gas station, the lady the next pew over in church — there is no real difference today between your personal and professional life in your network.  If you engage with everyone authentically it will repay you.  That may be the best news for introverted people: networking is not about disingenuous glad-handing.  It’s really about authenticity in every single interaction with people.  And you have to begin with that core mindset in order for your networking efforts to take hold and prosper.

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