A necessary part of my job is continuing education. Even after earning degrees and being licensed or certified, therapists have to attend professional conferences, trainings, and workshop. Some are an hour long; some are all day, or multi- day events. Some trainings are very high quality. Others I have been to are not worth the time. I have grown to dislike many aspects of the trainings. I do not do name tags. I refuse to wear the cute little paper name tag they hand you when you check in. I refuse to participate in the ridiculous group activities which are supposed to promote experiential learning. I take notes and try to absorb information that I can use in my day to day practice or teaching. I also use continuing education activities as a networking opportunity.

Networking involves making contact with other professionals in your field. You share information, exchange contact information, and attach your face to a name. This can lead to future employment or other business opportunities. This can be an area where introverts have a distinct disadvantage. Networking involves selling yourself. You are advertising your best qualities to interest someone else in doing business with you. It can feel dishonest, or phony to introverts, but the process doesn’t not have to be that way.

Another catchword in business is branding. What makes you unique and separates you from the competition? Introverts are unique. And your introversion and all the qualities it encompasses can be your selling points: integrity, honesty, intelligence, observation and communication skills. Introverts also include looking before you leap, not jumping to conclusions, the ability to see past trends and think critically- these are all positive qualities. The challenge for an introvert is conveying this without forcing it or feeling phony. Here are some tips for networking which will fit with the introverted personality type.

1. Professional conferences – bring your card. This is where I do most of my networking. Bring a bunch of your cards. Focus on introducing yourself to people at the breaks or lunch, the continental breakfast which is usually a part of most conferences, and exchanging business cards.

2. Jump in deep. Sidestep the small talk introverts dislike, and go directly to the deep conversation:

The Earl of Sandwich and the Pathological Gambling conference

We were served a variety of meat and cheese and vegetarian sandwiches for lunch. I asked the speaker if this was an attempt at ironic humor. She didn’t get it. I related to her the story of John Montague, an 18th century Earl who was a compulsive gambler. He would spend hours at the gaming table, skipping meals. One of his servants took a slice of cold meat, put it between two slices of bread, and brought it to the table as a convenient meal. The compulsive gambler was the Earl of Sandwich, for which our modern affectation for meat and other sliced food between bread is known as the sandwich. Who knows if it’s true, it’s a story (Olver, 2000). The speaker had never heard this story, but this was seguing into what introverts like the best. Deep conversation; in a professional setting, aka networking.

3. Look the part. Look like somebody. Don’t go to a professional conference looking like a slob. You don’ t have to wear a suit, though that is not a terrible idea, but a button down shirt and khakis with dress shoes for a man, or a conservative skirt and good shoes for a woman are better than jeans and a t shirt.

4. Ask a good, thinking question/comment. There will always be Q & A sessions. Ask a good question that will challenge people’s belief systems, and get people to look at things from a different point of view. Be aware of the risks inherent with challenging someone cherished beliefs. You will get some degree of disapproval or sanction from smaller minded, more conventional thinking individuals.

Other options for networking:

5. LinkedIn. I stay off of LinkedIn myself, but that is my preference. Maybe one I should reconsider at some point. For many people LinkedIn works. It is a way to reach a wide audience. If LinkedIn is just not your style, a personal webpage can serve some of the same purpose.

6. Give a presentation. I make annual visits to the local parole and probation office, and court diversion office. I meet new staff, and offer a free training on a pertinent topic. It is time well spent, and for what I do- private practice therapy for mostly people involved with the criminal justice system- it pays off in terms of new patient referrals. My niche is angers management, PTSD from criminal victimization, and addiction. These are not topics a lot of therapists want to deal with. By finding a professional niches, something which others avoid, you can find yourself in demand. Develop expertise in an area, and use your website or a face to face presentation to let people j-know who you are, and what you can offer.

7. Write an article. Another way to do this is through writing, and self-publishing, or publishing on one of the many available on-line venues.

Networking is a critical business skill where you make connects which can further your career. It is also not just about taking, it is about giving. Open the door for younger people entering the profession. Throughout my career, I have had doors slammed shut in my face, or opened on a whim. What meant so much to me meant less than nothing was barely perceptible to the gatekeeper. It is the epitome of frustration when you are hungry for an opportunity, and you cannot get a return call or email from a contact person, or arbitrary barriers are placed in your way. Do what you can to give others opportunities, and take down some of those barriers.

 

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice, Otter Creek Associates
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology, Community College of Vermont & Burlington College
Freelance Behavioral Science writer