Introverts: Get Out!

Overcoming fears to reap networking’s value

by Derek Purdy

Networking. We all know we should do it. Most of us have repeatedly been told the key to getting good jobs, achieving goals and having a happy life is building a network.

And yet, if you’re an introvert, the prospect of heading into a group of strangers and yapping it up can make cleaning out the garage a pretty attractive alternative.

What’s an introvert to do?

Extroverts vs. introverts

So there I was, cleaning out the garage and contemplating attending an ASQ Silicon Valley Section dinner forum. The schedule indicated the evening would begin with 30 minutes of networking, then move on to dinner and end with a presentation on implementing ISO 9001:2008.

I’d been an ASQ member for more than a year and had seen numerous postings for events such as discussion groups, conferences and roundtable discussions. Even though each event focuses on a specific topic, I knew each event also had networking time.

You could say quality assurance is my fifth occupation—falling in line after retail sales, military service, manufacturing and R&D. Every career change means starting over with a new group of people. Starting over makes building a network tough; being introverted makes it even more challenging.

I finally found a home in quality, and I wanted it to stick. I made a New Year’s resolution to do more networking, but now I was having second thoughts.

I’d never been to an ASQ event, but I could imagine how it might go—I’d arrive, recognize nobody, stand around until dinner time, listen quietly to the presentation, and go home, never having taken advantage of the valuable networking opportunities. 

By contrast, the extroverts in the room would show up, flit around, meet dozens of people, make fast friends with everyone and walk out with a thick stack of business cards. There would be subsequent golf outings, and martini glasses would clink as business deals were made. Life is just cruel and difficult.

Start with baby steps

I decided I had enough of this. I knew I would never relish entering a roomful of strangers, but I didn’t want to miss opportunities because of a personality characteristic.

As a budding quality assurance professional, I could see the value in networking. It was not just a way to get another job down the line, but also a way to share ideas and best practices with other quality professionals, learn how quality is handled in other industries and get to know people I could contact to ask advice or kick around ideas.

Even more compelling, in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he explains that weak ties (acquaintances) are actually more important than strong ties (friends) in a network.1

So I resolved to keep things simple. I would deem the dinner forum event a success if I made one new contact. That’s it. It could even be the person next to me at dinner. I just needed one business card by the end of the night. Much to my surprise, I left the event with three cards. More importantly, that small victory made it easier to attend the next event.

To keep momentum, I defined success the same way as before: make one new contact. At the next event, I met my goal again and, moreover, recognized some of the section’s officers from the last time. This meant the room wasn’t full of strangers anymore, and it made going again even easier.

I’ve since become a regular at these events, and I am now the section’s membership committee chair.

My suggestion for fellow introverts is to take baby steps. Define success in such a way that you practically cannot fail. Forget about what the extroverts are doing; keep your focus.

As you get more comfortable with the organization, get more involved and give something back. Then seek out new opportunities with other groups. This is, after all, what networking is all about.


  1. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, Back Bay Books, 2002, pp. 53-54.

Derek Purdy is a senior quality engineer at BaroSense Inc. in Redwood City, CA. He earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Purdy is a senior member of ASQ and a certified quality engineer and quality improvement associate.

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