The San Francisco chapter’s April 2015 meeting featured Rebecca Firestone, an award-winning technical writer, content developer, and trainer with 20 years of experience in startup and corporate environments. This meeting was summarized by Laurie Bouck.
Most technical writers are introverts, yet the job search process, with its emphasis on networking, seems to reward extroverts. How can those of us at the quieter end of the personality spectrum be effective at networking, a key career-building skill? At the April STC meeting, senior technical writer Rebecca Firestone explained how introverts can network in ways that work for them.
Introverts recharge through solitude; seek peace, sanctuary, and beauty; and have an active inner life. They also can be successful leaders; famous introverts include Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama. Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive around other people and prefer to work in groups, which Firestone pointed out sounds like a contemporary job description.
Networking to Fit Your Personality
For introverts, Firestone said, networking can feel phony, especially when we’re told that networking is easy and we just need to “lean in.” Networking does not involve asking strangers for a job or following any networking book too literally. Instead, we need to recognize that networking takes time, like cultivating a garden. When approached this way, Firestone said, networking is intrinsically rewarding.
To network successfully as an introvert, Firestone recommends the following:
- Interact with each person you meet as if that person might be important to your success—like a little sprout in the garden that might thrive.
- Look for opportunities to talk and network with people you already know, such as friends and colleagues at meetings of professional organizations.
- Think about one to three topics or activities that interest you this week, and use these ideas to start conversations with others at events.
- Ask your colleagues what was your “secret sauce” that helped you shine in your work. Use these stories to tell others about yourself in a natural way.
- Use a little social lubricant, such as a glass of wine, if it helps you relax at events (just don’t overdo it!).
- Avoid being calculating, too self-promoting, or badgering people when networking (think of how off-putting these behaviors are in a singles bar!).
Networking is a lot like fishing, said Firestone. It takes patience. You must set multiple lines to catch something. When the line wiggles, respond immediately, but keep your cool and don’t overwhelm people—stay calm. Let the person come to you.
Make networking a regular practice. Like dating or house-hunting, Firestone explained, as you network you will realize that there is an abundance of opportunity. Good networking resources include professional associations, alumni associations, and previous employers and colleagues. You can also connect with others by sending holiday and birthday greetings to catch up with people, and writing high quality blog posts to showcase yourself and your skills.
Managing Obstacles to Networking
Firestone said that it’s important to recognize common obstacles to successful networking and develop ways to overcome them. These obstacles, and their work-arounds, include:
- Desperation: To avoid reaching this point, plan ahead and don’t wait until your hour of need to start networking.
- Anxiety: To manage anxiety, prepare for networking opportunities, such as bringing index cards with icebreaker topics written on them to review before you go to an event. In general, try to avoid feeling anxious about the job search, so that (for example) you don’t feel crushed if you don’t get the first job you interview for.
- Fear of looking foolish: To manage fear, remind yourself that everyone else is worried about how they are perceived, too. They don’t notice your fear as much as you think.
- Inertia: To overcome inertia, start small, with a low-stress person or event.
- Despair that you’ll always be bad at networking: To counteract despair, rejoice in small networking successes.
Making Networking Fun and Meaningful
The job hunt is easier if you have fun doing it, Firestone said. For example, use a software tool to create a silly or fun project. You can use the project as a writing sample, and it also showcases your personality.
Take the time to learn about something you’re curious about that has some connection to your work. Your interests can help you connect with others in a meaningful way and can expand your career opportunities. Be open to the fact that one thing can lead to another.
Look for people who are applying the topics you are learning about (not experts who are promoting themselves), and ask them about their work. Most of them will be happy that you are interested in their area of expertise.
Try to give rather than take in order to optimize networking, Firestone said. Volunteer for STC, or mentor others, and be generous with your time. Respond quickly and courteously when you are asked to do something. Do meaningful favors for people and provide relevant referrals. The success of others is your success too, and it will build your confidence.
Remember that life paths do not always go in a straight line, Firestone said. Even successful people make big mistakes but still succeed, so be kind to yourself.
About the Speaker
Rebecca Firestone started as a technical writer in 1988. Since then, she’s worked in telecom, customer relationship management, architecture, clean energy, and software training. In her most recent role, Rebecca expanded her scope from pure writing to include strategic planning and workload scheduling, learning on the job by trial and error. Most recently, she just completed a stint as a Senior Technical Writer at SolarCity Corporation’s product development office in San Rafael, CA.
About this Review’s Author
Laurie Bouck has worked as a writer and editor for over 20 years, covering health topics and consumer technology for clients such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, McGraw-Hill Online, Alpha Books/Penguin, and CNET. She moved over to technical writing and project management in 2012, and worked most recently at Pacific Gas & Electric Company, revising maintenance and repair documents used in the field.