Jonathan Shepherd, Corporate Relations Director, HBS, openly acknowledges the fundamental contradiction between introversion and networking. "By definition," he notes, "an introvert gains energy being by themselves, as opposed to others. Also by definition, networking involves outreach to other people. When you're inclined to introversion, that can be difficult."

But after years of coaching career-seekers of all personality types, Shepherd believes that the fear of networking is premised on a problematic assumption: "Many people feel that networking is fake, insincere and manipulative." The key, he says, is to "take these adjectives and turn them upside down. Introverts can succeed by creating a networking process that is real, sincere and genuine."

Networking isn't something only reserved for the job search. Instead, it's something you should continuously practice in order to grow your network, even when you're not looking to make a move.

Shepherd invites people who are nervous about networking to establish a disciplined approach that replaces ad hoc networking attempts, prone to subjective anxieties, with an objective process that is logical, less emotional, and more sincere. His steps include:

Clarify your goals
"Start with yourself; being able to articulate your own goals will help others help you," Shepherd advises. Specifically, jobseekers should clarify three things before they "network" with anyone: 1) the industry they are interested in; 2) the role or function they would like to have; 3) the location they prefer.

Knowing what you want allows you to identify the potential mentors with whom you want to network: people in the industries, roles, and/or locations you're attracted to. The virtue of this knowledge is that it changes the substance of the conversation. "Now you can approach your contacts with an honest question: 'How did you get where you are?'" says Shepherd. "Instead of asking for a job, you're asking for information. Your request is flattering; most people love to talk about themselves." As your relationship matures, you can legitimately ask for recommendations on how you can follow a similar path.

Create a schedule – and stick to it
"This is critical," Shepherd says. "Building a schedule takes the optionality out of networking. It's like setting an alarm for the morning: it gets you up and moving automatically."

Shepherd encourages jobseekers to schedule every aspect of their journey from the time needed to conduct research to initial outreach to potential mentors. "Sundays are the best time for electronic communications," he suggests. Anything earlier in the week may get lost in the crush of daily business; anything later (on a Thursday or Friday) may be forgotten over the weekend.

Whenever you choose to make your initial outreach, commit to a follow-up phone call nine days later. "This can be tough for introverts," Shepherd acknowledges. But they can take comfort knowing that, in most cases, they won't actually reach their contact, but an assistant or a voicemail. "Either way, leave a message. Your voice makes you human and real." You don't have to reference your previous email, but you should construct and practice the message you'll leave behind, being sure you include your purpose, some appreciation for the contact's work ("I loved your blog post about team leadership…"), and a request for a conversation.

Set goals
"It really is a numbers game," says Shepherd. For each aspect of the job search, establish targets, such as five new contacts and two calls a week, or four meetings a month. "Hopefully you'll walk away from each conversation with the names of one to five other people you can talk to. That's why networking is not linear, but exponential: you want to build out a mosaic of firms and people in the space that interests you."

Conclusion: Take deep cleansing breaths
Socializing can be a source of anxiety for introverts. But Shepherd reminds us that effective networking is not like crashing a party. "The good thing about networking is that it is not like a cocktail party, not one-to-many, but one-to-one. Think of the process as a medicine you just have to take. And by reaching for mentors, rather than job requests, you don't come across as needy or intrusive, but appear real and genuine."