Networking is the most effective job search technique. But aggressive networking requires someone to be comfortable in going out and talking with strangers.

            Shy people would find networking as comfortable as eating the working end of a broom. What tactics will work for them?

            According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, shyness is defined as a "keen sense of being rejected...a readiness of avoiding people and situations that hold the potential for criticism." Based on various surveys of the U.S. population, it is estimated that approximately 40% of adults would endorse the proposition, "I consider myself a shy person."


Shy People Think Differently


            According to Dr. Zimbardo, shy people tend to think differently than their more extroverted counterparts. Shy people tend to over utilize generalization as a way of organizing the world. At the same time, they have a tendency to underutilize situational logic. Examples of the two types of logic patterns would be:

Two-year-old Jennifer goes with her mother to visit one of mother's friends. Jennifer is hugging her mother's skirts and avoiding eye contact with the friend. "I'm sorry but Jennifer is shy" would be a generalized explana­tion of the behavior. "I'm sorry but Jennifer tends to be shy when first meeting strangers. I'm sure she will act differently once she gets to know you" would be an example of situational logic.


Ten year old Jimmy is practicing hitting a baseball. He accidentally shatters the picture window of the living room. "I'm angry and upset at are a big  disappointment to me" would be an example of generalized logic. "I'm angry and upset that you weren't careful about where you were hitting the ball" would be an example of situational logic.


            As a pattern of thought, generalization is very helpful to professionals: it allows for the application of experience from one area to new areas. For example, some lawyers must develop legal defenses based on generalizing historical judicial interpretation. This area is one where general­ization logic has high value.

            Any one pattern of logic, however, can become dysfunctional when over-employed. A common example of how excessive generaliza­tion logic is used would be the following situation:


A junior executive submits a poorly thought through recommendation. Situa­tional logic would lead the senior executive to be sensi­tive to those environmental circumstances which contributed to the poor judgment  (poor health, death of a parent, break-up of an important personal relation­ship, etc). Generalization logic would accept the in­ferior recommendation as primary evidence to support the ultimate conclusion that the executive is incompetent. 


            In other words, shy people will have a tendency to employ genera­lization logic to artificially and sometimes unfairly pigeonhole others.

            But while shy people may unfairly pigeon-hole people, they don't discriminate. What they do to others, they also do to themselves! Many shy people would interpret one rejection during networking as evidence that they can't do it correctly. 


Shy Job Seekers


            If most shy people seek to avoid situations likely to elicit rejections, then one of those situations most likely to elicit rebuffs is a job search. Networking puts shy people in the embarrassing position of having to ask others for favors. It puts them in the situation of constantly having to face turn-downs.

Over-reliance on Impersonal Job Search Methods.  Many shy people will do all they can to avoid being put into this uncomfortable situation. This discomfort will sometimes result in shy job seekers over utilizing impersonal job search techniques that are likely to have relatively low payoff.

            Examples of these more impersonal/less effective job search techniques would be responding to classified ads, using recruiters, returning to the school placement office, etc. 


Using Aggressive Targeted Mail Campaigns


            Instead of trying to force feed people into a networking-oriented model of job search which is clearly inappropriate, try to do the less personal techniques first. Only come back to networking when it is clear that the other, more comfortable avenues, are not going to work.

            We have found, for example, that aggressive utilization of targeted mail campaigns can be quite effective in finding positions.  For technical-oriented professionals, we have had some good success with placing "position wanted" advertisements in key professional publications.


Systematic Desensitization


            When and if it finally comes time to engage in networking, some shy people have found value in breaking down networking into specific behavioral components. Deal with each component one-at-a-time.

            With the help of others, focus on specific components one-at-a-time through role-play, rehearsal with friends, and low-key try-outs.

             Enclosed is a chart which breaks-down networking into its component parts.


                   INSERT CHART 1 ABOUT HERE





Other Job Search Considerations


            Over utilization of generalization logic tends to undercut adaptability in the job search. For example:


  A recruiter tells a non-shy attorney about an opportunity with a law firm that would require an out‑of‑state relocation. This attorney might employ situational logic to come up with the following analysis: "the job interview in itself is worth my time, if only for the interview practice. And while I am not interested in moving, who knows? Perhaps the firm will have an opportunity that is too good to pass up. I'll never know unless I try. In any event, I will accept the opportunity for an interview on its own merits."

   The same recruiter then tells a shy attorney about the same job opening. This attorney might then utilize generalization logic to come up with the following analysis: "If I go for the interview, I will probably get a job offer. Since that firm is located in a smaller town, the offer probably won't be as lucrative as I would get in my hometown. How can I afford to relocate my family on the salary they are expecting to pay me? Why would I want to move from this town? I certainly will not waste my time or theirs! "




            Earlier in this article, we noted that the definition of shyness was sensitivity to rejection. But a job campaign is essentially a rejection process. Asked for a one sentence definition of a job search, someone one said:

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes."

To get to that final "yes," one must travel through a forest of "no's.


Quantity Over Quality


            If one is engaged in a rejection game, try to go for many acceptances. Focus on quantity over quality. To make an analogy, if a ten year old girl asks her best friend to spend 

the day and gets turned-down, then her rejection rate is 100%. This little girl is apt to feel quite sad. On the other hand, if the same girl asks six children over, and gets two acceptances from her best friends, then the rejection rate is cut down to  66%.

            While we try to encourage people to be open in terms of soliciting offers and exploring possibilities, we totally agree with shy job seekers that it makes sense to be tough and

critical in terms of accepting actual offers.





Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of

Stybel, Peabody Lincolnshire.  Its mission is to assist companies in managing “The Senior Executive Assignment Cycle:” Core services include retained search for positions that touch the Board, coaching on the CEO/Board axis, and helping senior executives craft new chapters in professional lives.  There are 114 Lincolnshire offices around the world.

Tel. 617 371 2990


Networking Desensitization


            On a scale of 1 (hardly any discomfort at all) to 9 (very uncomfortable...­frightening), rate each of the enclosed activi­ties regarding your comfort level.  We will then deal with each activity in the order of discomfort you have rated and work on the networking program step-by-step.  In other words, we will not ask you to engage in a higher-rated activity until we have successfully dealt with the discomfort levels of the lower-rated activities.



Thinking about listing of contacts.

Writing a list of con­tacts.

Calling up primary con­tact on the phone     - a good friend.

Calling up primary con­tact on the phone     - someone who knows me from work        but not a friend.

Leaving a message with the secretary.


Explaining to the con­tact why I am    in the job mar­ket.

Asking for a meet­ing.

Dealing with objec­tions raised when   the person states s/he can't see me.

Asking for the names of other            contacts I might talk with.

Saying, I'm not asking for a job..."