When entering a career or when thinking of changing an aspect of your career, a lot of people will give the advice that you need to network more. It might help you find a new job or make connections that will get you a referral bonus. No matter how it was recommended, it can look daunting if you are just starting out. In this post I will recommend some ways to get started networking with small steps.
Firstly, some benefits of networking:
- Finding a new job
- Learning about alternatives or career paths you didn’t know about
- Recruiting people to your team
- Hearing about resources and technologies you haven’t heard of before
- Making friends
- Practicing soft skills on people you will likely never see again
If you’re not naturally social, try to put on your scientist hat and become an embedded cultural anthropologist. Get into the mindset of trying to learn what the community you’re in is about and how people got there. Investigate the history of this group and what each person thinks of it. You can compare this to your thoughts on the questions and whether these answers line up with what you want out of your environment.
An example: you’ve been on a software team for a few years and you know there’s a devops team that you email to get deployments done but you don’t know much about it. Here’s a nearby opportunity to network. Next time you’re in a meeting with a member of that team or at the water cooler you can ask questions like “what is your team working on these days?” and “is your team experimenting with any new technologies or doing any hackathons?”. A potential outcome of this is a large scale collaborative project (translates to: promotion). Another outcome is building goodwill so they might address your requests faster.
Some questions I ask myself when I meet someone new at work or at a conference:
- What does this person do?
- How did they start doing what they do?
- Do they like what they do?
- Could I do what they do and would I want to?
Notice that the last question related back to my own goals of exploring other career options. You can replace that with “Are they part of a network I want to be in?” or “Do they have a skill I want to learn?” if those are more related to your goals. This can tell you whether to follow up or drop the connection.
Save Your Energy
A lot of people think they need to go out of their way to network. This isn’t true and creates a barrier to networking. There are ways you can network without changing your routine and without needing to spend hundreds of dollars on a tech conference.
Network at work
Companies often have office parties, brainstorming meetings, or even coffee machines where you can bump into someone and casually say “Good morning, I’ve seen you around [or not] and wondered what team you’re on” and lead into your set of questions around what they do, how did they get there, and evaluate whether you want to pursue that. Networking at your job can be one of the most useful things to your career progression at your company so it’s always worth it.
There’s a Tech Night Near You
Meetup.com and other social meeting sites have lots of tech group meetings. If you live in or near a large city, you just need to wait for an invite to a place near you and attend a usually free event. These events often are a few hours long with light refreshments, speakers, and happy hours for networking. These don’t require a lot of commitment and typically have people attending from your area.
Some networking is digital. A lot of tech groups have slack channels, facebook groups, or google groups where people message each other via IM or forum style communication. These can vary from highly technical to purely networking. Most of these groups allow job postings and have channels dedicated to specific geographic locations or topics. If you live away from a large city, this is a good way to stay connected with the larger cities near you.
Network Through Code
If you absolutely hate talking to people about anything but technical topics and still want to network, you can try contributing to open source projects. Via open source projects you meet a variety of people through your code contributions. By working with members of these communities, you can find other people to add to your network and create a history of work to add to your public resume.
I am prone to conversational flubs and get discouraged with the idea of walking up to someone and starting a conversation. To help with this, I have a script I try to follow to help me keep the conversation going without anxiety. Here is an example of a simple script:
Intro: Hi, my name is Alacritical. I'm a Software Developer [at company X/on team Y]. This is my second time coming to ConferenceZ. Basic Questions: What brings you to this conference? [yes, cheesy, I know] What job role do you do? How long have you done that? Questions related to your goal: Does your company hire developers? Have you tried alternative work styles like part time? Does your company let you use any open source or cutting edge tools? Prepared Answers: I work at company XYZ and I've been there for 3 years. I started off at company B and moved because I was looking for more career advancement. My favorite things about my job is the free beverage program and I'm looking for a job that is 100% remote.
Does that sound like a job interview to you? It should. You are actually trying to evaluate whether you want to add this person to your network. Try to be a little picky because it can be work to maintain that network. This works both ways: advertise traits that attract people you are looking for. If you want a technical mentor, advertise technical projects. If you’re looking to create a LeanIn group, advertise your interest in women’s career advancement in tech.
Important: It’s really weird if you just ask questions. Be ready to answer a few of your own.
If you’re out to expand your network, here are a few things you should have ready:
- A LinkedIn or other public social networking profile
- A business card with an email address you don’t mind sharing (or your LinkedIn URL)
- A name tag. Yes, they are oddly embarrassing to wear but you can use them to hook people in to talking to you if you write your name and job title on them. “Alacritical – Genius Developer” will get more people talking to me than “Alacritical” written in tiny red text that I’m intentionally hiding with my sweater.
I hope this have given you a few different way to help get started networking with a low energy barrier.