I honestly believe that all human beings want to help each other, they just don’t know how. Career networking is a critical activity to build strong personal bonds that will not only help your career in the technology industry but also support the people you meet.
Pragmatically, networking is critical for anyone who wants to advance their career, or more simply, ensure that if times get tough, and they need to find a new job, they have a safety net of people around them to help them find a job they want.
Many of the tech professionals I know have never had to network actively to find a job. They got a job after college through the standing college recruiting process, and then either stayed at whatever company they were with, or got additional jobs handed to them since their skills were in such high demand.
This natural career path is one scenario, but it rarely lasts forever. Furthermore, as you progress up the ranks, your success will be determined by your ability to build and lead teams. Your network is priceless in helping you find great talent.
The other thing I’ve found with many technology pros is they just don’t enjoy networking. I totally understand this sentiment. However, it is a necessity to ensure your job security and success long term.
Why I avoid “networking events”
I prefer to put my focus on connecting to people as human beings at places and events that are interesting. Networking is not about trying to advance your career. It is simply about being curious about what other people are up to, and having the clarity of mind to share what you are up to and how others might be able to help.
The holiday season is a perfect time to apply this approach to networking. Corporate holiday parties are in full swing. Gatherings of family and friends are happening all the time. I’ve even met a fantastic friend and business contact by striking up conversations with random people on ski lifts!
Have meaningful conversations
Think about what you want in your career, and how you can share that with others in a way that doesn’t come off as pushy. It can be as simple as coming up with an excellent answer to the common question, “What do you do?” or “How’s the job going?”
Have the presence of mind to let people know what you care about in the work you do. Who knows, they might have a shared passion! Also, ask people if they know of other like-minded people you could talk to regarding what you are working on or what you need.
Networking, after all, is not just about learning from the person you are talking with; it’s about getting connected to relevant people they know but you don’t.
Career networking example
For example, let’s suppose you are a building iOS apps on the side, but your day job is stuck doing boring manual testing work for backend servers. You desperately want out of the job, but don’t know how to make the leap.
As you meet people and inevitably face the question “What do you do?” have the courage to mention what you do, but also mention that what you are really into is how to create great apps for smartphones. Share your interest, and also, ask others what they think about your idea. Be curious when you listen to them.
For example, ask if they know whom you should talk with to learn more about the subject (e.g. how to build iOS apps like a pro) or if they know a friend or a business that is looking to create an app to understand what they need (start understanding real customer needs!). Perhaps they know companies that need an iOS developer or have a friend you should speak with that is also working on an iOS app!
You will never know if you do not ask.
Following up is your responsibility
As you meet people, the onus is on you to follow up. Assume that everyone has good intentions, but they get busy. If someone promises to introduce you to a relevant contact, it is your job to remind them if he or she forgets!
The point of networking is to share what you care about while also listening to what others need. It is about making a meaningful and memorable human connection. When you approach networking this way, it becomes incredibly fun and rewarding. It might even lead to a new career, business venture or long lasting friendship.