You’ve probably heard the saying “it’s all about who you know, not what you know.” While this may be the case in certain fields, landing a tech job or promotion does depend on what you know and what you bring to the table. And although those are the main things with which you should be concerned, there’s certainly no harm in polishing your networking skills and creating a strong professional network.
It is, however, a bit more challenging than simply adding people on LinkedIn or collecting business cards at a conference; creating strong and meaningful connections takes time and effort and shouldn’t be underestimated. But why should you focus on expanding your tech network? What benefits will you reap from it? That’s exactly what we’re going to answer in this article.
What is Networking?
Networking is one of those buzzwords that’s frequently thrown around: attend this event and network. Create a connection with your colleagues so you can use them to network later on. Network to find a new job opportunity. You’ve definitely heard it, but what does it mean exactly? Well, it’s the practice of interacting with others to exchange information and develop a professional relationship; frequently beginning with finding common ground, networking is like making friends in the professional sphere.
It’s quite a broad term that encompasses lots of different ideas and techniques, but you can network in these situations:
At an event: lots of universities and institutions host networking events where they invite like minded individuals or people in a specific career path to come together to mingle, chat, and make professional connections.
At work: networking isn’t limited to just new people; you can network with your boss, supervisors, and colleagues so that your professional relationship with them isn’t limited to that specific company.
At school: be it at university or a short course designed to teach you a new skill, networking with others who are starting out in their careers or looking to expand their skill set is a great way to learn about future opportunities.
At a conference: since conferences are usually geared towards a specific area, they are great places to meet new people in your field.
Why is networking important?
The benefits of networking are numerous; although it’s something with delayed gratification, networking is immensely important at every step in your career:
Networking opens the door to new opportunities: in the professional world, knowing someone who’s working in the area or company that you’d like to be in is a huge advantage. If you nurture your contacts throughout your career, you’ll be well-suited for success.
Networking helps you see other people’s perspectives: just like with making friends, the more people you meet the wider your worldview will be, and the better you’ll be at making business decisions, thanks to this new perspective.
Networking allows you to advance your career: becoming known in your industry or field is a great way to achieve promotions and other advancements; if you also serve as a resource for others, you’ll be a valuable member of the community.
Networking gives you professional support: your family, partner, and friends probably don’t work in your exact field and you may feel a lack of support when it comes to the problems or stressors you’re facing at work. By building a network of professional connections, you’ll have this much needed support.
Networking improves your people skills: as we’ll discuss later on, networking requires people skills and in-person interaction (usually); you’ll be forced to get out of your comfort zone and develop your social skills further.
As you can see, networking brings a ton of benefits. But before you go adding everyone on LinkedIn, remember one thing: networking is two-sided and you’ll need to be a good contact as well, providing support and assistance to your network when you can.
So now that you know what it is and why it’s important, let’s go right to the good stuff: how to properly network and build strong connections in tech.
How to Network
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: knowing how to network is a skill and one that should be taken seriously–we’ve all felt used or passed over by colleagues before and that’s the last sensation you want to emit to your own connections. Properly networking requires patience, effort, and time; learning how to network is as necessary as creating a resume. Take a look at our tips and trips for networking successfully in tech and start thinking: the time to network is now.
Show up prepared
If you know you’re going to an event where there will be opportunities for networking, make sure you’re prepared. You don’t need to bring stacks of resumes (no one wants to carry it around!), but a business card with your contact information and a well-prepared and succinct elevator pitch to show people what you’re all about are great ways to make a professional connection.
Being prepared also includes the way you present yourself; you don’t need to be dressed in a three piece suit or dress at all times, but make sure you’re cleaned up and presentable: remember, networking goes both ways and you need to show your new connection that you’re a great resource as well.
Practice active listening
We’re sure you’ve been in a conversation where the person you’re talking to is clearly disengaged, looking for an escape, or just wants to talk about themselves. Not every conversation you have with a colleague or new connection will be captivating and valuable, but actively listening and asking questions goes a long way in showing you’re truly interested in this person, not just what they can do for you.
Seek out meaningful connections
Like we said above, not every connection will be natural and a perfect fit; there are also connections that simply won’t be useful for your specific networking goals and that’s totally fine. But when you do find a meaningful connection that you’re interested in nurturing, make sure you follow these steps:
Be genuine: because networking is a two way street, it’s best if you have a genuine interest in the person and their work; if you’re simply using this connection to advance your own goals, it will be obvious and the connection probably won’t end up working out.
Be respectful: networking connections are meant to be long-term contacts and it may take some time for things to play out or develop how you’d like them to. Therefore, be patient and respectful of your connection’s time; don’t be too aggressive or impatient.
Provide feedback: anyone can listen to what someone has to say, but a valuable connection will provide feedback or advice based on their unique experiences and this is exactly why professional networking is so valuable. Be active in your partnership and make sure you’re giving as much as you’re taking.
Be present: if you only check in or set up a meeting every time you need something, it will come across as ingenuine and leave a bad taste in the person’s mouth. Make sure you’re actively engaged with your connection and not just around when you need help.
Don’t take on more than you can chew
Having tons of contacts in lots of different fields is ideal, right? Not quite–in networking, quality is much more important than quantity and you’ll struggle to maintain meaningful and helpful relationships with a large number of connections, especially if they don’t exactly match what you’re trying to achieve in your career.
Focus on a small number of meaningful and developed connections and add more only when you can commit to being a good connection yourself.
Things to avoid when networking
There are some clear red flags when it comes to networking and lots of people fall into these traps when they lose sight of what networking is really about. When you start your networking journey, try to avoid:
Directly asking for a job: if a connection decides to help you out with a job offer, it will probably be because you have a nurtured professional relationship; avoid asking for things or help right off the bat and instead think about how you can make your connection even stronger–and beneficial for both sides.
Wasting people’s time: be clear and forward with what you’re trying to achieve and don’t waste your connection’s time by beating around the bush or simply trying to insinuate what you want. Be confident and straightforward (while being respectful, of course!) and you’ll see the benefit.
Not following up: following up is an essential part of networking and a great way to schedule a second meeting to further develop your connection; don’t leave a networking conversation without sharing contact information and make sure to follow up soon after, thanking the connection for their time and opening the door to new possibilities.
It seems like a lot, but networking is a completely normal and natural part of the business world and something you’ll master in no time if you follow our tips and tricks. And at Ironhack, preparing our students to enter the professional tech world is a passion of ours; our Career Services helps prepare students for these moments, in addition to offering a wide range of online and on-campus networking events to help you get your foot in the door.
Interested in seeing where tech could take your professional future? Then we’ll see you in class.