Networking: It’s not just for computers
This week we started Career Support at @TheIronYard. I wasn’t expecting this to be the hardest part, but it is. You know I love talking with people and making friends, but putting myself out there for the sole purpose of networking felt really gross. At first.
Last night I attended my first Tech After Five, which is a networking event that happens in 4 cities each month. People from different tech backgrounds get together to talk shop, make connections, recruit, and socialize. At first it was a bit overwhelming, but I was fortunate to meet a couple industry leaders in this area who were extremely welcoming.
Here are six short takeaways in case you’re getting ready for a professional networking event:
- Be your prepared self.
— Don’t come to the event expecting to wing it. People are going to ask you very pointed questions about who you are, why you’re here, and why you pursued development. They’re going to ask you what you have to offer, and why you’re different. Those are hard questions to answer, especially succinctly. Figure out how to answer those in 1–2 sentences.
— Also, you should be prepared to ask solid, open-ended questions. Think about what you would like to know about development in your community. Ask someone how he got started in tech, and what advice he might have for a new developer. Find out what her most recent project entailed and what she enjoyed about it.
— Set a goal to meet x number of new people (3–5 is a good range), and, if you have a good, relevant conversation, ask to get together over coffee next week. No one will say no to your face, so be brave (see step 6)!
- Be your friendly self.
— I don’t know how to put this lightly, but you can’t be awkward. If you feel awkward, pretend like you don’t. Smile. Shake hands. Speak clearly and confidently. Be the first one to ask a question, if appropriate. When I worked in boutique retail my team practiced having conversations with clients, and it was so beneficial even though it was weird pretending like we didn’t know each other. DO THAT. Grab a friend, practice having a conversation, and give each other constructive feedback.
- Be your comfortessional self.
— I know, I gotta stop making up words. What I mean here is dress comfortably yet professionally. This really ties in to both of my above points; your outward presentation should reflect who you are without making you, or anyone else, feel uncomfortable. Check out the venue to get a sense of the style that might be expected there. Most of the time you will be fine with slacks/nice jeans and a dressy top (or collared shirt for the guys).
- Watch out for the drunk guy.
— And don’t let him take your picture… groan.
- Remember, people want to meet you.
— As the evening wound down I realized that this event could be called “Make Friends with Other Professionals.” People come to these events to make friends in the industry, and that just happens to be called networking. Don’t let the label intimidate you.
- Follow-up with your connections.
— Y’all, this is crucial. Demonstrate your ability to follow-through! Plus, mama said to always say thank you.
— You should send a LinkedIn request thanking each person for chatting with you. If you invited someone to get together over coffee/lunch, you need to send an email in addition to a LinkedIn request. “Hi __, Was great meeting you last night. Thanks for chatting with me and sharing some wisdom about ___. I’d love to learn more about your experience with ___. Could we meet for coffee next week?” If it’s a no for them, you’ll probably get a “maybe” response, and that’s okay. Don’t push it. If it’s a yes, confirm date/time/location and send a calendar invitation. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening! Then rinse and repeat steps 1–3.
… and don’t forget to have fun.