Awkward. Forced. Cliché. Networking may feel like a lot of things, but it is as vital as ever and knowing how to make networking opportunities work for you is the key to establishing important, authentic professional relationships. Before blowing off the next cocktail meet-and-greet, check out these five tips to ramp up your networking game.
1. Find virtual mentors.
While the benefits of a mentorship are well documented—and important—finding the right fit and the time to develop a meaningful rapport is a marathon, not a sprint. In the meantime, brush up on the biggest tech influencers across several interconnected industries and take notes. Being well-informed and knowledgeable goes a long way in the age of information overload and online megaphones. Be the person who has something smart to say, not just adding to the noise, and watch your professional star rise.
2. Be seen on the scene.
You read all the trade pubs, you’re in the loop on online forums and discussions, you have a circle of informed experts you follow… what should you do with all these nuggets of wisdom? Share it, of course. Tap into your local CompTIA AITP chapter and offer to host an event dedicated to a subject you are passionate about. Write a regular e-newsletter for those interested in what you find helpful and interesting, then share it across all branches of your social tree—not just the IT team. Find or start a Facebook or LinkedIn group dedicated to the professional topics that interest you most. Want to up your game? Start a podcast about the tech topics that fire you up and invite others—influencers, CTOs, CIOs, new grads, start-up entrepreneurs, etc.—to join in on the discussion. The point is: Create the space for everyone to converse and collaborate—and the tech industry will notice.
3. Take on leadership roles.
Actions speak louder than a LinkedIn profile. Joining a professional organization, like CompTIA AITP, and getting involved means you help shape the discussion of what’s happening in the field and find the innovative resources that are helpful across the board. By being in the trenches, you can better see where the gaps are, how to help, and with whom to work. Sure, it will look good on your resume and LinkedIn profile, but it will also provide insight into how things get done—and whose making moves in the industry.
4. Recommend and be recommendable.
The squeaky wheel get the grease, so try to be squeaky for others, too. Recommending a good candidate not only garners attention for your colleague, but can also reap bonus points for you. According to Josh Schukas, operations partner at Gochkeys Professional Services in Chicago said, “Making my boss the top person I recommended professionally ended up winning me a lot of internal goodwill and creating positive connections that helped me make career steps forward.”
People think fondly of those who think fondly of them so whenever you have the chance, go the extra mile for someone you trust and make introductions, pass along a resume, or drop an encouraging line to a recruiter. Don’t be surprised when others respond in kind.
5. Be the go-to resource.
An important lesson learned in kindergarten applies to work places everywhere: Play well with others. And the C-suites notice who makes the grade. Being the go-to person in your department is good; being the go-to person in your company is better. Seek out the teams you are directly and indirectly involved with and learn how their processes work, how they approach client problems, or where you can help one another make a product or workflow better. Whether you set up a lunch-and-learn to talk about IT issues, or make monthly coffee dates with colleagues on different teams, reaching out across departments helps inform the way you do your work, highlights your collaborative soft skills, and builds that bridge of communication that higher-ups need and notice.
The fact is, networking will always be what you make of it. With some effort, optimism and a willingness to rethink resources, you can break out of the biz-card swap meet and start making meaningful connections.