In order to have a successful and long lasting career, it’s important to learn how to create a network and to continue to grow your network. For some, networking is a difficult thing to do, especially in the tech community. Many of us just aren’t extroverted enough to really get out there and socialize and build our network. In order to build and maintain a solid professional network, there are some rules you should observe in order to be successful at networking.
Networking is a Two Way Street
In order for a network to be effective, it has to be mutually beneficial. If you are the only person in the relationship that benefits, you can’t expect your network to thrive. A solid network is mean to be beneficial for everyone involved. If all you do is ask to have your resume passed around, or ask about any job offerings, but you never return the favor, don’t expect your network to last. You have to be willing to return the favor, help those that help you. When you reach out to a colleague in your network and ask them for help with something, when the conversation is over, ask them what you can do for them. Most of the time they will tell you they don’t need anything, however there may be a time when they do need something.
Be Face to Face, When You’re Face to Face
This sounds crazy, but these days it’s difficult to be present when you are face to face with someone. There are so many things demanding our attention, it can be difficult to be fully engaged when talking to someone face to face. Eye contact goes a long way in making a good impression on someone, and it makes them know they have your full attention. Don’t interrupt someone mid-sentence to reply to a text. In fact, silence your phone and put it in your pocket if you are talking to someone. If you happen to be out to lunch or dinner with someone you are trying to connect with or add to your network, put your phone away! Don’t set it on the table, face up or face down. Leave it in the car or in your pocket turned off. You will be amazed at how much more enjoyable the lunch or dinner is when you can focus on the person you are sitting across from. Building a network is about making connections, real human connections. Don’t rely on Internet connections; they aren’t nearly as important.
Talk Less, Listen More
Active listening is a dying art form. It is very easy to hear someone talk, it’s much more challenging to actively listen to what they are saying. When we talk less and listen more, we learn much more about the person we are talking to. What do they need? What are they going through? How can you help them? How can they help you? Being a good listener is being engaged in the conversation and giving the person your undivided attention (put the phone away!). A lot of the time, we spend the conversation constructing our next response instead of listening to what the person is saying. If you can master active listening, your network will explode, people will want to connect with you because they know you value what they have to say.
If you reach out to someone in your network looking for a job lead, make sure you send a thank you note or email letting them know you appreciate them making the introduction or providing you with a lead. When you get the job, follow up with them and let them know again how much you appreciate their help. Sometimes in conversation or an interview someone might ask you what you think of your current or former boss or colleague(s). Never, under any circumstance, say anything negative about anyone you work with or have worked with in the past. When you badmouth a former or past coworker, it paints you in a negative light, maybe you’ll be badmouthing them next time if things don’t work out. If you’ve had issues with coworkers or a boss in the past, and someone asks you about them, be brief and find something to be complimentary about. Being courteous goes a long way in professional networking, and it will make people want to be around you.
Breakout of Your Comfort Zone
Lastly, get outside of your comfort zone, your safe place. For many tech people, it’s hard to socialize and meet face to face. The internet has made it easy to virtually connect and build a network of “friends” in mere minutes. If you are uncomfortable about meeting new people, find a social event you can attend and stick your neck out there. A wise person once said, “there is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” That couldn’t be truer, if you want your network to grow, you have to work through the awkwardness and shyness and put yourself out there. Give back, be courteous, put down the phone and take a risk… you will find that your network will grow at will.