If you already have a career in technology or are looking for a job in tech you'll probably already be aware of the benefits of good networking skills.
In the tech sector, you are perhaps uniquely reliant on the strength of your professional relationships – even more so than a salesperson in search of leads or a marketing manager in desperate need of an idea.
Why? Because no other industry is so dependent on the effective gathering of breaking news, hot tips and tricks, the latest apps and information – all of which are critical to your staying ahead of the game.
An extensive, reliable network of colleagues, contacts and connections is integral to your role. But there still may be ways to improve and better leverage your network to gain a real advantage.
Three tips to improve networking tips.
How to start a conversation.
Whether you are engaged in networking online or face to face at an industry event, it can be awkward to approach a stranger or to join a group engaged in conversation.
The best way to kick off the conversation is simply to ask a question that will appeal to the expertise of the group or one which is light and informal and easy for an individual to answer.
Momentarily set aside your ultimate aim of gaining useful contacts, gathering breaking tech information and embarking on a new career at NASA. Initially, the idea is just to break the ice.
As a conversation starter, you could ask about the conference agenda or a guest speaker. But beware of diving straight into talk of company, industry and business: specialist interests in the tech field, even hobbies and holidays are much more inviting ground.
“Talk to someone about themselves, and they'll listen for hours.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
People are far more likely to do business with or form a connection with, individuals whose company they enjoy.
When you are present at an industry conference or an event that seems ideal for networking, don’t make the mistake of moving quickly from person to person, hoovering up business cards wherever you go.
You would probably never consider giving your contact details to anyone you did not know – that would be pointless – and the rules of networking are exactly the same as those of everyday life. Don’t think of networking as a chore or a series of tick boxes to be filled.
It’s actually enjoyable to spend some time in the company of a new acquaintance, to find out whether you have anything in common, a shared specialism or just a common pastime to chat about. Listen and be helpful as your default mode, not just when you’re networking.
Shared ground is the basis of a potential connection, and it takes time to get to know anyone well enough to decide you might stay in touch. If you make one genuine connection at any event, you’ve done well; forge the beginnings of two lasting professional relationships and you’ll soon be levelling up in this deceptively simple game.
Our tech recruiters report that many candidates are members of groups which appeal to a certain specialism or skill set. If you’re looking to network in the tech industry, you’re likely to get better results by picking a specialism and regularly attending meet-ups and events within the specific field.
One increasingly popular trend is for online groups to meet up in person. Digital may have many advantages, but good old-fashioned analogue can prove superior when it comes to forging professional bonds over a coffee or a meal!
If you join a local group of IT professionals, they will often come to function as an informal support network, helping to provide solutions to your techie problems as well as sharing information and providing a background atmosphere of healthy competitiveness.
And when you get the chance to pass on news of a breakthrough or a job vacancy to one of your connections, that’s another real reward of being part of a network. What goes around, comes around.