Tech & Work

The best way to network is to not think of it as networking

For some people, particularly introverted ones, the idea of networking in a career is off-putting. Maybe the concept should be revamped.

I've been writing this blog for a long time and one thing I've discovered in doing so: Resume tips and interviewing tips are always welcome. But one thing you can count on is that, especially with IT folks, the minute you start talking about career networking (developing a network of people that can help you connect with opportunities), people will glaze over or will suddenly remember that they have to change the oil in the car.

And I know this, because I have the same aversion to the term. To me, "networking" invokes the vision of a cold calling vacuum cleaner salesman who is really proud of his sales come on: "How long does it take you to clean your floors? Two hours?! Well, have I got a product for you!" Or worse, a vision of this guy.

The fact is, those are only examples of bad networking and we shouldn't think of it that way. Yes, it would be nice if, after you strike up a conversation with someone at a party, that person gives you the phone number of a person who would love to interview you for a job. But don't count on that happening.  The value of networking lies in the process itself, rather than the outcome.

You should think of networking as a mechanism by which you learn more about your line of work from someone whose expertise you admire. It's not a corporate version of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

What other people should do for you in networking is not give you an "in" with a hiring manager, although that would be a nice bonus. So don't go in with that attitude.

Start out by choosing someone you admire in your line of work. Schedule a face-to-face meeting with that person. If the person works at the same company you do, it might be a good idea to suggest a neutral setting like over coffee.

Tell this person that you want to pick his or her brain about the industry. Have a list of prepared questions for him or her, e.g.:

  • "Where do you see the industry going?"
  • "What do you like best about what you're doing?"
  • "What were some obstacles you overcame to get where you are?"
  • "Which of your personal attributes aided you most in your career?"

Yes, these all sound like questions you yourself would be asked in a job interview. The difference is, you are getting the answers these questions not to judge the person before you, but to get insight into what qualities might be necessary to succeed in the industry you share. Don't just pop out the questions like it's game show either. Discuss the answers fully until you understand them.

If your source, in turn, asks questions of you, try to remain positive. You don't want to unload about all the issues your having in your current situation because that pretty much says, "I'm miserable and desperate so I chose to talk to you." You don't want the meeting to be blatantly need-based.

Send a thank you note afterwards. Depending on the industry you're in, the form of the note might vary. The IT pros I've heard from don't seem to like the written note, so maybe email could suffice. You'll get more of a feel for how formal the person is during the networking meeting.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


that IT folks tend to be introverted, which is why they are comfortable working alone. Networking requires human contact which for an introvert tends to be "draining". That said, my suggestion is that the most important person with whom to network is the boss, assuming the boss will be a career enhancer and if not, find a different position.


30 years ago when I went for an interview for a programmer position, my resume was looked at, there was a brief discussion / interview then a decision was made. The vast majority of the time I was hired. After I was able to program in over a dozen different languages about 15 years ago, all listed on my resume, I could select the job and company. Today, there are too many people out of work and too many in this career field. Network today? With who? I seldom find anyone who has my background, technical skills and is my age. All I see is age discrimination as I go to interview after interview. The manger is typically 10 or more years younger than me. Nice article for the youngsters Toni, how about one for us veterans. It is - It's not what you know but who you know. Cynical? That's ok. I sincerely hope others who have been around as long as I have speak up.

Matthew Moran
Matthew Moran

The truth is that most start networking when their job is gone or on it's way out. Networking is a lifestyle and one that should consist of adding value to those you meet - rather than taking first from the relationship. The oft-quoted, "It's not what you know but who you know." is both cynical and dangerous. I teach a modified version, "It's who knows you and knows what you know." My mantra is: "Be Proactive! Be Positive! Add Value! Share Opportunity!" Do that and you stand to be very effective in your networking.


All of the classes/seminars I have been in tell you that every year some high percentage of jobs are filled before they are ever advertised by someone with an inside track. How do you reconcile this with your vision of networking?

I look at networking more as building friendships. There are a lot of really great people out there and if they work in the same line of business then you immediately have something in common to talk about. I don't think I have ever done anything this formal, but I have gone to events were my main goal was to meet people. Bill

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