Whether you're looking to expand your professional circle, or you're on the job hunt, here are four best practices for building new professional relationships.
You never know what's 10 years in future, said Matt Walden, technology recruiter for Infinity Consulting Solutions. Whether you're currently on the job hunt, or happy in your current gig, it's a good idea to get to know people in your industry — it can give you the chance to tap into someone else's expertise, to be a part of a community, to improve that community, to learn about new technology, new jobs, or even find possible job recruits, depending on your professional situation, said Robert Half Technology's senior executive John Reed.
For some the idea of networking, even the word itself, feels a little scuzzy, or seems like a difficult undertaking. It shouldn't. If you do it right, new, useful professional relationships benefit all involved, and it's always important to remember that you're not shaking hands just to land a job. Perspective is key, Reed said, because if you approach networking with an uneasy or sour attitude, "it'll be a waste of time."
Here are some networking tips to get you started.
1. Network online and offline
To start, networking can happen both on and offline. For the former, make sure you have an online presence and you're active, Reed said. While it's easy to invest time cultivating a strong LinkedIn or Twitter, don't forget about taking advantage of opportunities to meet face-to-face with people "where you can build a stronger relationship," he said.
Those opportunities can include:
- Local meetups - Somewhere in your city, there might be a group of coders, for example who meet once a month for drinks.
- Professional gatherings and associations - You might join an organization like the Association of Information Technology Professionals
- Conferences - Conferences abound, centering on everything from specific companies (VMworld) to topics (IT Summit).
Pack some business cards and be ready to ask questions and be attentive, Walden said.
With regard to professional associations, getting involved — maybe even running for an office, Reed said, is a good way to contribute to the professional community, and grow your circle.
"Many workers may be a little uncomfortable about the prospect of approaching strangers and striking up conversations," said Eric Presley, chief technology officer at CareerBuilder. "If you're shy or introverted, consider volunteering for large networking events. This way, rather than fumbling through smalltalk, you can make connections through contributing to the event."
Presley also said arriving early may give you an advantage. "Showing up to an open networking event only to find everyone already clustered in small groups can be very intimidating. Starting a conversation with a few other early arrivals is much easier than trying to insert yourself into an ongoing conversation," he said.
2. Follow up
It might sound obvious, but when you meet someone you want to build a connection with, grab their contact info and use it. Networking doesn't end when you leave an event or meeting, so be sure to follow up later. How you do that is up to you. Walden suggests sending a LinkedIn invite. A professional email is good too — something that expresses that it was nice to meet, and you are genuinely interested in their professional work. You can communicate this by referencing something from your conversation.
3. Build a relationship
In the spirit of genuine interaction, it's important to remember that a networking relationship, like any relationship takes a certain amount of tending to, Reed said. A phone call, or lunch, or even just staying in touch every so often shows you're engaged, invested, and not just trying to get something from from your contact.
Also be mindful of early impressions. Be an active listener, instead of dominating the conversation.
"Another thing to avoid is lying or exaggerating in an attempt to impress people. You're trying to build new professional relationships, and lying is a poor way to start," Presley said.
4. Make the relationship mutually beneficial
While building a relationship or getting plugged in with a professional organization, be thinking of how you can help others too, and how you can positively contribute to a given situation.
"Especially when starting out, focus less on what you need and more on how you can help others. Offering to help forms stronger bonds than asking for help," Presley said.
If you've made a solid contact, be willing to make a referral, for example. Be not just a mentee but a mentor.
"It's amazing how it comes back to you," Reed said, because perhaps at some point, the gate will swing both ways.