IT and tech employees love delving in deep, getting analytical, and solving complicated problems — ones that people outside their immediate area of expertise might not understand so well. Of course, tech folks are often highly talented across the board, and there are certainly some who could outdo a diplomat in terms of tact, communication, and sociability. But for everybody else, there remains the elephant in the room — networking — which everybody knows they should be doing, but not everybody knows how.
If you’ve ever felt too reluctant, shy, or socially awkward to even consider networking, this article is for you.
First thing’s first: adjust your attitude. If you truly believe you “can’t” be successful at networking, you probably won’t be. Networking is a skill just like anything else, and it takes practice and a little trial and error to get it right. And if you’re a tech geek, trial and error should be right up your alley, so think in terms of hacking the networking experience instead of lacking the skills.
The next order of business? Lighten up and recalibrate your expectations. So many of those who identify as socially awkward at networking events do so for two reasons: 1) they think they have to stay the whole time, and b) they think they have to talk to dozens of people. You’re not a baby bird; you don’t have to jump headlong off the branch and hope you’ll fly. Start out slow and set different goals for yourself, like staying halfway through an event and talking to just a few people. After all, one great connection is worth far more than ten duds.
As you get ready for the event, make sure to have a plan. Prepare a little in advance so you don’t find yourself painted into a corner. Even skilled networkers will do a little research on the crowd ahead of time, nail down a few talking points, and ask for introductions to smooth things over. Figure out exactly how you’ll introduce yourself to those you meet so you can focus on giving a firm handshake, adequate eye contact, and hopefully a little smile.
Remember to listen and talk in equal measure as you meet new people. It can be tempting to let the other person talk the whole time (or to do all the talking yourself), but aim for the 60-40 rule. Listening slightly more than you talk shows respect, friendliness, and intelligence.
If you find yourself in a lull, don’t hide away at the bar or in your smartphone. There’s a natural ebb and flow to networking events, and you won’t always find yourself caught up in the right conversations — or any at all. Think of a few ways you can fill empty moments productively, such as jotting down a few notes, offering to grab refills on drinks, or locating and thanking the host.
Last but not least, don’t forget to flex your tech know-how by connecting with the people you meet online. After all, in-person networking is an extremely useful, and often necessary, aspect of building up your online social network. So even if you’d rather make connections from the safety of your computer, get out there and give old-fashioned networking a solid try. You’ll be impressed at just how valuable the in-person contacts you make can be.
Stephen Van Vreede is not your average IT/technical résumé writer. He provides career strategy and concierge job search solutions for senior (15+ years) (ITtechExec) and up-and-coming (NoddlePlace) (5-15 years) tech and technical operations leaders. Stephen and his team focus on building simplified, targeted, and certain career move campaigns, be it an external search or an internal promotion. He is co-author of UNcommon with career development leader Brian Tracy (out June 11, 2015). Contact Stephen directly at Stephen@ittechexec.com or send him an invite at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephenvanvreede. To see whether Stephen and his team are a good fit for you, take their free (and anonymous) 1-minute compatibility quiz, Is the ITtechExec Approach a Good Match for You? Also, feel free to take his complimentary resume self-assessment quiz, How Certain Can You Be About Your Technical Resume? You might be surprised by what you find out!