Networking tips for techies
Networking doesn’t just refer to connecting servers. Today’s competitive job market calls for schmoozing — which can strike fear in the hearts of techies.
“[Technical] personalities … are less likely to fit into traditional business circles,” says Troy Tuckett, MS, a software developer and online instructor in the information technology program for University of Phoenix. “The key to networking with techies is finding where they congregate. We can often be found attending technical user group meetings, chatting in technical forums and networking on sites like LinkedIn®.”
If this sounds familiar, here are five tips to help you come out of your shell:
Go where techies go.
Instead of hunkering down in your cubicle, Tuckett recommends going out and mingling with colleagues. “I attend several [software] user groups,” he says. “I learn of local employment needs and … demonstrate my technical abilities.” You can find these types of user groups on sites like Meetup.com and Microsoft® TechNet.
Treg Gardner, MS, a systems manager in Reno, Nevada, and an instructor in the University’s IT program, agrees that these events are worth seeking out.
“I always tell my students to be active in professional computing associations like the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE),” he says. “Local chapters of these [organizations] have seminars and bring in guest speakers — the people who do the hiring.”
Gardner’s ACM chapter hosted a Super Mario Bros.® video game tournament that attracted techies and businesspeople alike. “It was a fun way to network,” he says.
Leverage the Internet.
Use your web skills to expand your circle of contacts, encourages Ron Gdovic, PhD, a tech entrepreneur who teaches online general studies courses.
Gdovic recommends donating tech support or web design services to local nonprofits. That way, he says, “techies can build their skills and social network at the same time.” He also suggests registering with freelance sites like Freelancer.com and Zintro.com to find work, noting he has hired many IT professionals this way. “Some [freelancers],” he notes, “end up in full-time positions.”
Develop a hobby.
Techies should expand their horizons, says Gardner, who also studies humor. “I like to break the ice on [my] interviews with a joke,” he notes. “But techies often make inside jokes nobody else thinks are funny.”
Gardner joined humor clubs to polish his comedic skills, though he emphasizes that any hobby can help you network. “You have to find a way to relate to nontechnical people,” he points out, “since they’re often the ones making hiring decisions.” Listening is key, he says, and you should avoid “tech speak” as much as possible. “Match your speech to the hiring manager’s,” he suggests.
Dress and act for success.
Khakis and T-shirts are the classic techie uniform, but Gardner stresses that today’s business environment calls for professionalism. “Appearance is very important,” he says, so dress up, not down. He also recommends attending workshops on public speaking and interviewing.
Leave your comfort zone.
Savvy IT pros think outside the box while networking, Gdovic says, recalling an enterprising web designer at an advertising conference. “She wore a custom-designed T-shirt that read, ‘Yes, I can design a landing page that converts,’ and handed out business cards,” he explains. “Conversion rate is king in advertising — what she did was clever, maybe brilliant.”
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