Networking opens doors whether you are still a student, actively looking for a job or already employed. You never know when a need of connections could arise: a dismissal, a help for a friend, a need of information or expert advice, a potential collaboration... Take action and start building powerful professional relationships.
1. Prepare your approach
Remember that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. More than anything, you should aim for building relationships rather than accumulating superficial connections and inactive contacts on your social media friends lists. To do so, you must find a way to bond with people in a short amount of time and let them see who you are, not only on a professional level but also on a more personal side of you. Work gathers individuals but passions do too.
Hence, you should always be prepared to introduce yourself in a concise and engaging way. First impressions are keys so check out on our dedicated article how to craft an impactful personal elevator pitch and get ready to introduce yourself in less than 40 seconds, whether in writing or in face to face. Once you have established a contact, it is time to get to know the person in front of you or behind the screen: ask questions, pay attention, detect common interests and pick up on what was said.
Often you will meet and discuss with random people of your field, enjoying the fun of discussing with peers – and this is a nice and important part of networking – but do not forget to target some connections as well: recruiters, lecturers, peers with significant positions or experience, etc. Some encounters need to be more prepared depending on what you expect from them. If you have an opportunity to approach a major recruiter or tech leader, always take the time ahead to check on their last initiatives and work, their current ambitions, scroll their social media to see what they’re into once they leave the office and prepare a few conversation starters.
Keep in mind that networking is based on the exchange and the pleasure to discuss with new people, to confront and nurture ideas. It is not meant to be a job interview or a commercial speech so always remain careful not to hijack the conversation. Just like dating, networking works only with mutual listening and sincere interest in discovering each other: people just want to have a good time! Taking too much space in the conversation, or jumping on every sentence to promote yourself, won’t get you anywhere except scare off your interlocutor.
And just like dating, successful networking needs a follow-up: exchange business cards, offer to meet up again some time to pursue the conversation, ask for some events suggestions and advice, make sure to add the person on your social media and keep interacting afterwards… Approaching people is only your first step, building the relationship is what makes your professional network concrete and solid over time.
2. Social media, blogs and forums
Online platforms are great tools to display your skills, your contents and to interact with people. You can improve your network through direct interactions – interactions that involve an exchange, a reaction instead of just adding someone to your contacts – such as commenting posts from engineering peers, leaders and recruiters you follow, making suggestions, reposting or sending private messages. They usually make a more powerful impact and will help you set up a social presence. However, indirect interactions are useful to strengthen and enrich your presence: join groups of discussion and communities, take part in forums, follow pages from your field, blog about what you’re good at… To make a long story short, demonstrate interest in what you’re doing and be active wherever you can.
When it comes to direct interactions, your approach (as detailed above) will be important – showing sincere interest, not hijacking the conversation, asking questions etc – but keep in mind that everything goes quicker online. People do not take the time to read, they will only allow you a few seconds. So whenever you reach out to someone, never exceed a paragraph in your message. If you make a first good impression, you will get the chance to express more in the next exchanges but a long text as an entrance can discourage your potential targets.
Your profile is another crucial element of social media networking. If you manage to catch a peer or a leader’s attention with a good comment, post or any other interaction, this person will likely check your profile in order to figure out you who are and what you do. And these are the information that should be found easily on your social media profiles such as LinkedIn and Facebook/Instagram.
Those pages are opportunities to reveal some interesting parts of who you are and should therefore not be rushed. Think about what message you want to convey in a concise, professional but still entertaining way. If you have your elevator pitch and an efficient executive summary prepared, they will provide a perfect introduction of your background and personality. Always remember on more personal media like Facebook that even though they are not targeted for professional networking purposes, they remain visible to any potential peer or recruiter. Be careful with the pictures you use, the pages you follow and your sympathy potential in general: do you look friendly on your photos, are you smiling, are you doing interesting or fun activities? Ensure you look approachable.
3. Professional organizations
Engineers associations and local groups are a great way to meet people from your industry that you will likely come across again in the future. Joining an official organization will provide you with many networking opportunities and tools, whether online or IRL. If you don’t know where to start searching, you can count on colleges and engineering schools: most of them have a list of official partners and appealing communities for their graduates.
4. Industry events
Career fairs, workshops, conferences, summits, cocktails, guest lectures, skills sessions… Whether you are a student or an active professional, attending technical and social events with quality content is always within your reach. Beyond the networking opportunities it will give you, industry events will help you enrich your engineering knowledge, stay tuned with your field’s current trends and news as well as the innovations to keep an eye on.
Whenever you have the chance to interact with lecturers and speakers, always take the time to thank them for their intervention, underline the topics you enjoyed the most and ask some more questions. Showing interest is always a good conversation starter. Taking the time to discuss with inspiring speakers will not only nurture your network, it will also provide you with interesting content and fresh perspectives that can be useful in your career and in future networking discussions.
Industry events can be found easily by word of mouth and all over the internet through Facebook events, LinkedIn ads, EngineeTech365, among many others. However, the scope is quite limited. It is up to you to devote some time each month to scrolling the internet and signing up to newsletters that can help you keep up with interesting gatherings. Always keep in mind that the success of your networking is partly based on how proactive you will be to seize the chance to meet new people and be where they are.
5. Alumni networks
Mostly known for their social events, alumni associations traditionally offer a wide range of other services like newsletters or magazines, connections with potential employers, learning, among many others. Your alumni association is an immense network of professional contacts – all with whom you already have something in common. And well beyond social networks, being a member of the alumni association of your engineering school or university is an extraordinary circle of learning and influence. Cherry on the cake: most headhunters are using alumni directories to detect the right profiles for their clients.
Author: Sophie Vande Kerkhove – Content Manager