Networking is one of those business buzzwords that features on every list of ‘ways to be successful’ and ‘tips to get ahead in your career’. We all know we should be networking in order to advance ourselves professionally, but to many of us it doesn’t come easily.
Networking might feel awkward, forced, fake, or flat-out terrifying for you. (Introverts, we see you. Good news is introverts can successfully network too!)
Despite how nervous it might make you feel, networking genuinely is a great way to advance your career faster. Especially for women working in tech.
UK Software Developer Joanna Taylor says this:
“When you’re in a minority, it really helps to have a support system. If you’re trying to achieve anything, the most important thing is to have someone, or a number of people behind you to build your confidence. Someone to say yes you can do this, why don’t you, what’s stopping you? That’s why a network of any size is so important to support your career.”
In this article, we’ll look at tips for networking in a way that feels authentic and true to you. Because in reality, you don’t need to be sporting power suits and flashy business cards to be doing it well.
Why should you (*gulp*) network?
Meeting other people in a professional setting can help you:
- Access new opportunities
- Gain professional advocates, supporters and mentors
- Build your confidence
- Feel supported, validated and that you have a community of people to bounce ideas off. Sounds good, right?
While you’ll always build a network naturally just by conversing with the people you work with everyday, actively going beyond this and building your network wider than your immediate professional acquaintances will allow you to progress in your career faster. The more people you know, the more people you’ll be able to turn to for advice, and the more likely you’ll be to get put forward for a job opportunity or promotion. (Rapid early career development is vital for women, who are often looked over for promotions – and is important if you’re planning to start a family.)
But why should YOU network?
Are promotions important to you? Are you actually looking for work opportunities? Do you even want to branch out and meet new people?
Maybe career progression doesn’t phase you and you’re perfectly comfortable with where you’re at. That’s okay. But why NOT speak to more people about the things you’re passionate about? Why NOT learn from others and see where new conversations take you?
The thing is, networking is really just having conversations. It’s socializing. You may not need to have a hard agenda, like securing a new position or finding a life-long professional mentor, but it can help to know what you want to get out of it – even if that is just to learn and experience new things.
Where do you go to network?
In-person events, clubs and groups
It can be as simple as joining a club or group. Yes, that can be networking!
See if the organization you work at offers any programs or interest groups you could get involved in. You’d be surprised at how a chat with someone from another part of the business over a lunchtime yoga session can lead to new contacts and opportunities.
Platforms like meetup.com allow you to search for interest groups and events in your area, if you can’t find anything within your organization. And don’t forget to check out the Girls in Tech Events page for in-person as well as online events!
There’s a treasure trove of networking opportunities on social media channels. You just need to know where to look.
LinkedIn – This is the go-to site for professional networking. By fleshing out your profile and publishing thought-provoking posts you can attract the interest of people with similar values to you. The platform also allows you to search for professionals and send direct messages – a great way to connect with people you ‘know of’ but haven’t met.
Facebook groups – Use the search function in Facebook to find groups of all kinds, from ‘female programmers in San Francisco’ to ‘working mums on the East Coast’.
Instagram – More and more people are using Instagram as a professional networking platform, setting up their accounts as an extension of their personal brand. You can search the hashtags to find other professionals to connect with, and build an authentic following of people that think like you.
You can even turn to networking apps to help you connect with other professionals.
Bumble Bizz – Did you know the dating app has a networking function that allows professionals to connect? Give it a try!
Lunchclub – This cool app makes networking fast and easy by matching you with other professionals that are relevant to you. Powered by AI, it can lead to some interesting lunchtime conversations with like-minded people.
Fishbowl – This can be a great app to try if you want to have interesting conversations and get career advice, but want to post anonymously. Ask hard-hitting questions, join talks by industry leaders, and meet other people like you.
Networking 101: Things you need
While you can truly approach networking however suits you, there are a few tools that might come in handy:
- A great LinkedIn profile – with your profile description and past experience fully fleshed out.
- Business cards or a website – something you can give people or a digital place you can send people to keep in touch.
- Reasonable presentation of yourself – If you’re networking in person, think about how what you’re wearing could communicate about you. Plus, ensure your online profile pictures appear friendly and approachable.
- A few questions or topics of discussion up your sleeve – Having some ice-breaker topics can help you out if things start to feel awkward during an in-person meetup. Remember, these questions or topics don’t necessarily have to be professional in nature – it could be as natural as, “What do you like to do outside of work?”
9 tips for natural networking
We’re not going to tell you to ‘prepare your elevator pitch’ or ‘nail your personal brand’ here. Natural, authentic networking doesn’t necessarily need to require lots of preparation in advance. Getting your head in the right place is most of the work.
- Start with family, friends, and the people around you – If you’re not comfortable meeting strangers straight away, start your foray into networking by sharing your career goals and challenges with people you already know. Ask for advice, and practice articulating yourself in a comfortable setting.
- Think about ‘reconnecting’ – Instead of starting from scratch with people you’ve never met, you could also consider using digital channels to strike up conversations with people you used to have a relationship with. For example, old college friends or people you worked with in a previous job.
- Approach people that YOU can help in some way – Perhaps you can offer to run a lunch and learn program at your workplace, and invite people from all over the business to learn about what you do. Or you could reach out to people on LinkedIn and send them valuable resources relating to their work. This is a great way to make connections without feeling like you’re asking for something.
- Be open and responsive – Efficient communication shows that you value someone’s time, and that you’re a reliable contact. Follow up and respond to messages quickly.
- Think creatively – If you’d like to connect with someone specifically, try thinking about how you could work with them on a project, or collaborate on something together. For example, you could approach someone to ask if they’d like to participate in a hackathon event with you, or to work on a business idea you have.
- Be direct – Having a ‘hidden agenda’ doesn’t feel nice. So don’t keep it hidden! Instead, be upfront with people about what you want, and don’t be afraid to ask for it blatantly. As an example, if you’re approaching someone to mentor you, tell them that you’d like to discuss the potential of that rather than hoping it comes up in conversation naturally.
- Ask for introductions – Ask for a coworker or friend to introduce you to someone you’d like to connect with. This can be a great way to be taken seriously, as a personal reference can go a long way towards building someone’s trust.
- Lean into what you know – For many of us, that will be the work we do day-to-day. Get interested in tech and where it’s headed. Research new developments and topics of interest so you always have something to talk to people about at events.
- Think of it as socializing – One Quora user offered this nugget of advice: “Consider how most men used to get to know people in various locations. They played golf, grabbed a beer etc. In other words, get to know people in a casual environment and after you have a relationship built over time, you can ask for help accessing information etc.” Don’t feel pressured to extract value from networking straight away. Take it easy, take it slow, and try to enjoy the process. Who knows – you might even walk away with new friendships in the process!
Need somewhere to start with this whole ‘networking’ thing? Hit up the Girls in Tech Events page for in-person and online events (yes, you can network virtually too!) – and save the date for next year’s Girls in Tech Conference, September 2023. It’s the best place to meet like-minded women in tech!