Everyone talks about how networking is key for getting a job or advancing your career, but what exactly is networking? Networking is a set of relationships you build with others with a common interest. This can apply to school, hobbies, and in this case, it applies to your career, not a job. I emphasize this point because you should not waste your energy focusing on something short-term like a job. if you focus on building a successful career, the jobs will come.
Why is networking so important? Networking increases your options and the number of opportunities available to you, both directly and indirectly. This does not mean that knowing the right person will guarantee you a job. What it means is that you will be aware of more opportunities, and you will be better prepared to take full advantage of them. For example, a certain recruiter may be able to tell you when jobs are available. If you make a good impression on a recruiter, they can recommend you for a job, putting you above the competition. These are examples of how your network can directly help you. An example of indirect help may be connecting with experienced engineers who can mentor you on career paths and technical knowledge that can help you later in your career.
How do I start networking? The answer is much simpler than you may think. it comes down to making meaningful connections with others. Imagine a complete stranger walks up to you and asks if they can come to your home to hang out. Would you be interested in that? I hope not. You do not know this person, why they approached you or what value they bring you. Now, if that person started a conversation about a common interest, there may be a chance to make a further connection. Recruiters are a common networking choice. However, most people only talk to recruiters at career fairs and ask, “Are there jobs? Can I have one?” (I’d hope they ask a bit more eloquently, though.) A recruiter will answer your questions because that’s their job, but they will not be invested in your success.
How do you create a more meaningful connection? It’s all about sharing common interests. With recruiters, you can share what you know about the company. I like to talk to recruiters about recent events at the company and in the industry. What new products has the company released or announced? What has the competition announced? Where is the industry heading? What new technology is on the horizon? First,t his shows your knowledge of the company, which raises your value as a candidate. You can even maneuver the conversations so you can talk about how your skills can be an asset to the company. Second, it shows that you both share a common interest in the industry, company and even the success of the company. Note that career fairs do not allow you the time to do this, but you may have enough time at info sessions or other events.
Here are a few more quick tips:
- People move around (within and between) companies a lot in the tech industry. Try to keep in touch with your network.
- Quality is more important that quantity. A few meaningful connections can help much more than a lot of meaningless acquaintances.
- Don’t be afraid to go out and attempt to start many connections. Some may not work out, but that shouldn’t stop you from attempting to build your network.
- Do not expect others to approach you; be proactive.
- Have a plan. This will help you focus your energy and time more efficiently in creating more effective connections.
Sometime I mention how recruiters meet so many students that it is impossible for them to help or get to know every single one. This may intimidate some applicants or make the effort seem useless. However, every recruiter I’ve met is very willing to help students succeed. Not just because it is their job or because they want to help their company. They are personally invested in helping students succeed. Do not be intimidated to approach them. They want to help you.
One caveat: do not take advantage of the generosity of others. There are some who use networking as a tool to only advance themselves and discard those relationships once they get what they want. Networking relationships are a two-way street. There are no written rules, but there is an honor system. Help those that helped you, and if you cannot pay it back, you should pay it forward. For example, I may not be able to provide much value to the recruiters who helped me along my career, but I can pass on what I have learned to other students. People will know if you are only looking to help yourself, and this will be more detrimental in the long run.