climbing the career ladder

Get your feet on the technical career ladder - build a network

Networking – the very word is enough to strike terror into the hearts of many new graduates. However, active jobseekers are finding that, in the world of employment, the old adage rings true: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

You have your IT or engineering degree and you’re ready to go out into the ‘real world’ and find that dream job you’ve been working so hard to qualify for. You have a great technical skillset, a CV packed with your experience and potential and the drive to succeed. 

The only problem is, you don’t know anyone who can help you get your foot on the ladder and it’s hard to compete just by sending off CVs to recruiters with the hope that yours will stand out in the pile. So where do you start?

It’s all about networking. Yes, standing in a room full of strangers can be daunting, particularly if you’re new to the technical job market, but a personal recommendation can be the key to landing your dream job – and sometimes that recommendation comes from the person you least expect it to.

Networking doesn’t necessarily mean actively attending networking events, although these are helpful, it just means building a network of contacts and maintaining relationships that may prove useful either in your immediate job search or somewhere further down the line.

This can happen anywhere: on a train, in a café, at a training course, even in social situations. The key to networking is not where you are, but the impression you leave with everyone you meet. Remember, you’re a walking CV and your own biggest selling point – so make the most of every meeting.

There are no hard and fast rules to networking, but here are a few tips to make sure people remember you for all the right reasons – and that they remember you when they hear of an opportunity that’s right for you.

Get digital

Social media provides some great opportunities for networking so make sure you’re part of the global conversation. Start a professional Twitter account with a bio about who you are and what you’re looking for and chat to other professionals. Build a LinkedIn profile and request recommendations for any work experience, internships or volunteering you’ve done. There have been great success stories and even direct hires through social networks.

Dress the part

It might sound obvious but, as your mum might say, make sure your nails are clean and your hair is brushed. It’s about looking groomed and presentable.

Approach people who look approachable

If people are obviously engaged in a private discussion and have their backs to you, move on elsewhere and try to join a more open-looking group. Start with people you think you’ll feel comfortable around, perhaps a similar age group, just to build your confidence.

Don’t discount people

Just because somebody doesn’t have anything immediate to offer doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Making a good impression could mean that the next time a friend of this person has an opportunity that might suit you, your details will be passed on.  Having said this, make sure you have a clear goal in mind when you speak to people. If you’re after a job in IT, make sure you speak to a few people in the field.

First impressions count

A smile and a firm handshake all the way. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true: first impressions count. Make sure you’re smiling, friendly and confident – and don’t forget to make eye contact.

Judge the tone

Remember to keep conversations as professional as possible – try to steer clear of politics and controversial topics. At the same time, be natural and make sure you’re not performing a sales pitch or reeling off the content of your CV. Be interested in others too – make sure you find out what they do, who they are and make a note of how they might be able to help you in the future.

Carry and exchange business cards

Remember that networking continues online, so make sure your card is complete with your Twitter and LinkedIn details.

Follow it up

Bill Clinton made notes on everyone he met and some useful/memorable facts about them. This might sound extreme, but keeping an up-to-date list of contacts will provide you with an invaluable resource later on. Remember to drop a courtesy email, add people on Twitter or LinkedIn and secure them as part of your network - there’s no point putting in the effort, only to lose the contact immediately. Remember, practice makes perfect and networking can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, so don’t be afraid to get right in there and arm yourself with a massive contact list that will last you your whole career.

 

Maggie Berry is managing director of Women in Technology – the careers site and recruitment service dedicated to increasing the number of women working and achieving in IT.

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