Networking (Not the IT Kind) Can Help You Put Your Best Foot Forward
Look, let's start this out on the right foot: I like tech, you like tech, and my boss definitely loves tech. The point is, nobody hates tech, and everybody loves tech, right? Right?
But also, let's make money.
Typically, better salary comes one of two ways: finding a better position, or finding a better employer. Tech is an interesting field in that it's largely a meritocracy — you can do it, or you can't. Educational degrees may not pack as much of a punch as in other fields, and certifications are only as effective as the skills they demonstrate. That doesn't mean, however, that you're off the hook when it comes to improving your situation. And that means networking.
No, you can calm down, CCNAs. We're talking about the other kind of networking.
The idea of networking can be pretty distasteful for those of us who love the idea of skill-based promotion. Networking can seem unfair or even manipulative. In the perfect world, every promotion and accolade would be earned directly via ability. In the meanwhile, here are a few reasons you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss networking.
First, networking allows you to show interest. Working hard won't do you any good unless the powers that be know why you're working hard. Also, nobody is going to force you upward. Nobody wants an employee who only took the promotion because it was convenient.
On top of that, the ability to network displays other good traits in a more effectual way than a resume or interview ever could. It goes hand-in-hand with interpersonal skills (see here: the ability to do your job without making your co-workers want to strangle you) and proactive tendencies. Both of these traits make an employer's job much easier.
Also, continuing on the general theme of life's unfairness, employers and decision-makers are rarely as interested in finding the perfect person for the job as they are in finding a suitable person for the job, preferably as quickly as possible. That can be good for you, because chances are you're not the most perfect person for the job, even if you can do it just fine.
Referrals from friends and relatives tend to be faster, cheaper and more reliable than ad-in-the-classifieds-type hiring, so the goal is to make yourself one of those referrals. In the perfect world, an employer would easily be able to find the perfect person for the job, but you have to admit that "ask and receive"-type job hunting is a nice substitute.
So, how does one start networking? Well, here's rule number one: If the way you're doing it feels manipulative or backhanded, then you're doing it wrong. Networking is not about tricking somebody into hiring you, it's about making sure that they know you're available and willing.
It's also about building mutually-beneficial relationships. Information and opportunity should pass just as easily through you as it does to you. Remember that this means actually building the relationships. If you want people to go out of their way for you, then you have to be willing to do the same thing for them.
Maintain focus. Ideally, you're going to want to network with people who have similar mindsets and who are working in fields or positions similar to the one you want. They're going to be looking for opportunities similar to what you're after, meaning that they'll pass along good situations that don't quite fit them for whatever reason (and again, you'll want to do the same for them).
Finally, be proactive. Don't just assume that you're going to run into the right person. Rather, make sure you're attending events and utilizing your current contacts to find the right person (or persons). Make a plan, and stick to it. Be prepared for your opportunity — have an objective, and be aware of what you want and what you have to offer.
The bottom line is, do something. When it comes to networking, you'll need some practice to master the art, so few (if any) networking blunders are worse than simply not networking at all.