The first and most important message is that you need to start to build your network before you need to use it. As in gardening, you need to plant seeds long before you can harvest the fruit!
Note that I find that most of the networking organizations formed to help people find jobs are attended by people who don't have jobs (duh!) - while that can provide emotional support, those aren't the people who can help you find a job, so don't put much hope in them...
Some things you should be doing:
- Connect with all kinds of people through Linked In (even if all they do is submit a resume for you, that could be the small benefit you need to get noticed)
- Attend User Group meetings (e.g. SharePoint user groups, .NET user groups). The site Boston User Groups lists a bunch of user groups that could be interesting. Perhaps use this as a way to get into new technologies (e.g. there are some active user groups focused on Windows Phone development if you want to get started on that).
- If you can, attend tradeshows (Many will have free access to the vendor pavilion, even though the sessions cost - it's still a good way to make connections.)
- Attend vendor events like SharePoint Saturday (in the Boston area, there is one in Boston, one in New Hampshire, and one in Rhode Island - just Google/Bing "SharePoint Ssturday")
- Microsoft has a ton of Microsoft Events almost all free, designed to sell their technology, but they are great places to meet people (and you often get free swag). One category of these events are the code camps.
The most important message: as an introvert (most of us are!), we need to fight the urge to just go and be anonymous - we need to get out of our comfort zone and talk
to people, make connections, share information, ask questions, and be noticed. If you need help with getting the conversation going, here are some conversation starters
and a few more
. One of the interesting comments was to act like a host - introduce people to each other as if you were hosting a party at home.
If you can afford the time, one very effective way to make connections is to volunteer - something as simple as checking people in to a SharePoint Saturday gives you a chance to be visible to everyone that comes in, and gives you a chance to talk to the people organizing the meeting, who usually are the well-connected people that can help you out later on.
Other places to look (while some of these are very regional, they might inspire similar groups in your area...)
- WIND - Wednesday is Networking Day Another link is at WIND. The granddaddy of networking groups - there is a cover charge to attend, but I've heard some good things about them.
- BostonUserGroups List of user groups in the Boston area.
- Manchester (NH) Chamber of Commerce Sponsors a number of events - check the Events link for a description of the events, and periodically check the calendar (pick the month view so you can see everything) for specific dates for upcoming events.
- Concord (NH) Chamber of Commerce Also has a list of events. The Business After Hours event (2nd Tuesday of every month) is for members only (anyone know what it costs to join?)
- In a similar vein, look for other local chambers of commerce to see if there are networking events.
- www.masshightech.com Subscribe to the printed newsletter (I think it is bi-weekly) and the emailed updates. They have lots of information on what companies are doing what, and lists of events (directed at the employed, not the unemployed) In spite of the name, their coverage is most of New England.
- New England Tech Wire A free email newsletter on events in the technology space. The links page also has links to other lists and organizations.
- New Hampshire Business Review (The NH version of Mass High-Tech.) You can read the printed version at the library, or subscribe for $28/year.
- Microsoft Events Microsoft is constantly sponsoring free events. Some are better than others for networking, but they usually have useful information and often free T-Shirts and software :-)
- New Hampshire High Tech Council (Membership list is free)
- scholarly-societies.org Find associations to join for networking purposes
10 Networking Tips for Techies (written for entrepeneurs looking for investors at events, but could be useful in other ways)
Take the pressure off by doing some prep work ahead of time. Find out who is going to be in the room. Check the event website and then get some background on those people through LinkedIn or Jigsaw.
- When you know that someone whose introductions are valuable is going to be an event, write to them ahead of time to tell them you would like to speak with them. Put a stamp on it to get their attention. How many things do you get with stamps on them these days?
- Offer to volunteer for things like handing out name badges, which helps you meet people. I donít like to go to an event without having something to do.
- Try to be one of the first people in the room. Then you donít have to figure out how to break into those little clusters of conversation.
- Use the event to find the people who will do the introductions for you. When youíre looking venture money, use one-on-ones.
- Use a notebook to scratch down the key elements of your conversations, and then use those notes in follow-ups. Follow-ups are where the rubber meets the road.
- Send a thank you note to a speaker, and suggest getting together for coffee. Thatís coffee, which may take 15 minutes, not lunch which is longer and adds the complication of who will pay.
- Always have a question during the Q&A. Itís the polite thing to do. Asking a question also can lead to someone approaching you, or helps the speaker remember you when you follow up.
- Value everyone, whether they are running a small business or may be someone like a security guard, because they can help. Remember that executive assistants are called ďgatekeepersĒ for a reason.
- If youíre under 30, buy a watch. Donít look at your iPhone to find out what time it is.
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