Networking is vital to your career growth as an IT professional. While it may be a cliché, the old saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” holds true. Sometimes it can be difficult for the IT crowd to embrace professional networking (you know who we’re talking about), but doing so can be the difference between landing that next big opportunity or never even knowing it existed.
Here are several ways you can take your professional network to the next level.
Contribute your tech skills to a non-profit organization or open source project.
The open-source and non-profit communities are chock-full of opportunities for IT professionals from all fields. In addition to boosting your resume, giving you a hands-on education, and allowing you to contribute to a good cause, volunteering with a non-profit organization or open source project is a great way for IT professionals to network. There are tons of talented administrators, programmers, and executives out there contributing to a cause or project they believe in. Contributing to a non-profit or open source project will allow you to not only meet them, but also provide you a platform to demonstrate just how much value you can add to an organization. Additionally, with many software companies willing to provide free or low-cost licenses to non-profits, you may gain some exposure to solutions and technologies that will make you a hero in your professional endeavors.
Think quality over quantity.
A few strategic connections are more beneficial than a thousand random ones. Don’t get caught up in the numbers race for likes and connections that occur all too often on social media sites. There is no value in having a phone book full of contacts you wouldn’t recognize if you bumped into them on the street, but there is a significant value in building mutually beneficial relationships with people in your field. Focus on building connections with the right people, not the most people. Rather than sending a request to every suggested connection on LinkedIn, consider joining a professional organization and attending events related to your industry or joining online forums with like-minded professionals.
Look for opportunities to help and take them. If you can help people solve their problems today, they will be more likely to think of you the next time a solution is needed. If you want to be the first name people think of when an opportunity is available, learn to be the first name people think of when they need a solution to a problem. Listen when people talk, and if they are facing a challenge you can assist them in overcoming, do it. After all, at the end of the day, every business is about solving problems. What better way to advertise your skills than solving real-world problems?
Understand your “brand” and make your online presence reflect it.
Do you have a unique set of skills? Or are you just another face in the IT department? Whether you are the sysadmin who can take a spaghetti monster of cables and turn it into a functional network, or the programmer who can turn 1,000 lines of poorly commented and barely functional code into blocks of elegant and efficient solutions to business problems, you need people to associate you with those skills. Make sure your social media and online presence demonstrate your area(s) of expertise. Associating yourself with the skills and solutions you offer means when an opportunities arise, you’ll be the one getting the recommendations.
Networking isn’t passive. It is up to you to make your network work for you. After you make a connection, make it a point to follow up every now and then. Keep the conversation going or spark a new one. You never know how you could help one of the contacts you made or how they could help you unless you remain engaged. Similarly, check back in with individuals you haven’t heard from in a while. These conversations will be organic since you’ll both be excited to catch up with a familiar face, and can often prove to be mutually beneficial.
Be proactive in practicing these steps to develop your professional networking in order to advance your career.
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