How to Network Your Way into an IT Career
IT is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. IT careers enable programmers, engineers, and administrators to solve unique problems. The industry pays well and often offers the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment.
But for those on the outside looking in, sometimes a fulfilling IT career seems unobtainable. Let's say you want to become a network administrator, responsible for configuring and managing both local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). Even if you had the prerequisite skills, where would you get started if you wanted to find a job opportunity?
Sometimes, getting your foot in the door is about meeting new people, making strong connections, and using those connections to propel yourself forward. Using the soft skills of networking in the world of IT might seem difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Whether you are a future computer programmer, software engineer, or application developer, you can build relationships with people in your industry. Those connections might not immediately lead to a job offer, but when an unforeseen job opening fits your skills, you want someone you networked with in your corner recommending you to decision makers.
Here are a few ways you can get started on networking your way into an IT career.
Check Out On-campus IT Events
If you happen to still be in college and are looking to break into an IT career, then you should look into meeting prospective employers at on-campus IT events. The event could be something similar to a job fair or a skill building session. At these events, the key is to build relationships. It is better to focus on leaving an impression with a few decision makers than trying to talk to everyone and not being memorable.
A good idea would be to research who is speaking or exhibiting beforehand and to think of a few specific questions so you aren't making up something on the spot. Afterward, you can connect with the people you met at the event on LinkedIn or other professional networking sites. Write a short thank you note and keep them in your professional network for the future. They might be able to refer you to a potential job opportunity or answer a question about how to break through into a specific industry.
Build a Website, Write a Program, or Contribute to an Open Source Project
When you are networking, it is always handy to be able to refer your connections to something you've done in the past. Let's say you are looking to get hired as a web developer. Having several pristine websites already completed can separate you from other job seekers. Or, if you want to be a software developer, have a program or two that you can showcase. You can even contribute to an open source project by writing documentation or spotting bugs. These projects have two functions: They showcase the skills you need to be successful in your desired industry, and they set you apart from other job seekers. After all, it's easy to remember the guy who showed you the exciting app he designed.
Join an Email List
Email lists can help you jump start the networking process. Email lists can put you in contact with others who share common interests and could help you find job leads or specific information about your industry.
If checking email lists isn't your cup of tea, you can pretty much do the same thing in person. You can form a group of five to 10 people who meet once per week in person. Your team could be comprised of friends, classmates, or acquaintances you meet at a career center or through an industry interest group. Your team can exchange industry knowledge, talk about potential job leads or contacts, and act as a support system.
Networking Beyond IT
All too often IT job seekers believe that the only networking connections they should be making are with IT professionals. That's a mistake. There are marketing companies that need software engineers. And there are PR firms that need web developers. Make sure that you network with decision makers in industries outside of IT as well, because an increasing number of industries need professional help with their technology.
Make Use of Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are meetings between job seekers and an industry professional where the goal is learning more about the organization and the industry. The interviewer learns more about the professional potential of the job seeker and can evaluate if they'd be a future fit. Informational interviews help you to develop a relationship with company decision makers and learn information about the industry. It isn't a job interview, but it could eventually lead to one.
Put Yourself Out There
Networking doesn't have to be a scary process that you avoid. It can be as easy as joining an email list or sitting down with some former classmates or colleagues a few times a month to talk about job leads. If you follow the tips above, you'll stand a good chance of success at IT networking and find the right fit for your career.