Networking is a learned skill that requires know-how, practice, and dedication. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of jobs are found through networking, and in the tight-knit tech community this number is likely much larger. The fastest way to break into the startup scene is to know the right people.
Of course, you don’t just want any job. Networking can also help you to find the right fit. By finding the people and events that energize you and by following these breadcrumbs toward conversations and experiences that truly pique your curiosity, you’ll find yourself at arm’s reach to opportunities that are similarly stimulating.
As with most things that are ultimately worth the effort, the most challenging part of building a network is getting started. These ten best practice networking tips will help you get your foot in the door with exciting new companies:
1. Refine your online brand
Assume that everyone you meet will be looking you up. Take stock of your digital brand to be sure that it tells a cohesive and relevant story. Pay special attention to your LinkedIn profile, taking care to include a headshot and tagline/ summary.
2. Start with your alumni groups
As you focus on building a professional network, don’t discount the worth of the connections you already have. Join your alma mater’s alumni group on LinkedIn, and make sure you’re on the alumni email list or Facebook group in your city. If there are meetups happening near you, go out and meet fellow alumni beyond your graduating class.
3. Find the people doing the job you want
When you meet someone in an interesting role, offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for career advice. After your meeting, ask if they can connect you to anyone doing similarly interesting work.
4. Know where to go
Check Meetup and Eventbrite to find professional networking events and skills meet-ups near you. When you meet someone cool, ask them what other events they like, and then go to those, too. Hackathons like Startup Weekend are great for meeting people while trying on different roles and team dynamics.
5. Bring a wingman
Nervous to go to an event where you won’t know anyone? Try working the room with a buddy. You can help one another to identify key connections and make introductions.
6. Ask more than you answer
It’s no secret that people love to talk about themselves. Show genuine interest by focusing the conversation on the other person and their work, rather than on yourself. Have a few go-to questions ready in your back-pocket, such as “what do you like most about what you do?” or “what do you find to be most challenging about [that role].”
7. Pitch yourself
Know your 30-second pitch so that, when it does come time to talk about yourself, you can help people help you. Share your strengths and passions. If you know what type of role you’re looking for, say so. This way, your connection will have you in mind if a relevant opportunity comes up.
8. Always follow-up
Collect/ jot some quick notes on business cards so you can follow-up the next day. In your email or LinkedIn invite, reference something you discussed to reaffirm your interest (and to help them remember who you are). Keep it brief, and most importantly, always ask how you can help them.
9. Don’t take it personally
If you don’t hear back right away, don’t jump to conclusions. Wait a week, then ping them again. A good rule of thumb is three well-spaced follow-ups. If you still haven’t heard from them, don’t take offense—it’s more than likely that they’re just busy.
10. Be human
Build connections to build connections, and because you’re a person who cares about other people—not as a means to any other ulterior end. It can be easy to lose sight of this when you have a goal you’re working toward, such as finding a new career opportunity. Still, nobody likes to fall victim to the business card hit-and-run.
Be real. Be genuine. Offer help to others wherever and whenever you can. And mean it; without any hope or expectation that they’ll return the favor. Your kindness will be returned to you in some way, shape, form, or time. But, be kind to be kind, and because there can never be enough of that in the world. In the immortal words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”