Networking: it’s a word that can elicit a slew of feelings depending on who you are. If you’re extroverted and highly motivated, you might jump at the prospect of meeting new people and furthering your career. However, if you’re new to your career or the tech world, networking might be a little intimidating.
Most of the anxiety surrounding networking stems from uncertainty — whether you’re unsure what to wear to a certain event, how to join conversations, or how to truly gain value from an event. In this article, we’ll answer any potential questions you might have about networking so you can truly make the most out of the event.
Once you learn to love networking (or, at least, not fear it), you can truly begin to reap all the benefits of it — from learning more about your industry to making connections that can help you with your job search.
Stage 1: Preparation
Networking, like most endeavors, you get out what you put in. It’s ok to be a wallflower at first, but after you get into it, you’ll want to gain some new connections or just learn something from the conversations you might have To help you move off the wall, try preparing in advance
First, you will feel your most confident, and most social, when you look and feel your best. Make sure you are appropriately dressed for whatever event you’re going to. If no dress code is provided, here’s a quick guide to what to wear at most kinds of events:
- Career fair: business professional/business casual, as you might for an interview. For men, this is a pressed suit, tie, and dress shoes. For women, this is a pantsuit, or professional dress with a blazer. Depending on the event, you might be able to lean a little more business casual by removing the jacket or swapping the button-down under the jacket with a T-shirt or polo. Not able to get access to these things yourself? No problem, at LeMoyne and potentially your university or community as well, they have business attire you can borrow. You can also check out high end thrift stores or shop online at places like ThiftUp.com or discount fashion like Temu.com.
- Happy hours or coffee chats: casual, but clean. Coders are typically gamers, fun seekers, and let’s face it — nerds so we all love a good t-shirt! Denim, t-shirts, sneakers, and otherwise casual wear are all appropriate for a happy hour! But, make sure to keep it clean and classy — not like how you would dress for a happy hour with friends. Focus on making sure your clothes are well-fitting, free of wrinkles, and make you feel your most confident.
- Workshops, conferences, or seminars: business casual/smart casual. For men, this can be slacks and a button-down with the option of a t-shirt and jacket depending on how hip the conference is. You probably don’t need a tie unless you are presenting and even then it depends what you are presenting to whom. For women, this can be button-downs, nice blouses, or clean sweaters on top and pencil skirts or slacks on the bottom. If you want to choose the more smart casual route, you can pair a casual look like jeans and a plain t-shirt with elevated pieces, like dressy shoes and a jacket.
Pro-tip: If you’re going to a well-established event, e.g. Grace Hopper, Afrotech, etc., check online or on social media to see if you can find videos or images of what attendees wore at the conference in past years.
Now that you’re dressed the part, it’s time to prepare to talk about your career! Here are a few quick tips on how you can best prepare to network:
- Set your intentions: Are you attending this event simply to expand your network and enjoy free food? (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that!) Or, are you going for a specific reason, such as to learn more about a certain field or to meet professionals at your dream company? If it’s the latter, come prepared with a list of questions you’d like answered by the end of the night and do some preliminary research on what you would like to learn about.
- Scope out who else is coming: It’s always better to network with a few friends by your side. Ask the organizer or whoever invited you to the event if they invited anyone who you know to come to the event. Depending on the event, you can even invite others in your cohort or network to this event! (I wouldn’t do this without asking, though.) If you are going completely alone, however, see if you can get information about what kinds of professionals will be there, whether it’s an event specifically for individuals in a certain part of the tech space (like product or design), in a certain phase of their career (like early talent, manager level, etc.), or a mix of everything!
- Update your resume and LinkedIn: Chances are, you’ll probably be meeting lots of new people who want to connect with you after the event! And although business cards are still out there, LinkedIn is the new Rolodex. You’ll want to collect valuable connections here, so make sure your LinkedIn is updated! And, if you get to the resume stage of the conversation with someone you’re talking to, it’s always helpful to have an updated resume on-hand as well.
- Pack for success: If you’re heading to a career fair, make sure your padfolio is properly stocked with extra copies of your resumes, as well as a notebook and pen to jot down names and any necessary notes from conversations. For conferences or seminars, notebooks are also handy for taking notes on any keynote speeches or panels.
Stage Two: At the Event
You’ve made it! Now that you’re actually at the event, it’s time to make your mark.
Something most people struggle with is deciphering who to talk to at these events. It can be quite awkward to hop into the middle of a conversation, especially when you don’t know either party. On the other hand, wandering around aimlessly or sitting at a table alone is equally uncomfortable.
Start easy: talk to folks who you already know or have a connection with, such as anyone you came with, your instructors and TAs, and peers from your cohort. Once you’re settled in and have built your confidence, challenge yourself to take the next step and talk to a stranger. Here’s some quick tips on how to join a conversation:
- Look for groups of odd numbers, or someone standing alone.
- Talking to strangers is always going to be somewhat awkward. Instead of trying to make the icky feeling go away, lean into itYou can make a comment about how you might be a little nervous or how networking is difficult. Showing a bit of vulnerability can make the other person feel more comfortable talking to you and help the conversation flow.
- Be open to talking to anyone and treat each person with the same level of attention and respect. Don’t discount someone who’s early talent or seems low status — their cousin might just be the lead recruiter at your dream company.
- Be open to talking about anything. There’s no such thing as a “bad” networking conversation, and your conversations don’t necessarily have to be career-focused. Yes, you are a student in bootcamp seeking a certain type of role, but you’re also a person with interests, experiences, and aspirations separate from work. Get to know the folks at the event on a more personal level.
If you are hopping into a conversation, here’s a list of opening questions:
- How are you involved with Careers in Code?
- How long have you been a member here? How have you liked it?
- What type of work do you do?
- What brought you to this event?
- Where did you work/what did you do before you were involved with Careers in Code?
If the conversation goes well, make sure to note their name in your phone and notebook so you can connect with them after the event!
Stage Three: Post-activation!
The hard part is over! Now, make sure to follow up on all these connections you made through LinkedIn and/or email! Ideally, you can follow up with them the next day with a connection request and a note that’s along the lines of:
“Hi [name]! It was great meeting you at [event] and I really enjoyed chatting with you about [mention topics from conversation]. Let’s keep in touch!”
But, even if a few months have passed and connecting with that person slipped your mind, it’s never too late! If a few months have passed but you’re finally confident about your LinkedIn or coding experience, reach out and just remind them where you met them, why you waited to reach out, and maybe something you talked about.
It’s also important to follow through on the intentions you set for this conference. If you received great advice about how to enter the UX design space, act on it. If you met professionals at your dream company, ask them about any open roles. And even if you didn’t accomplish everything you hoped to, you likely still furthered your career, even if you didn’t realize it.
Networking is about opening as many doors as possible, rather than waiting for a door in front of you to magically open. Some of these doors are extremely valuable to you, however, other doors might not lead to places you want to explore currently. Despite that, it never hurts to have that door open! Plus, you might open doors for others that are supremely helpful to them.
The more doors you open and networking you do, the easier it gets! So, even if you dislike networking now, pushing yourself to go the extra mile at networking events will be extremely valuable to your career.