Early on in my career, networking seemed like a magical salesperson’s skill set. I imagined networking was attending boring, vaguely business-related events, where people in blazers stand around and attempt conversation with total strangers before they exchange business cards and deals. Basically: the least appealing activity imaginable to an introvert nerd like me.
What is networking really?
Meet people in a setting/activity you find interesting. Be an active, good listener. Talk to people because you find them interesting, not because you need something from them. Be useful, help people where you can, and keep in touch with people long-term.
It’s not a quick fix. Do it early, often, and steadily—not suddenly when you’re desperate. And it’s not sales, where you are looking for a direct transaction.
It takes time: you should dedicate some of your schedule to it. It also does take energy—especially if you’re an introvert. (Sorry!)
“I can’t stand networking just for networking!” Yeah, me neither. I meet people through activities that interest me: sports that I enjoy and events centered around interesting tech. Look for activities and contexts that seem appealing to you, and then talk to people while you’re there.
So: how do you get to know more people? Here are five concrete examples:
Attend tech events
The obvious one! You may already be doing this. But be more intentional about it.
Find several industry events where you’ll meet people regularly: focus on several monthly local meetups and user groups rather than the big, annual conferences far away from your location.
Stick around for coffee, beers, and food. Make conversation with people, not just the ones you’re safely acquainted with already. Do it regularly over time (not just as one-offs), and your circle will grow.
Help organize tech events
Volunteers run lots of meetups, user groups, and conferences. Helping out in these is more of a commitment than just showing up to events, but lending your hand like this is a great way to connect more deeply with more people.
Since you have a common purpose with the rest of the group, there’s less of that awkward socializing phase: you just have to be friendly and helpful!
Get into a (social) hobby
Do fun activities with other humans, and you’ll make new friends.
Find something that preferably has physical meetings in your local area. Sports is an obvious example, but it can be any activity where people meet and socialize.
Try to pick something with a bit of community outside of the core activity. A gym membership with a personal trainer? Not ideal. But that nerdy archery club with a very active Facebook group and weekly trips to a local pub? Way more promising!
School, courses, and study groups
Do you have some areas where you want to be a more formal student and broaden your horizon a bit? I bet there are local evening classes or study groups that you’d find interesting.
It does not have to be tech related at all. Meeting more people outside of your own world is good: most professions touch the tech world anyway, and you never know where a relevant opportunity can come from.
Offer volunteer work
Plenty of volunteer organizations need help on the tech side. Could you help a local charity with their website? Contribute to a “teach kids to code” after-hours class? There are opportunities to help in your local community once you start looking for them.
You’ll give back to society and meet more people along the way. Win-win.
Now get out there!
So: the basic approach is to pick several real-life, physical settings and activities that interest you. Meet and talk to people there regularly. Be friendly and helpful to others.
If you do this steadily and long-term, opportunities will come your way!