Does reading the word “networking” sends chills up your spine? There might not be a specific phobia named after this fear, but you’re definitely not alone.
If you’re a developer looking for a job, networking events can help—but only if you set aside your anxiety. We compiled some insider tips from Hack Reactor Career Coaches Lena Johnson and Ben Greene on how leveraging networking events can help further your career.
How do you find networking events?
Thanks to the power of, you know, the internet, there are so many ways you can stumble across the right networking event.
Join a Slack channel like #devchat.
Check out some Github online forums. You’ll likely discover networking events near you—or even some webinars.
By the way, immersing yourself in the online developer community won’t just help you find networking events. You’ll also build relationships, expand your own network, and develop valuable skills like autonomy and proactivity.
How should you prepare for a networking event?
Here’s the short version: Prepare as though you’re going to an interview.
Okay, okay. Does the word “interview” stress you out even more than “networking”? Let’s break it down.
- Be prepared to sell yourself and your work—but don’t talk about yourself the whole time! Be genuinely interested in who you’re talking to by actively listening and asking questions.
- Show off your skills. Don’t just tell someone you’re a problem-solver. Make it clear in other ways. Try asking someone about how they use a particular technology to surmount an issue and then exchange ideas.
- Do research on the companies and the individuals attending. Ask targeted questions like: “I noticed your company primarily works with this industry. Can you tell me more about that?” This goes a long way for showing off your enthusiasm.
- Speak the lingo. If you’re new to networking events, listen in to how people are talking about themselves and their work. Incorporate that into your own habits.
The biggest takeaway here is that you should never go into a networking event with the sole intention of getting a job or gaining a referral.
It’s about cultivating a community. You’ll get the most out of each experience when you bring your curiosity, passion, and authentic self to every interaction.
What are the best questions to ask?
Networking events are all about building relationships. You’re meeting someone for the very first time, so act like it! Ask questions like:
- What’s your background?
- Why do you enjoy working for your current company?
- What kinds of projects are you working on right now?
After you’ve gotten to know each other, let your engineer mindset take over. If you’re a software developer, you’re a naturally inquisitive problem-solver. Ask about technical challenges and let this guide your conversation.
Whether you’re looking for your very first job or you’re in the midst of a career change, it’s easy to feel like you’re a beginner.
Even if you have a lot to learn, speak like you’re on equal footing. Acting like you’re chatting with a colleague or a friend will help alleviate stress and improve the quality of the interaction.
How should you follow up after a networking event?
Always make sure that you’ve exchanged contact information! This is critical; you don’t want to be scouring LinkedIn for a missed connection the next day.
Before you actually follow up, decide how you’d like to cultivate the relationship.
- Did you meet someone who’s working in a field you admire? You probably want to get to know their career path better.
- Did you chat with someone who’s working on a project that’s similar to yours? You might want to see if they’re interested in exchanging feedback.
Once you decide how you’d like to continue the conversation, follow up via email within a few days. In the email, get specific about your interaction. Conversations can blend together, so mention something that will spark your connection’s memory.
Bring up a specific project or experience you discussed. Then, propose a logical next step. This should be a baby step like chatting on the phone or getting coffee. Most people are more than happy to share their experiences and provide advice.
As a rule of thumb, you should never ask for a referral or a recommendation in this next step. You’re trying to grow an organic relationship, not push for an acquaintance to get you a job.
Real talk: Are business cards still relevant?
Greene and Johnson have slightly different opinions on this front.
According to Greene, business cards are not relevant anymore. You can easily change contact information with your smartphones at the event itself.
For Johnson, business cards can be a nice way to exchange something tangible at the event. If you already have business cards, don’t be afraid to bring them along. However, she doesn’t recommend printing new ones.
Instead of printing off 1,000 new business cards, you could try putting that effort into an online portfolio or a blog. Both Greene and Johnson acknowledge that these aren’t essential to getting a job, but a well-designed portfolio or a polished, active blog can certainly help.
PS: Networking events are a small part of networking
While attending networking events can be valuable in your job search, they are by no means the only thing you should do.
Think about how you can cultivate your own network and develop connections in creative ways. Your friends, relatives, past coworkers, college acquaintances, and coding bootcamp peers can all be a part of your network.
Start by having conversations with people you’re close to about your goals. Your best friend might not be a developer—but she might have a coworker who used to work at your dream company that she can introduce you to. These small things are how you can grow your network every day.
In addition to your personal relationships, think about ways to leverage the alumni networks that are available to you. For example, Hack Reactor has an internal alumni network (with over 3,000 bootcamp grads!) that helps students in their career search.
Broaden your idea of networking. Once you realize that you’re expanding your connections all the time, you won’t get so overwhelmed by the idea of “networking.” And you might even enjoy it.
A big thanks to Lena Johnson and Ben Greene for sharing their expertise!