You may have noticed that your business counterparts talk about the people they know and that you talk about the things you have done. Business people do not do this by accident. They never stop networking because knowing the right person opens the door to success for them via a new vendor relationship, a foot in the door, or even a sale.
IT people, on the other hand, tend to network only when they need something, for example, a new job. The feeling seems to be that we have what we need inside our own company because we know our DBAs, our infrastructure team, our development team, our QA team, and so on. But, gazing internally into your own organization to the exclusion of the outside world is a mistake.
I am not saying that you should not seek to build strong internal relationships, quite the contrary, these are necessary to your success. However, good internal relationships are not sufficient to be a top-tier IT person. You need to get to know people outside your company, and maybe even outside your industry, and you need to do this as long as you work. You need to be more like your business counterparts and expand your network constantly.
Some of you may be saying to yourselves that you already network outside your own company, that you know more people than anyone you know, and that the business folks come to you for referrals. Congratulations. Feel free to stop reading now and put a few comments at the end of this post on how you network.
For those of you who are still reading this, consider these activities:
When you are next at a conference or a trade show, talk to people you don’t know. Learn what they know that you don’t. Collect their contact information. Send a follow up note saying, “Nice to meet you.” You never know when you might need what they offer. Be up front that you are networking and not buying so that they don’t over-invest their time with you because they think you are going somehow to help them make their sales quota for the quarter.
Talk to people in situations where you would normally just wait silently. Waiting out a mechanical issue on a flight? Talk to the person hanging out in front of you or behind you at the gate. Two or three sentences might trigger an interesting discussion. If it does not, at least you are now one minute closer to being able to board and get where you are going.
Introduce people to each other. I know this does not expand your network, but it expands others’ networks, and they may well reciprocate. Do you know two people who are each going through an email migration? Connect them. Do you know two people who just changed jobs? Connect them.
Return phone calls or emails. I get a lot of cold calls and cold emails. I try to return the polite ones. If they are trying to sell me something, at least they can mark me down as a “No.” However, more than once someone who got in touch with me a few years ago became relevant and I had his/her contact information to reach back out. Note that this does not apply to “cold” LinkedIn invitations because you are putting your good name out there if you connect with someone you don’t know.
Keep in touch. Make notes to yourself if you have to, but follow up with those people whom you enjoyed meeting. If you met someone at a conference you attend each year, see if you can catch up again at the next conference.
You get the idea. If you only network when you need something, you are missing out on the opportunity to get something that you don’t know you need.