Whether you’re just starting your IT career, perpetually stuck somewhere in the middle, or at the top of your game, networking can take you to new heights. If you’re a novice networker, don’t let it intimidate you. Communication is a key soft skill that every professional should attempt to master. If you don’t see the value in developing a professional network, don’t be so closed-minded. Lasting, personal relationships are a cornerstone of the human experience. When you spend a significant portion of your life participating in and developing your career, it’s only natural that some of these important relationships will be centered on business. But why is it important to develop a professional network?
1) Mentoring relationships: When you’re first starting out, it’s easy to be in awe of the talented techies that work above you. One day, with the right amount of effort, talent and luck, you could become one of the big wigs like they are. That’s why the mentoring relationships are so important in your early development. When you’re just starting out in tech, it’s easy to be pretty green about what it takes to make it to a senior developer, architect, manager or even CTO role. Forging a professional friendship with one or more IT professionals who have your dream job can help you set realistic expectations for your career advancement and you’ll get inside tips about which soft skills you’ll need to develop in order to get there. Similarly, once you reach that coveted senior level role, you’ll want to share your experiences. You’ll have the opportunity to become a mentor and realize it’s more than a one-way relationship. In fact, mentees often bring innovative ideas and unbridled passion that can refresh and inspire you.
2) Finding a job: Whether it means getting into a company who rarely ever hires from outside sources or simply having your resume placed at the top of the pile, networking can go a long way when you’re on the job hunt. If you have connections in IT sprinkled throughout the professional world, chances are you know someone who knows someone who’s hiring. Maybe you have a connection that wants to work with you and is willing to convince their boss to hire you! Whatever the circumstance, networking provides numerous advantages when you’re ready to make a career move.
3) Acquiring new business: Clients, customers, friends–whether you’re offering a service or a good, successful professionals in any field have to promote their work for it to get noticed. When you’re building a network, you’re building possibilities for future business. Your new connections may not need your service or product, but someone they know will. It’s important to not treat networking solely as a sales opportunity, but there are plenty of possibilities for your current network to introduce you to future clients. You may be in business for yourself and find this essential, or be a part of a large team and find the gratitude of your boss encouraging. Either way, networking comes into play when trying to acquire new business.
4) Self-promotion or skill development opportunities: Will you answer tech questions for my friend’s upcoming Re/Code article? Will you attend my presentation on a groundbreaking new technology I think you’d really love? Will you speak with me on a panel of tech experts at this conference? Whatever opportunity you’re looking for, they’re often presented through your network of connections. Either directly or indirectly, your professional friendships can inform you of opportunities for skill development or self-promotion that you wouldn’t have known about. Recommendations extend beyond new job opportunities and into other avenues like presenting at a conference or being quoted in an article that will impress your boss and pack your resume. In the same way that extracurricular activities were essential on your college applications, these extra opportunities can emphasize your tech expertise when you’re ready to advance your career. Plus, many of these engagements will serve to extend your professional network, multiplying your chances for other networking benefits as time passes.
5) Sense of community: Would it surprise you to find out that your happiness and your sense of community are intertwined? According to various happiness studies compiled by PBS, ” Belonging to a group or community gives us a sense of identity. It helps us understand who we are and feel part of something larger than ourselves. Researchers also find that people with strong social connections have less stress-related health problems, lower risk of mental illness, and faster recovery from trauma or illness.” When you spend large periods of time at work and developing your skills, your personal network of family and friends may not have a mutual understanding of the particularities of IT. This frustration can be easily addressed by developing a network of IT professionals who can relate to your workplace triumphs and woes. They will also bring a diverse set of ideas and influences that will contribute directly to your career growth.