Networking is a critical element for maintaining a successful career in IT, and no, I'm not talking about the Ethernet, layer 3 switch, and VLAN type of networking. I'm referring to staying in touch with existing colleagues and attending networking events (presentations, seminars, conferences, etc.) with the intent of meeting new people.
The top people in IT – and any field – are those who make themselves known. You see, who you know will only get you so far. The better way of looking at it is who knows you. The only realistic way of making yourself known is by networking and building relationships with people over time.
Be a good listener
The foremost tenet of networking is to get over the belief that it's all about you. Meeting and greeting people at networking events is not about how much you can impress them with your credentials but rather how much you can help them accomplish their goals. I recently heard it said that we have two ears and one mouth and we have to use them proportionately. If we're going to build trust and create long-lasting relationships, we have to listen more than we talk.
When you meet people, start out by asking them about themselves: where they're from, how long they've been in the area, and other personal questions. Then ask them what they do, how they got started in their line of work, and what they like the most about what they do. You can even compliment them on their business cards and tell them you've heard their field/industry is a great one to be in. People love to talk about their backgrounds and stories. By being a patient and attentive listener (without interrupting and looking around at others while they're talking to you) you'll lift their self-esteem and immediately start building the relationship.
Ask the people you meet how you would know if you came across a prospective client for them or a good person for them to network with. This is the true value of networking – asking the people you meet how you can help them. Once you do, you'll undoubtedly get something back in return, perhaps in a week or maybe in a couple of years. Just know that people remember those who take care of them and will almost always return the favor.
Know what you do
It is also important to sharpen your elevator pitch. I can't tell you how many people don't know what it is they do, or want to do, for a living. When asked the simple question "What type of work do you do?" there are often a lot of uhs, ahhs, you knows, and so on. Don't be one of those people. Have a finely-tuned pitch you can roll off your tongue without hesitation.
For example, when people ask me what I do I reply "I'm an independent computer security consultant and help businesses find the weaknesses in their networks, Web applications, and IT operations so they can plug the holes before the bad guys exploit them." It explains exactly what I do in about 12 seconds. If they continue to ask questions, and if I see it may be of benefit, I'll discuss my consulting work in more detail and mention the speaking, writing, and expert witness work I do. But as soon as I get the information about me out into the open, I go back to listening and try to learn more about the other person.
On a related note, always make sure you bring more than enough business cards to hand out. There's hardly any greater turn-off than meeting someone who forgot to bring any business cards or ran out before the event was over.
Keep at it
One aspect of networking we often take for granted is the fact that, like any marketing program, you have to do it over and over again. Networking is not a once a year deal. It's more like a once every week or two kind of thing. Remember it's really about who knows you. You have to get out and be seen so people can get to know you. No matter how much you write, how much you speak, and how much work you do in the field, it's virtually guaranteed that when you attend networking events, most people will not know you.
Also, don't assume that you've done all there is to be done by just meeting people and exchanging business cards. As soon as you can, send a follow-up email or letter to tell the person it was a pleasure meeting them. If you didn't get a chance to ask them about who you could possibly introduce them to, this would be a good time to do so. It would also be a good time to remind them what you do, tell them the type of work or relationships you're looking for, and tell them you'd appreciate any referrals.
Finally, I'd like to say a few words about connecting and interacting with people via social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. In short, they're complementary tools that you need to leverage but they're not enough on their own. Absolutely nothing helps build trust and create relationships more than meeting face to face. Sadly this a dying trend but if you do make the effort to go to live events while others sit at their computers, you'll continue to stand out in this field. That's the key to success.
|Kevin Beaver, is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security, including Hacking For Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). He's also the creator of the Security on Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
This was first published in June 2009