Networking is a vital part of the job search process and is essential to your professional development as a whole. Making good industry contacts and maintaining a professional relationship with them can open many doors along your career path. Being able to network comfortably and confidently is not a skill that comes naturally to everybody. It takes practice to get it right! The CS department offers a number of low-pressure events where current students can practice their networking skills with alumni or employers. Take advantage of these events and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback so you know what you need to work on.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
A sure-fire way to improve your networking skills is to have an elevator pitch, or 30 second introduction, prepared. In 30 seconds or less, you should be able to communicate your name, your current role, and one or two of your most impressive (and relevant!) accomplishments or interests. The purpose of the elevator pitch is to actively engage the person you are speaking with and to make them want to learn more about you. Just keep in mind — people don’t want to be talked at forever, so keep it concise and be sure to end with a question in order to demonstrate your interest and continue the conversation.
When preparing your elevator pitch, write it down and practice it until it sounds natural and authentic. You want to come across as conversational, not rehearsed and stiff. And remember to time yourself when you practice. This is especially important if you have a tendency to ramble. If your pitch is longer than 30 seconds, consider cutting it down.
USE LINKEDIN TO NETWORK
If you find face-to-face networking intimidating, try some online networking first to get comfortable with the idea. Upload your contacts and connect to people you know. If you see that someone you know is connected to someone that you want to know, ask for an introduction. Join the CS@CU LinkedIn group and reach out to alumni whose current jobs are interesting to you. For more tips, visit LinkedIn’s How to Network On LinkedIn page.
JOIN PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Professional organizations are designed to facilitate networking amongst members, especially at conferences. Join one!
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Computing Research Association (CRA)
Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
Association for Information Science & Technology
Association for Women in Computing
Anita Borg Institute for Women & Technology
International Association of Computer Science & Information Technology
The goal of networking is to build as broad a professional network for yourself as possible. When networking, don’t just target one specific type of person. If everyone in your network does the same thing, there won’t be much that your network will be able to do for you. Your network should include various contacts working in different companies, doing different things at different levels in different areas. Don’t write off someone just because he/she isn’t working in your exact area of interest or has a title that you don’t think is high enough. Every person has value, and the point of networking is to figure out what that value is. Finding common ground and being able to converse with someone unlike you is a strongly valued professional skill that could lead to some unexpected opportunities down the road that you wouldn’t have with a limited network.
It’s never too early to start building your network. In fact, networking when you’re not currently looking for a job is the best time to do it because there is less pressure. You can focus more on the flow of the conversation rather than stressing over whether this conversation will lead to a job immediately. Once you do start your job search, you’ll have a number of contacts who you can reach out to about opportunities that you are interested in.
DON’T BE SELFISH
Sure, everyone hopes that networking will help them land their dream job. But it’s not all about you. If you have a valued member of your network, you should be sure that you are a valued member of their own network. Be generous when asked for assistance or advice. If your contacts only hear from you when you need something, they will be less inclined to help you. Don’t be that person. Networking only works when it’s a two way street!
After an initial conversation with a potential contact, ask for their business card and don’t hesitate to follow up and stay on their radar. Drop them a line whenever you come across something that may be of interest to them, if you need advice, if you have another contact that you think they would want to connect with. These are all good ways to engage a contact and keep them as an active member of your network.
ONLINE NETWORKING TIPS & RESOURCES
Forbes: How to Network the Right Way
CIO: How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People
Business Insider: How to Network Like a Pro
Networking Tips for Introverts from an Introverted Engineer
Forbes: The Perfect Elevator Pitch to Land a Job
Columbia Center for Career Education: 30 Second Introduction
Columbia Center for Career Education: Networking Tips