Originally published August 22, 2018 on The Original BritishPandaChick blog. I made tweaks to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.
The next lesson in Skillcrush 300 is all about networking. Networking is an important part of finding any job or clients today. Many people credit networking as the way they land their first job or make a career change into another job.
In this post, I'm going to focus on some of Skillcrush's tips and recommendations to start building your network. By the end of this post, you'll know what networking is and how to find events near you. I'll review some of Skillcrush's tips for attending your first event and explain what goes into a good elevator pitch.
What exactly is networking?
Networking can be a very scary word for professionals. For many freelancers, networking is by far one of their least favorite things to do and in some cases the scariest part of their jobs. You can often hear about these fears on podcasts and webinars where guests make no secret that networking is often one of the areas they are constantly working to get better at.
Networking sounds scary because of its own definition. Skillcrush defines networking as establishing connections with others in a short amount of time. When most people think of networking, chances are they think about only the negative things. These reasons might be the expenses, how much time it takes, and even the food.
This is the wrong impression of networking! I know since I assumed networking was always an event where people just went to in order to try and meet people. But just like Kelly Hoey stated in her talk during the Land Your Dream Job Summit, networking is something we do every day and don't realize it.
Remember every human interaction is networking and it something we can control. Luckily there are many ways to network these days.
The many ways to expand your network!
Before I start, keep in mind it important all these work so it is important to try them all if possible. The goal of this section is to show you that there are ways to network for every person's lifestyle and budget. So feel free to try them all or just try a few that best fit your lifestyle now.
In-person events are still the networking method of choice for many freelancers and professionals.
These events include local meetups to conferences in different parts of the world. Meetups and conferences will sometimes have time for networking built into part of their schedule, but you can always arrive early for these events or even volunteer. In-person events are great for meeting other professionals in your industry, but they can be expensive. Many will often discounts and scholarships for those that need help with the cost.Two of the best places to find any meetups in your area are Meetup.com and Eventbrite.com. Both platforms are similar which show local meetup groups and events. Lots of freelancers and people in tech swear by these methods. Many organizations will often post their events on these sites.
Now, these events don't mean just attending ones that match your industry. You can attend events that match your niche. Many local areas will host talks for specific niche speakers and communities.
The best places to find these events are your local Chamber of Commerce or go to your local library. Some schools especially colleges and universities might host specific niche-related talks that you can go to.
Volunteering is a great way to networking and getting your name out there. It allows you to be helpful to organizations and causes you care about while getting the valuable experience needed for your portfolio. Quite a few developers talk about their experiences volunteering when they were starting out in tech and how they build their networks due to the work they did during these experiences.
Now networking doesn't have to always be in person.
This won't always be possible if you don't have a lot of money to attend a conference, have a full-time job, or just have to take care of a family. Enter online networking events. These events can be done online at times that are best for you and in sweatpants if you like.
First, there are online events. Online events are webinars, virtual summits, and even workshops. These events often feature presentations, but the comments section allows people to network in the comments and talk to each other as well as ask questions to the speakers.
Remember the Skillcrush webinars? Those are great examples of online networking events since it encourages human interaction as well as giving valuable information.
Next, there are Twitter chats. Twitter chats are quite popular with freelancers since it is just talking to other professionals about different topics on Twitter. There are chats for everything so make sure you do a Google search to see what Twitter chats might be good for your brand.
Finally, there are Slack and Facebook groups. These groups are great ways to promote your brand, get advice from other professionals, and chat with others on related industry topics. Just search your niche in the search bar and click the groups tab. You'll see a list of groups that are similar.
It is easy to spend hours a day searching for events. Skillcrush recommends looking at events passively as well as actively. This way you can still find events and learn what is happening that fits with your schedule.
Some of the ways to passively find events are setting up notifications and updates to alert you when events are being held or signing up for newsletters. Skillcrush even recommends following people in these groups on social media since many will often post events on their own feeds.
Successful Networking at work!
There isn't a right or wrong way to network. The goal of networking isn't to leave the event with a brand new client or have a job interview lined up. As a matter of fact, your goal isn't to even think this way. Instead, you want to focus on building a connection with others and trying to be helpful to others.
Many of the problems with networking often come from the amount of pressure people put on themselves. People put a lot of pressure and expectations on themselves that they forget they need to be themselves and act like a regular person. This pressure can come out at these events if a person isn't careful and can be sensed by others at these events.
So how do you keep the pressure down?
Skillcrush advises students to set small goals for them to achieve. These goals might be talking to a specific number of people at an event or just setting a certain amount of time to stay at the event. Most importantly, don’t assume you have to connect with the most important person in the room.
All the connections you make will provide value and sometimes in ways you never expected. Remember the goal is to be helpful and offering to help others. One of the best examples to see this in action is watching your parents or grandparents.
They understood the power of networking and used it to help them along their career paths. For example, my mom is a school principal and networking is an important part of her career. The key to my mom’s networking approach is the fact she’s building relationships.
She’s taught at several districts and has made a ton of connections. She doesn't put a lot of pressure on herself and instead focuses on being as helpful as she can. This might be giving advice to a question another administrator asks about or providing research-based articles for her staff to read to help them achieve better academic results with their students.
In my mom's case, being helpful has helped her stay top of mind with people in her network. So when my mom does need help or clarification on a specific issue, people are willing to help her. My mom doesn't know all the answers all the time, but she lets people who ask her for help know that and then go search for the answer through her network or books. Once she finds the answer, she always gets back to the person who asked the question to let them know what she found out.
Communication tips a la Skillcrush!
The hardest thing about networking is the conversation. Communication can be tricky when it comes to networking since people try to be natural as possible but being prepared so they can be taken seriously by others in the room. It is important to be prepared before you attend any networking event on what to say, but too much preparation can be too obvious and make you seem like a robot.
In order to be natural and well prepared, Skillcrush has a few communication tips they encourage their students to use at any networking event. These tips will help beginners keep in mind the ultimate goal of building relationships while making them feel comfortable to tackle any situation that might come up as they talk to other professionals.
1. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
The best advice you can follow is the Kingsman motto. Manners maketh the man. It might sound like common sense, but this is something that we can quickly forget and the most important thing for building any connection.
Before you attend these events, think about how you'd want to be treated at these events. Then go out there and treat others in this manner. This will give people a good impression of you and your brand, keeping you top of mind.
Remember first impressions can be made in a matter of seconds and it only takes one thing to set a bad first impression. I once had a supervisor in college who clearly didn't think I was smart or didn't understand English so she would make me repeat every single thing she said back to her. She thought she was being super cute while I was completely offended, resulting in a very negative opinion of her. Even though I told her to stop, she didn't listen and instead kept doing it more, not realizing how rude she was acting.
As your network grows, people will be spreading the word about you so it will become easier. Skillcrush reminds students in these situations they need to give these people a big thank you. Many of the Skillcrush instructors and teaching assistants encourage students to concentrate on doing good work and being pleasant to work with. These are what make clients remember you and recommend you to others.
2. Focus on the other person.
The best conversations are well balanced. Each person gets a chance to talk and listen. This might seem like a challenge for introverts, but the best way to focus on another person is by asking follow-up questions on something they might have said or about something casual. Casual questions can be ones about the event to how long they have been in the industry. Once you ask a question, let the other person respond and actively listen.
Pay attention to what the other is saying. It isn't just to be polite and respectful towards the other person. Often times you learn great tips and advice from others this way. Actively listening is how many freelancers learn what each other needs are and help each other.
Watch this clip from the movie How to Be Single. This clip shows Alice attending a networking event where she meets David. Although this scene is meant to start building a romantic relationship between these characters, it shows a natural networking conversation in action.
Alice and David use the business cards as a way to start their conversation before talking about what their jobs are. As they talk, they both take turns talking and listening. David asking Alice about the building she works at as a way to show he was listening to her conversation and as a way to let Alice know what his job is.
3. Know your elevator pitch and have it ready!
Elevator pitches are the answer to the question "Tell me about yourself". A good elevator pitch is a short summary of who you are, what you do, and what you'd like to do. Think of them as the professional version of a movie trailer. Elevator pitches need to grab a person's attention but give enough of the important details to know what you are all about.
Every freelancer and career expert has different opinions on what elements make a good elevator pitch. Despite these differences, there are a few similarities in these recommendations. Skillcrush has narrowed down these similarities for their tips so students can write up their own version of an elevator pitch and begin practicing it so they know exactly what to say when they get asked this question.
Elevator pitches need to be short so Skillcrush recommends keeping an elevator pitch around 30 seconds since that is the same amount of time an elevator ride takes. Some of the elements all professionals and Skillcrush recommend for a good elevator pitch are the following. Students are encouraged to use these as a place to start when forming their elevator pitches.
- Types of projects you want to work on
- Your ideal client
- How you help your clients
- How to ask for what you are looking for
Feeling bold? As you put together your elevator pitch, you can throw in something that can grab their attention. These hooks function the same way writers use attention getters in essays and articles.
Possible attention getters for an elevator pitch can be something that helps people remember you or a question. For example, BritishPandaChick has served as my hook which grabs people’s attention and is how many remember me after the events.
Things to Remember Before You Go
It is the day of the event. Regardless if it is online or in-person, Skillcrush offers some final tips to help students be ready for the event.
- Check the RSVP list. Looking at the RSVP list will give you an idea of who is attending the events especially those hosting or managing the event. It also a way to check and see if you are the only one signed up for the event.
- Don’t be afraid to bring a friend if you don’t like going alone to networking events.
- Volunteer at the event! This is one of the things Kelly Hoey did when she was making a career change. This allows you to meet new people in a less awkward way and helps you get to know the organizers.
- Share what you learned on social media or through blogs. It helps everyone from you, the people at the event, and even your readers.
If you would like even more Skillcrush networking tips, make sure you check out the Skillcrush blog. They often have blog posts with different networking tips as well as a guide on networking. Click the link below to learn how you can get their networking guide.
That’s a wrap on this lesson! Now you know how to network like a boss with all the tips from Skillcrush 300. You now know the secrets to get the most out of networking events and what you can do to get started. This includes knowing where to find events to developing an elevator pitch that will help you stay top of mind with others.
Tomorrow's post is going to be a bit more specific on networking. This lesson is all about building a professional network. Having a professional support network is just as important as a network for clients. This lesson might be a review of some of the networking topics already on this post, but this post will be focused on networking with other professionals in your industry and why they are important especially in tech.