Productivity software

Boldly Go Where No IT Pro Has Gone Before

4. Seek Out Opportunities

Fiona Charles, owner and principal consultant of Toronto-based Quality Intelligence Inc., which consults on software testing and test management, says so-called networking events can sometimes turn out to be little more than people passing around résumés.

Charles has found that groups or events focused on shared interests are much better for meeting people and developing ongoing bonds. These are what helped her get over her shyness, she says. "It gave me a context," she explains, "and it helps me set aside any social issues. I thought, 'I'm here and I'm representing a competency.' "

Karten suggests attending professional association meetings, where agendas and common work can lead to easier introductions and ongoing conversations.

But don't limit yourself to formal events, says Mike Vanneman, a partner at The Pachera Group, an executive search firm in Los Gatos, Calif.

"Go where you're going to be seen and recognized," he says. "So if you know there's a coffee shop frequented by people you want to meet and know, then go there. You have to take a bit of a social or personal risk to put yourself out there so you have a higher probability of meeting someone who can assist you."

5. Maximize Social Networking Tools

A lot of barriers to striking up conversations disappear with online social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo, Vanneman says.

"Those are great vehicles for those who may be hesitant to make the initial phone call. They can send out a trial balloon or an e-mail to start the process," he says.

But you can't just set up a profile and expect results, Vanneman says. You must maximize the connections that these sites offer by actively updating your entries, joining groups that relate to your interests and work, and responding to updates posted by your connections.

Kesner says former colleagues have found him through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Moreover, he says he's more likely to connect offline with the people in his network because of these sites. "I don't feel comfortable holding conversations using those tools, but they've prompted me to pick up the phone and set up a meeting over coffee or lunch or a drink," he says.

6. Offer Something

Andre Gous, CEO and founder of Precision Quality Software Inc. in Fallon, Nev., speaks highly of one contact who sends him e-mails that include an online newspaper she reads, with the information she thinks he'll find interesting highlighted.

"It makes a tremendous impression on me," Gous says.

He also sees it as an important lesson in successful networking: Add value every time you touch someone, whether it's an article, a business lead or some information about a conference you think someone might like to attend.

"One of the things that I think about when I network is, What can I offer? I was never comfortable going into it saying, 'What do I want?' " Farnsley explains. "I think about, What can I contribute? What information can I e-mail them after a meeting? What information can I share?"

7. Commit the Time

"For many introverts, it takes a commitment because we have a longtime habit of backing off and letting someone else take the lead," Karten says.

Farnsley counteracts that tendency by scheduling her networking time. When she was a CIO at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Ind., she scheduled get-togethers over breakfast or lunch -- and she made sure she and her colleagues scheduled their next get-together before leaving. Because it was already on the calendar, Farnsley was committed to it. Otherwise, she says, she'd be more likely to postpone scheduling it.

Farnsley says that for those farther away, she schedules visits whenever she's in their region -- whether it's nearby Indianapolis and Chicago or farther-away places like California and China.

Although not everyone has such opportunities to travel, Vanneman says everyone should carve some time out regularly for networking. Use that time to send e-mails, make phone calls or look at your contacts' online profiles and their lists of contacts.

Says Vanneman, "You have to make it part of your daily business hygiene."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

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