How to network in tech with no experience

May 30, 2024

7 mins

How to network in tech with no experience
Natalia Barszcz

Freelance journalist and writer

Breaking into the tech industry as a newcomer can seem daunting, especially when you consider that a remarkable 7.9% of the entire U.S. workforce is employed in tech-related roles. The pandemic has only accelerated the growth of tech jobs, increasing competition across the board and making networking more crucial than ever for securing a position in the field.

Starting from square one may be scary, but there are many traditional and innovative networking strategies designed for those new to the tech industry. From leveraging alumni groups and attending industry events, there are plenty of practical tips on how to build a professional network from scratch. Dr. Kyle Elliott, tech career coach and founder of Kyle Elliott Consulting, and Jevonya Allen, networking coach and founder of Twisted Networking, are sharing a few of their secrets on how to break into tech from the ground floor.

What is networking, really?

Networking is often discussed but frequently misunderstood. Once it became a buzzword in most work-related conversations, many of us may have lost sight of its true meaning. So, what is networking really about? According to Allen, “Networking is not just a mechanism for securing a job. Instead, we should understand it as a bridge between talent and opportunity, access to insider knowledge, and a foundation for new relationships that can lead to mutually beneficial opportunities.” Viewing networking this way is particularly important in the tech industry, where talent is abundant, but opportunities may not always be apparent.

You reap what you sow

The most common benefit of networking is that it can often lead to job opportunities not advertised through traditional channels. “The truth is, many tech companies prefer to hire through referrals or recommendations from their networks,” says Elliott. That’s why networking is essential, especially for those new to the industry, as it’s one of the best ways to connect the right people with the right opportunities, that otherwise wouldn’t find each other. “Building relationships with industry professionals allows tech newcomers to increase their chances of learning about job openings and getting their foot in the door,” explains Allen.

Another advantage of networking is the opportunity to learn about a potential employer and their culture before investing time in applying for roles at companies that might not meet your expectations or needs. “Once you identify employers of interest, your connections can provide insights on how to effectively navigate the application, interview, and salary negotiation processes,” says Elliott.

Additionally, networking offers newcomers in tech valuable tips on understanding the recruitment process—a crucial advantage for those just starting out. “You’re gaining insider information from someone who has successfully navigated the hiring process from start to finish,” Elliott explains. This knowledge can significantly demystify the steps involved and boost your confidence and effectiveness in securing a position.

Mastering the art of networking

The tech environment is famously fast-paced and competitive, making the task of building and maintaining a network from scratch particularly challenging and often exhausting. So, what are some effective strategies to help you master networking as a newcomer in the tech industry:

1. Identify existing contacts

Networking as a newcomer in the tech industry might seem daunting if you believe you’re starting from scratch. However, if you think about it, this is rarely the case! Elliot explains that, “You likely have more contacts in the tech industry than you realize; they might just need reactivating. Take a look through your phone contacts, LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, and Instagram followers to identify people you may have connected with over the years.” Another valuable resource is your university’s alumni association—fellow alumni are often eager to help, and usually just need to be approached.

2. Make it rewarding

Elliott suggests that turning networking into a game can make it less intimidating and more enjoyable. So, what exactly does it mean to “gamify” networking? It involves setting yourself specific, challenging, yet achievable goals. “For example, you might set a target of reaching out to a certain number of people each week or month - then reward yourself for meeting these goals.” This approach can help create a sense of accomplishment and maintain motivation, making the process of building connections feel more like a fun challenge rather than a daunting task.

3. Don’t be self-absorbed

One common mistake newcomers make in networking is focusing too much on self-promotion. “Constantly talking about oneself and one’s achievements can come across as arrogant and off-putting,” says Allen. “Instead, try to build genuine connections by showing interest in others, asking thoughtful questions, and actively listening to their responses.” Networking is about building relationships, not just broadcasting accomplishments.

4. Nurture your connections

Networking isn’t just about collecting business cards—it’s about building genuine relationships. That’s why you need to make sure to send personalized follow-ups, regularly check in with your new connections, and see how you can be of use to them. “Instead of approaching networking with a transactional mindset, focus on adding value by sharing relevant resources, offering assistance or advice, or making introductions to other professionals in your network,” says Allen.

5. Have a system

The more people you meet, the more new contacts you will have, and managing all of them will become more and more challenging. “It can be helpful to establish a system to track and maintain your networking efforts,” explains Elliott. “Consider setting up a spreadsheet or using a calendar system that reminds you to check in with certain contacts every quarter or six months.” That way, you stay connected with your network regularly and you can nurture relationships over time without letting any fall through the cracks.

It’s time to get online

In the digital age, online networking platforms are becoming increasingly important. “They offer invaluable opportunities for newcomers in the tech field to network, showcase their skills, and build their personal brand,” says Allen.

Optimize your profile, join relevant groups, and actively engage - that’s the recipe for digital networking success. “Passive participation on LinkedIn is unlikely to yield significant results, but engaging in group discussions will allow you to establish yourself as an active participant in your field and build relationships with like-minded professionals.”

While LinkedIn is a cornerstone for professional networking, it’s not the only resource for newcomers aiming to break into the tech industry. Our experts recommend exploring three alternative platforms that can also provide significant benefits:

  • Xing - a professional networking platform where professionals can connect, share insights, and explore career opportunities.
  • Elpha - a community platform specifically designed for women in tech, with features such as community support, mentorship opportunities, resource sharing, and networking events.
  • Blind - a powerful social platform, primarily serving tech, that intends to forge connections in the industry.

Craft your personal brand

Personal branding is increasingly important, especially in tech. “It’s never too early to think about your personal brand, particularly in the tech industry, where there’s more competition than ever before,” says Elliott. “Once established, your personal brand can work for you even when you’re not in the room.” This allows people to send you job openings, interview requests, and speaking opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have known about!

So, how can you achieve this? The key is consistently demonstrating proactivity and respect in all your interactions. This will solidify your personal brand as someone who is not only skilled but also a professional worth knowing and working with. Digitally, make your LinkedIn profile reflective of what you’ve done and what you’re capable of. “Make sure your profile is complete, including a professional photo, a compelling headline, a concise summary highlighting your skills and experiences, and relevant work history and education details,” explains Allen.

Elliot suggests that you “regularly update your profile with new internships and projects. Be proactive in requesting testimonials from professors, classmates, and internship supervisors. They all serve as valuable social proof when applying for roles.” In face-to-face interactions, he has one piece of advice - always follow up. “The tech community is surprisingly small, and your reputation is only as good as your word. If you commit to sending a document or making an introduction after a meeting, be sure to follow through.”

Get ready to socialize

Navigating networking events with no prior experience can be intimidating, particularly for recent college graduates. From trying to stand out in a crowd to following particular etiquette, there’s a lot to consider. Luckily, there are a few strategies to help you not just survive, but thrive, at your first networking events:

1. Come prepared

Before attending a networking event, take the time to establish clear and achievable goals. “These goals could involve connecting with specific individuals, gaining insights into new technologies or trends, or exploring potential job opportunities,” suggests Allen. “By outlining your objectives in advance, you ensure that you remain focused and make more meaningful use of your time at the event.”

“As a major introvert, I also find it helpful to come to networking events equipped with a handful of strong questions,” adds Elliott. “People often enjoy talking about themselves and just need to be prompted!” A perfectly timed question can go a long way.

2. Do your research

As you gear up for your next networking event, consider researching the individuals who will attend. “This could entail reviewing the event’s speaker list, researching participating companies, and identifying key individuals you would like to connect with,” advises Allen. This might help you approach conversations with greater confidence and tailor your interactions to the interests and expertise of the people you meet.

3. Bring a friend

If you’re feeling shy, Elliott suggests bringing a classmate or friend with you to the networking event. “It’s a good way to make the event less overwhelming.” However, it’s important to remember that the goal is to meet new people and expand your network, so don’t stay glued to your friend’s side the entire time. Use their presence as a confidence booster, but challenge yourself to approach new individuals and initiate conversations independently.

4. Always follow up

“Networking doesn’t end when the event is over,” cautions Allen. What might be even more important than the networking itself is the way you maintain the relationship after. “Every time you meet someone, you have to follow up with them - be it by a personalized follow-up email, a LinkedIn invite, or a question about a follow-up meeting or call.”

Learning to take no for an answer

Rejection is an inevitable part of networking, especially when pursuing job opportunities in the tech industry. “It’s best to get used to it and get used to it fast,” advises Elliott. “Some people will not respond to your outreach, and that has nothing to do with you. They’re probably busy or simply not checking the platform, which is particularly likely among busy tech professionals.” According to Allen, the best way to move forward is by reflecting on the situation and identifying areas of improvement, rather than dwelling on mistakes. “Did you approach the situation with the right mindset? Were you adequately prepared? By learning from setbacks, you can adapt your approach and grow stronger in your future networking endeavors.”

Elliott also suggests focusing on what’s within your control, such as crafting quality messages tailored to the right contacts, holding yourself accountable for reaching out to people, and keeping track of your networking efforts. “Accountability can make the networking process more enjoyable and decrease the potential for job search burnout.”

One final piece of advice from Allen: “Remember, networking is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and what works for one person may not work for another. Newcomers should be willing to adapt their networking approach based on feedback, experiences, and changing circumstances.” This flexibility and willingness to evolve can lead to more successful networking outcomes and pave the way for meaningful connections and opportunities in the tech industry.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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