For some people, learning how to “network” tends to feels like learning a different language. The idea of the whole process might feel mysterious, like some elusive checklist with a hundred resumes to send out, one thousand emails to write and zillions of boxes to check on an online job portal.
On the other hand, maybe when you picture the activity of “networking” in your mind, you envision yourself walking around the hackathon venue handing a spiffy business card to everyone you meet.
Both of these mental images of networking might make the whole practice feel inauthentic, pushy or scary, but in reality, it’s not like that at all!
Instead, think of networking like you’re just making friends with people who are are excited to meet you.
At hackathons, there’s value in investing time and energy into building relationships with the people you meet making an effort to staying connected with them.
Have no fear! You too can learn to become an expert! As a hacker, you’re already good at figuring things out — becoming an expert at “networking’ is no different.
How can I build rapport with sponsors/mentors/professionals/other students?
At a hackathon the wall is already broken down because everyone who attends the event is working towards similar goals: building awesome things and meeting awesome people.
The people who choose to spend their weekend mentoring are there to help you and are excited to do it!
What’s great about meeting people at events like Hackathons is that most of the people that you’ll meet at these events were once in your shoes. They have wisdom and insight you can’t get anywhere else. They also are some of the most excited and passionate people ever – they’re excited to be part of your community. They are taking the time to help you learn, build and share new skills!
One of the most exciting ways to begin a great conversation with other people at events is to be truthful and curious with them.
Here are some conversation starters:
- Ask others what they’re building
- Ask what they did before working at their current company
- See how they got where they are today
Just by simply asking a sponsor, mentor or fellow student how their day is going, you’ve already opened the door to making a real impression on that person across the table or standing next to you in line. It’s as easy as that!
Get Curious == Get Connected
Networking isn’t always about helping someone get ahead, but instead, sharing helpful or interesting resources with them to help them grow. There’s long-tail value of just building connections with people who are similar to you and want to collaborate (whether it’s fellow students or professionals) without an immediate payoff / implication of getting a job.
In fact, a big part of networking is being open to learning about another person, what they’re interested in and who they are beyond their job! Being genuine, being curious and being good at listening are often the best ways to learn new things.
When you have the opportunity to speak with a person at an event, make sure you ask them questions. Ask them what their day-to-day is like. Ask them what they most enjoy doing. Ask them what type of people tend to do well on their team in their department! Showing curiosity goes a long way, and may even lead to learning something totally unexpected / totally awesome about another person.
Listen, Learn, Launch!
When you listen carefully to someone, you’ll have a good idea about what that person cares about. From there you’ll know how to help them, what you could show them, or determine other interesting/useful way you’d be able to contribute to the conversation. The exchange becomes less about getting something from them and more about both of you bringing something to the table as human beings.
Ask what can I help you with?
It is also possible to help another person or company solve a challenge they’re facing. Often, this process starts with listening. If you listen well, you’ll have the opportunity to follow up with creative solutions to their challenges. After having a sense of what motivates others to learn, build and share; you then have an opportunity to follow up with them and share a link, send them email, or a funny cat video (if that’s what they’re into).
The Follow Up
Connecting with others is a great way to get your ideas, art and passions out into the world. Real connections are made offline and it is in your interest to meet people like you. After an event ends – send them a message that it was nice to meet. Share them the link you talked about. See when they are free to get together again.
If they’re local, maybe invite them to your hacker club to speak on a topic. Develop something you care deeply about or love to do and do it one hundred percent. If you are looking for a new opportunity, make sure to go out and meet like-minded people in real life.
Reach out, connect and don’t be afraid to ask others for advice. There are companies out there who need you to help them be the best in the game, so be your best, go forth and find your people!