Networking is an essential skill that any engineer must utilize frequently to be successful in their career. A big part of the job search process is about building relationships with people, and using these relationships to find new career opportunities. Networking takes time and you must make a point of meeting new people consistently and honing your networking skills to reach out to the right people. So what do you need to do to build meaningful relationships to land an engineering job?
List your existing contacts
Start by making a list of all the people you know – family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, and even casual acquaintances. Each person on this list immediately connects you to another network and may know of an available job or a connection to someone who will know of one. Let your contacts know that you are looking for a job and be specific about the type of work that you are looking for so that they know where to start.
Expand your boundaries
Join a professional organization, a club, sports team, or volunteer. By attending industry network events or joining a professional organization you get to meet people with a similar background. An inexperienced engineer can consider reaching out to smaller companies in the industry and asking them if they take on volunteers. This adds relevant experience on to your resume and allows you to use the company as a reference. While some contacts may seem irrelevant such as those you get from sports teams and the like, some of these people may be aware of excellent opportunities that would benefit you. It is important not to overlook any contact.
Map out your networking strategy
Identify the associations, groups and clubs that you would be interested in joining. Schedule a number of events (at least two or three) in a month that you want to be attending to build your relationships. Have a little introduction planned out and practice it enough so that you come off sounding natural. Keep your business cards ready which you can hand out to people you meet through these events and associations. Don’t rush to hand out your cards to everyone though – you will come off as desperate. Prepare questions that you will ask other people. Show genuine interest in what they do and trends within the industry.
Reinforce your communication skills
To succeed in networking you must have excellent communication skills. You must be able to convey your educational background, skills, and interests; and create a positive impression that will make you memorable. Most importantly, you must be a good listener and pick up on other people’s emotions. Your body language should match the words that you are saying. Try to use open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance and maintaining eye contact with the person you’re talking to. This will make you more approachable.
Once you have collected business cards, don’t let them sit idly on your desk and pick up dust. Send out emails, call people up and arrange meetings. Prioritize your contacts and reach out to them on a regular basis so that they will have you in mind when opportunities come up. Don’t be afraid to initiate contact. Remind them about where you met, what you discussed, share information that may interest them and try to get a face to face meeting or even a short phone call. You may meet a lot of people during an event and it may be hard to remember what you discussed. Keep small notes that will remind you what you discussed with different people.
Remember that networking must be a mutually beneficial connection for both parties. Helping others reinforces your relationship and gives you purpose. Reciprocating can be done through very simple actions: sending a thank-you note, asking them about their family, emailing an article you think they might be interested in, and checking in periodically to see how they’re doing. Nurturing your relationships helps you establish a strong network of people you can count on for ideas, advice, feedback, and support.
Remember that people judge you based on first impressions. If you intend to network with people through events make sure your personal appearance is appropriate for the gathering. Wear clothes that are suitable for the function and have a good fit. Proper grooming is fundamental and most importantly, be comfortable in what you choose to wear. Don’t be remembered as the engineer who had bad breath.
There is no doubt that face-to-face meetings are the best way to solidify relationships. However relationships can be built and flourish through unconventional avenues such as social media. Popular sites for networking include Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can easily keep in touch with people you have met through such platforms as well as network with people who work at companies that you are interested in. Social media can benefit you by keeping you informed of trends and news, serve as a place to source jobs and internships, and allowing you to expand your network.
Maximize your opportunities
Make sure you take full advantage of all networking opportunities and make an effort to attend as many as you can. For networking to succeed, you have to be active in all the platforms you pursue. There is no point in joining associations and signing up for events if you have no intention of showing up or participating. Take steps to stand out and get people to notice you. Contribute to discussions and gather information that may interest people in your field.
Maintain your contacts
Even when you do find a job, don’t neglect your contacts or wait for an emergency before you pick up the phone to speak to them again.Share information, knowledge, expertise and opportunities with others. If they reach out to you for help, try to lending a helping hand where you can. Focus on cultivating and maintaining quality relationships as opposed to rushing to meet new people all the time. A meaningful contact is bound to take you much further than a new person who does not interact with you very often. Keep your contacts updated on any career changes, your contact information and share information that they may find interesting.