This week I was emailed by my undergraduate University to fill out a survey – as happens quite frequently for past students, even years after graduation. Part of this survey asked graduates to submit once piece of advice for students currently studying and about to enter the workforce. This question comes up reasonably frequently, and what do I recommend?
By that I mean keeping in touch with classmates, industry, and anyone else from any background who won’t mind keeping in touch with you. Make sure you ask for their personal email address, and grab phone numbers if possible. University email addresses will soon expire after you leave, not everyone will jump on to Linked In, and not everyone will want to connect to you on Facebook (nor will you want to share your life with them!).
Get in touch with industry: companies visit Universities regularly for presentations, seminars, and job fairs. You are probably applying for jobs with various companies and can keep in touch with the people you apply to. There are hundreds of industry and local government events held every week that you can attend, for free. Events are listed on their web sites. Put out your hand, introduce yourself, and make a new contact. Ask if you can keep in touch with them, and follow up.
Every three or four months drop them an email or give them a call. It helps if you create a recurring task, calendar event, or ‘todo’ in whatever software you prefer (Outlook, Google Calendar, Remember The Milk, etc). Sure you will get a bunch of people who ignore you, and you can drop them. Just keep building up contacts from all industries and all organisations, whether or not you think you will ever work with them professionally. You just never know when they might come to you asking for advice, or for a referral, or god forbid, to buy your product.
I keep in contact with past employees, even some job seekers that didn’t start with us for whatever reason. I just never know when they might need a job, or I might want to hire somebody like them.
This week I had a former employee refer a friend to me that is interested in what we do. Also a person I met at a conference in 2011 dropped me an email (which we do every few months) to check on how I was going and how the ideas from the conference were being implemented. Kind of a ‘support buddy’.
I wish I could say that I was smart enough to think of all of this myself, but sadly no. I owe a lot to the Manager Tools team for this podcast on building your network. Possibly the cheapest and most important career advice you will ever receive. Listening to dozens of other podcasts, reading business books (both the good and the bad), not to mention magazines and academic journals, they all come to the same conclusion: technical smarts will only get you so far, and then the relationships you have nurtured over time will be required to help you reach your goals.
And here’s the kicker: I’m not a natural people person. I’m a ‘High C’ in the DISC model. This is hard work for people like me – and I’m sure a lot of other people with a computing and programming background will relate. It takes effort and a bit of courage to introduce yourself to strangers, let alone keep in touch. I could quite easily fall back to my natural tendencies and bury my head in technical work. That might work, for a while, until I need some help from somebody. I don’t believe I can sustain 40+ years of working life in a solo, technical arena. Unless you are a certified genius, you might struggle too as well.
What are you waiting for? Start building a list of everyone you know (or want to know) and get in contact with them!