This is a guest post by Patrick Sweet, P.Eng.
You’ve likely heard in the past that growing your network as an engineer is key to career success, and that getting ahead is as much about who you know and what you know.
That’s all well and good. It makes sense. The more relationships you have, and the stronger those relationships, the more opportunity you’ll have. The trouble is figuring out how to actually grow your network as an engineer. How do you meet new people? What do you do once you have?
There are two basic components to networking. First, meet new people in your field. Second, find ways to provide value to those people. Networking really is that simple.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you attended an industry conference and went to a lecture. After the lecture, there’s a question and answer period. During the Q&A, someone else asks a very interesting question. After the lecture, you go introduce yourself to that other attendee to ask more about his background, why he asked the question he did, and to learn more about his situation. As it happens, you both use the same specialty modeling software at work.
About a week later, once you’ve returned home from your conference, you find a great tutorial on using a particular feature of that modeling software. You realize how useful it could be to you and think that it could also be a big help for the person you met at the conference. You go through your business cards, find the person’s contact info and send an email to say hello and pass along the link to the tutorial.
Ta-dah! You’ve just networked.
This may seem a bit contrived, but it’s meant to illustrate how easy it can be to network as an engineer. As you continue to meet new people and continue to provide value to those people (which is an ongoing process, by the way), the value of your relationships will grow and opportunities will come.
Where to go to grow
This leaves us with an interesting question: where do you go to meet new people? In the recent past, I’ve had some great luck meeting new, interesting people through outlets other than conferences.
As the founder of a small management consulting practice, I was able to join a local business incubator for free. This has given me access to interesting programs, a workspace, and most importantly a place to meet other interesting, like-minded people. If you are a solopreneur or are looking to grow a small business, there is very likely an incubator or some sort of support network in your town. Check it out and see if you can do anything to help other members. There should be plenty of opportunities to find people who could use a helping hand.
Meetup.com is a great way to find other people in your area who are interested in the same kinds of things you are. Simply put, the website facilitates people meeting up to take part in activities related to their common interests, whatever those interests may be. It’s as easy as signing up, finding groups, and joining the next event.
Another good way to meet new people is to take in-person courses locally. In all likelihood, your local library or community college offers free or low-cost courses throughout the year. For example, my local library has a whole series on small business courses that they offer for free. That would be a great way to meet others who like the same things I do and could possibly benefit from the services I provide.
For bonus points, you could actually take leadership roles in any of the above ideas. You could start a lunch-and-learn series at the start-up incubator. You could form your own Meetup.com group. You could start teaching a new course at your library. Being active in this way sets you up in a position of leadership and authority in the eyes of the others who gather there, putting you in an excellent position to start new relationships.
Now that you have some ideas for how to actually meet new, interesting, and relevant people, your task is to go out and do it. Take action today to sign up for a meet-up, course, or local interest group. Take the initiative today to get the process started. Once you have, come back to leave a comment and let us know how things went and what your experience was like.
About Patrick Sweet
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA is a product, project, and engineering management consultant, and the founder of Tandem Consulting Co. He helps organizations create profitable products, boost productivity, and manage complexity. Get a copy of his new eBook on leadership for product developers, innovators and engineers for free here.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on how to network as an engineer.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success