Office Politics for Geeks

Not being naturally social is no excuse not to network, according to recruiters, because the best jobs tend to go to those who do.  

One of the most common pieces of advice doled to IT folks from career professionals is to improve communication skills. The logic follows that the better they are able to explain what IT can do in business terms, and interpret business demands through technology, the further they'll get in any company.

Yet the ability to communicate well has at least as much use outside the office as it does within. Networking is an essential part of the job-hunting process, and more often than not, it is the acquaintances and recommendations-not "Help Wanted" ads or career sites-that connect people with their future employers.

"The networking piece in job hunting is huge," John Estes, vice president of Robert Half Technology, told eWEEK. "Some of the best jobs aren't even advertised. In fact, there are many times when people get hired on contract when the job wasn't even open, but they wanted this person in-house. By not networking, you're not going to be privy to these kinds of non-listed positions."

But not every person is a natural networker. Not every professional feels comfortable schmoozing at conferences or hawking their business card at events. Not every worker has a budding salesperson within them, ready to reel off their 30 second elevator pitch at the drop of a hat. And a good lot of the people for whom this process feels unnatural work behind computers all day.

This is no excuse not to network though, according to recruiters, because the best jobs tend to go to those who do.

"There is a huge misnomer that people have to go to a Monster or Dice to get a job," said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing for Yoh Services. "The best recruiters do not find their candidates on these job boards."

"They don't post jobs and wait for people to show up. They build a network of people and call them when they need someone," said Lanzalotto, who feels that the key to being on a to-call list is like the deposit-withdrawal concept at a bank.

"If you want to make a withdrawal, you better have money in the bank first," he said. Find ways opportunities to perform favors for people, so they'll remember you when it is time to pay one back.

Don't think of it as marketing

The word networking conjures images of rah-rah sales events or of walking around with a big billboard on. Taking part in continuing education has far more positive connotations, and can be less intimidating.

"Think of it as spending time with a group of individuals who do the same work as you," Estes said. "A great way to do this is through users' events. Then it is less of a 'networking' thing and more that you're with your peers and there's technical education going on. Usually it is in a fairly comfortable setting and there is a speaker."

Leverage Web 2.0 to your advantage

When you submit an application to a company, you want them to be able to get information on you from Google-good information-because that's where they're going to go first. The best way is to put good professional information out there.

"Things like LinkedIn, blogs or even creating a video series on YouTube about, for example, successful project management, if that is what you do," Lanzalotto said. "Now somebody who is looking for a project manager is going to see this video or blog entries you've written about the topic and they'll know you even though they haven't met you yet! It's going out and showing instead of just saying."

Get active in your users' groups

Once you've joined a forum or attended events, it is essential that you let your potential colleagues know who you are, so when someone at their company is hiring one of whatever you do, they will remember the input you gave and find out if you're looking for a job.

"People will start to know that you're an authority on a topic and why do you hire someone?" Lanzalotto said. "Because they're a go-to person and they're a subject matter expert."

Know your elevator pitch

Do you know what you do and what you've accomplished in your job? Can you sum it up quickly? No matter how uncomfortable you feel selling yourself, this will often be the thing that people remember.

"Technology is less about what you do these days than the results you've accomplished," Estes said. "It's all about business results these days, not building a better mousetrap. You should be able to communicate to people your ROA."

Be yourself

Going to an event with a friend can be like having a "wingman" at a bar-they can make an interaction less intimidating, especially if you're not use to striking conversations with strangers. They'll also make it easier for you to be yourself.

"Your reputation precedes you in a job search, even if you don't realize [it]," Lanzalotto said. "Companies want to bring people in because they're a 'great guy' or gal. So, schmooze and when a recruiter calls that person to find out if they might know you, they'll remember that conversation you had about your project positively."