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Networking in and out of quarantine

August 7, 2020

As a kid one of the (many) things I was told I needed to do was graduate high school, to go to post-secondary, to get a job. These days, though, there’s no such thing as - just - getting a job. If you’re anything like me you might be tired of hearing your relatives tell you about that one time they staged their own sit-in and harassed a manager all day until they were given a job … did that even actually, like, happen? 

One thing I’ve learned is that the people you know are your most powerful tool in your job-getting arsenal. But...what do you do if you don’t know anyone in your industry, and what can you do about it? Let's talk a little bit about networking events: how to find them, and what to do when you’re there -  and yeah, we’ll talk about COVID.

Know where to look

via GIPHY

There’s more than one way to find a networking event, and it greatly depends on your industry. As a game developer, the most effective way to find events I’d be interested in is by following a few key organizations and people in the local industry on Twitter (of all places).

These people usually promote or talk about events they’ll be speaking at, or they’re just a fan of. Once that happens, I simply take a look at that event page and write down all the important details I’ll need. These include the obvious things like date, time and location (or Zoom link/password) and some other specifics I note down for later.

If the Twittersphere isn’t your thing, I don’t blame you. An obvious contender for event finding is LinkedIn, followed by Facebook Events. Facebook is severely underrated and I will stand by that until I die - use the event browser, type in your industry and see what pops up. It's like magic. 

Gather knowledge

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Once I’ve found an event, I try to do some research. I try to find out what I can about the organization, and the specific event itself

For example, an incredibly popular event that takes place in Montreal annually is the Montreal International Games Summit. Game Development students at Ontario Tech go there in droves every November. The first time I went, I took a look at previous event photos to get a sense of the dress code - we’ll talk about this later - and the space itself. 

A tip I’ve taken with me ever since I heard it is to research the speakers or hosts you want to speak to - look them up on LinkedIn and give their profile a visit. Knowing who is giving these talks helps me decide if the person is someone I’d be interested in listening to, and also gives me an opportunity to learn more about them before I approach during the conference. 

Bonus thought: LinkedIn shows users the names of people who’ve looked at their profile - in the normal world this isn’t great, but in a professional context LinkedIn stalking is seen as “taking initiative”, and people might just remember you! The world is a weird place.

Virtual tip: Make some upgrades

I’m expecting that virtual networking is going to be more common even after the world goes back to normal. If you plan on putting your virtual self out there, ditch the microphone in your laptop and do some proper investing. Depending on your computer’s webcam, you might want to consider buying a higher quality one, too. 

I’m not an audiophile by any means, though I’m a big fan of the Blue Snowball iCE. It's a cheap, mid-tier professional microphone and I have been told it keeps things crispy. I swear I’m not sponsored...yet.

I’ve read a lot of posts about upgrading your space, too. As students I think this is particularly difficult for us, since our only real refuge tends to be our dorms or bedrooms, there’s not a whole lot of room to create one of those “professional environments” everyone has been talking about recently. I honestly just make sure I clear my space and maybe throw something impressive in the background so people think I’m more interesting than I actually am. 

Pro-tip: Whiteboards are great for this.

It's not about you!

via GIPHY

Good networking is about focusing on the other person! Be genuinely interested in what they’re saying and ask follow up questions. If you’re shy this is great because it lessens your workload significantly. If you’re like me though and absolutely love to talk this might be harder. 

Dale Carnegie tells a story about this party he was at where he met a botanist. He thought the botanist was really interesting and just kept asking questions about his work, types of exotic plants and gardens for hours. At the end of the party, the botanist told the host that Dale was a great conversationalist, but he hadn’t actually said very much at all. People like talking about themselves! Use that to your advantage, just don’t accidentally fall into the trap of interviewing people. A good rule of thumb is to ask, get an answer, make a quick statement, and then ask something else. 

Also, remember people’s names. Seriously. 

If you want to put your LinkedIn stalking to good use: ask them about a project or job they’ve posted on their profile and talk about those passions - be genuinely interested and you’ll form a lasting impression. 

Know what to wear

via GIPHY

This part seems to daunt people for various reasons, mostly because dress codes are weird and they never actually mean the same thing twice. 

To get an idea of what you should be wearing, taking a glance at pictures from the event the year prior should give you a general idea of what’s going on. I could write an entire post about this on its own, but my go-to rule is that when in doubt, a blazer and a shirt with well fitted dark pants works great. 

It's better to show up to a place dressed slightly above the average than slightly below. I say slightly because you don’t want to be in a tux when everyone else is just in untucked shirts, so stay vigilant.

I also have made the mistake in the past of dressing up but not well. I now routinely check that my stuff is actually fitted properly. I’m a small guy so I’m not trying to show up to something swimming in the fabric around me, and regardless of size, neither should you!

If you don’t have those clothes available to you, the Student Union has a fantastic First Impressions program, to help you get what you need!

Virtual tip: Wear pants appropriate for your outfit even if you’re on Zoom. You don’t want to stand up pantless!

Conclusion

Like most things, networking really is a practiced skill. You get better at it over time and eventually, it stops feeling like you’re trying too hard or that you don’t belong where you are! I’ve met a lot of really awesome professionals and students from all over by attending whatever I have the opportunity to attend - over time these people became my friends and we help each other out when we can. Speaking to like-minded people is one of the best outcomes you can get from networking. Remember to do your research, dress the part and stay humble in conversations and you’ll be great!

By Josh Sankarlal