Monday, July 30, 2012

Lots of IT jobs in Boston (or "How not to network")

I attended a meetup last week for IT professionals, recruiters, and job-seekers in the Boston area.  For me it was a combination of wanting to start networking a bit more actively and maybe seeing if there were any PHP programmers who might fit in at Libboo.

The good and the bad...

My first observation was that there were far more people looking to hire than there were people looking for jobs.  This is good news if you're out looking!  At least this week in Boston.  (I'll have to wait to see if this is a trend or just coincidence.)

But my second observation was that most of the people there really didn't know how to make the most of an event like this.  (This applied both to the job-seekers as well as the prospective employers, which surprised me a bit -- I think of recruiters or managers as being generally more outgoing.)

It turned out that the organizer of the event was running late and couldn't get there to start things off.  So most people were sitting or standing around by themselves, sort of staring at the walls and waiting for someone to come along and connect them with what they wanted.

Don't do that.

Don't be that person.  If you wait around for someone else, you aren't in control of what you get... if you get anything at all.

I know it's difficult to start talking to someone.  Believe me, I really do.  I'm the biggest introvert that I know, and have been all my life.  I still would rather stay home or hang out with a very small group of good friends than go out to a noisy club.  I get exhausted dealing with people, even when I'm having a good time.

But if you're like me, you've heard this advice before.  Again, I know.  I heard it all the time too.  "Just go start talking to people!"  Or maybe, "They're just as nervous as you, you know."  None of those things helped, and frankly I suspect there are a lot of people who really like meeting new people and feel energized afterwards.  Having people lie to me or make the problem sound trivial always hurt more than it helped.

So what does help?

I can't speak for everyone.  (Even if I could, I wouldn't want to.  That's way too many new people to meet.)  But what worked for me was putting myself in a situation where I was forced to be social and outgoing.  I got a job as a Sales Engineer.  (That's someone sitting more or less between sales and engineering; participating in the sales process and meetings but keeping more to the technical aspects of a sale.)

And you know what?  It was hard.  Really, really hard.  I was uncomfortable and stressed and unhappy.  But it got easier, and the more I did it the easier it got.  I still don't jump out of bed every morning wanting to go out and talk to a hundred strangers, but now I'm comfortable enough doing it that I was able to get people talking at a meetup.

I don't know that I'd recommend changing jobs to everyone, but do something that pushes you past your comfort zone.  It will be hard at first, but sticking with it makes it easier.  Join a club, take a class, see a professional if you have to, but forcing yourself to learn and improve these skills will compensate you far more than the discomfort it causes.  (And these things are learnable!  Some people seem to be born knowing how to make small talk and put others at ease.  But the rest of us can learn with enough effort.)

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