I had the honor of speaking at the Seattle ASCE Younger Member Forum this week. It was a pleasure to speak to such a motivated group of young civil engineers. The topic I discussed was how to network effectively and build strong relationships as a civil engineer.
One of the attendees asked a really important question: "How can a young civil engineer overcome the fear of networking?” She talked about how networking could be a very scary experience, especially for a young civil engineer.
Suspecting this wasn’t a question only relevant to civil engineers in Seattle, I thought that sharing my answer here would be helpful. Here are five actions you can take to help make you more comfortable networking as a civil engineer.
1. Start building deeper relationships with people you already know.
Absolutely, going up to someone for the first time and introducing yourself can be frightening, so why not start by approaching someone familiar? Focus on building deeper relationships with other civil engineering professionals in your firm. Go to the events that you know your colleagues are attending and spend time getting to know them better. Doing this will help you to build your conversational skills and will eventually make it easier to carry on conversations with people you haven’t met before.
2. Network online using LinkedIn.
Believe me, I am huge proponent of making phone calls or meeting with people in person when it comes to networking, but I do also believe in social networking and leveraging tools like LinkedIn. With regard to increasing your confidence, LinkedIn is a great place to build your networking skills, because it feels safer to type a message to someone than to stride right up and introduce yourself.
And while I don’t believe that hiding behind the computer is a good long-term strategy, it can certainly be a more comfortable place to start. Click here to listen to one of my civil engineering podcast episodes where I walk through steps civil engineers can take to build a strong LinkedIn profile.
3. Take note of what’s working for you.
Whether you are deepening relationships with existing contacts, networking on LinkedIn, or pushing yourself to go to in-person events, get a sense of what’s working for you – and also what isn’t – when it comes to networking. Anytime you want to improve a skill set, you should try to pay attention to patterns that have either helped or hurt your efforts.
This is a great recipe for improving any skill set. Making mistakes when starting to network is totally normal, and should happen, but if you make the same mistakes repeatedly, that’s your fault, and doing so will set you back.
4. Join a public-speaking group.
When it comes to effective networking, confidence says it all. The more confidence you possess, the easier it will be to go out there and build relationships.
However, building confidence is not always easy. Here’s one way to do it. Get up in front of a room as often as possible and present on any topic you can.
Yes, I’m serious. I know it sounds scary but, usually, doing things that are scary pays off. Joining a public-speaking group, such as Toastmasters International, will give you a consistent framework for improving the way you speak, which will bring confidence – which in turn will make it much easier (and less scary) to network.
5. Network as often as possible.
In most cases, the more you do something the easier it becomes, and I believe that holds true for networking. You have to get out there and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Trust me, it will be worth it.
Go ahead. What are you waiting for?
“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that's how you grow. When there's that moment of 'Wow, I'm not really sure I can do this,' and you push through those moments, that's when you have a breakthrough.” – Marissa Mayer
Please share in the comments section below some of the strategies you have used to gain confidence around networking.
Anthony Fasano, P.E., F.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website, which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast, and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills by clicking here.
Anthony has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more entrepreneurial: www.EngineerToManager.com.