AFROTECH 2023 is the perfect place for you to network, so make the most of every opportunity.
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“Networking is crucial for professional growth,” Jordon Miller, a network security professional, told AFROTECH. “It facilitates not only the building of professional relationships but can also open doors to career opportunities, mentorships, and collaborations. Networking offers a chance to learn from others’ experiences and acquire fresh insights. A robust professional network can provide invaluable support and guidance throughout one’s career.”
Miller and talent acquisition and DEI leader Edgardo Perez have offered some insight on networking do’s and don’ts ahead of AFROTECH Conference 2023.
Set Realistic Expectations Before You Land In Austin, TX
In whatever you do, clear expectations should be a baseline. This applies to networking too. You should intentionally set out to connect with other individuals. However, be mindful of your expectations because networking may unfold in unconventional ways. Expect to meet people beyond panels and workshops. You may interact with individuals at a happy hour or the lounge.
At any given moment, you could spark a new connection. So, be mindful and prepared.
“Set realistic goals for each networking event and prepare conversation starters or questions beforehand,” Miller explained. “Engage in conversations with an open mind and a deep respect for the diverse voices present. By actively listening to others’ perspectives and experiences, I can identify common interests and shared goals, leading to authentic connections.”
Be A Resource To Others And Figure Out How You Can Add Value
Understand while networking you can also be making yourself a resource to others. What is your value? When you operate from this mindset, you can also make it easier for others to prioritize a connection with you among the sea of people they will encounter.
Ways in which you can implement this advice in real time includes referring people to jobs at your company, providing insight on the company culture or your career path. Additionally, consider hosting a small gathering at the conference or virtually.
“Two-way, transformational relationships are important, and being a resource is one way to make that possible,” Perez mentioned. “Consider this: If the other person does not think that you have anything of substance to offer them, what is going to incentivize them to want to maintain a relationship with you? Some people don’t want anything in return, but more often than not they have to see the value of your relationship in order for you to compete against other priorities that take up energy and time.”
Authenticity Should Be A Part Of The Formula
Networking does not have to feel so heavily structured that you neglect the most valuable factor: being authentic.
The art of being yourself in and of itself can trump any formula.
“My experience over the last 16 years of networking in professional spaces has taught me that people who are effective at presenting authentically tend to be skilled at finding a balance between demonstrating the unique parts of themselves and navigating the norms of most professional environments,” Perez explained. “I believe this skill is effective because authenticity makes one’s values more accessible to others (including the value of being authentic itself), and it requires a level of vulnerability, which opens up a window of opportunity. More specifically, the opportunity to connect on shared values and build trust, which can help provide the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship over time.”
He added, “I want to acknowledge that authenticity can be really hard when you are a member of a historically oppressed group (and their intersectionalities) that is navigating a society that was not designed by or for you. This is why I focus on balance: being as much of yourself as you can, while also playing the ‘rules’ of the game to get ahead. Both things can be leveraged at the same time.”
Showcase Your Accomplishments (It's Okay To Self-Promote)
Overt self-promotion may not sound like a good strategy. However, Perez argues it should be exercised to ensure people of color remain top of mind.
“I find that overt self promotion is critical, especially for Black and brown talent across all genders, ages, abilities, etc.,” he explained. “If you have limited time to network, it’s important for people to know what you uniquely have to offer. After all, the goal of networking is usually to make professional connections that can ultimately advance your career.”
He added, “I’ve seen what happens when you don’t overtly self-promote, especially with people of color. Your accomplishments or expertise can be easily forgotten, which can put you at a disadvantage when critical opportunities open up. The last thing you want is to be out of sight, out of mind. To that end, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of and occasionally sharing your accomplishments, especially when those accomplishments are standing on the shoulders of others before you.”
Don't Just Stick With Who And What You Know
Another helpful tip to consider is to break free from your traditional network at the conference. Sticking to who you know is always the easy route. However, that can lead to you not gaining the most out of your experience.
“People will come and go in your career,” Perez shared. “If you only stick to the same people, you will miss out on opportunities to become wiser by learning from those who are not like you, miss out on connecting other people to opportunities that you have access to, and lose out on the opportunity to continue to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is critical to your personal growth and navigating risks.”
With that being said, don’t be afraid to greet people in passing, attend diverse panels and workshops, and send that announcement on your socials that you will be attending AFROTECH 2023 and are looking to meet familiar and new faces.
Perez added, “I will admit that even though I work in the recruiting field, the further I get into my career, the more uncomfortable it becomes to not stick to who you know. However, just by taking a moment to greet strangers in the hallway or at some of the named events, I have made life-long friends from branching out at conferences like AfroTech since I started attending in 2018. I’m confident that those friends now will be willing to advocate for me when I need their support professionally, or even personally.”
With these helpful tips, you should feel readily prepared to engage with countless professionals. Be sure, as you network, to water those connections post-conference.