Strong networking skills are critical in the industries of architecture, engineering and construction (or AEC), and there are many opportunities available to make new connections and help push your professional identity forward.
Many people, particularly young professionals, may initially have some reservations about jumping into networking environments. I want to stress the importance of putting aside any anxiety you feel and getting your name out there. Here are a few steps that I’ve found helpful to gaining confidence in networking situations.
Network well, and network often.
Luckily, there are a ton of opportunities available in the AEC industry. If you’re not sure where to begin, a quick internet search of opportunities in your area will likely give you a good start. With events such as breakfasts, lunches, happy hours, golf outings, sporting events, panel discussions and conferences, there is something out there for everyone. Think about your professional goals and if there’s something that interests you, make plans to attend! You never know who you might meet.
Attend a variety of events.
Avoid attending the same type of event over and over. Instead, research multiple focuses across your industry (healthcare, corporate interiors, design, engineering, etc.) and determine a combination of events that align with your professional interests. Attending a variety of networking events will allow you to extend your reach and build a more diverse list of contacts.
Try going solo.
When attending events, it’s perfectly acceptable to go with a group of your colleagues. However, once you arrive at the venue it can be easy to stay in your group, “huddle” and lose track of time – and opportunities to make new contacts. Try setting a goal for yourself of talking to three new people per event. If the people you came with do the same thing, you’ll have put your company’s name in front of a much larger audience.
Find some common ground.
Approaching new people can be intimidating, so it’s always helpful to break the ice with small talk. The standard, “get-to-know-you” questions are fine – ask which company they’re with (or what department), where they’re from, educational background, hobbies or interests. Networking is supposed to be fun, so don’t try to over-do it when you first meet a new contact. Most networking events require guests to wear nametags. Make sure you’re calling the people you speak with by name – it adds a personal touch and they’ll be more likely to remember your conversation.
Follow-up is key.
Ask for the person’s card and make sure to follow up with a LinkedIn connection request within a few days of the event. If more specific business was part of your conversation, shoot them an email and set up another time to circle back and discuss further over coffee or lunch.
Bottom line, this industry is very opportunistic and you never know what new work can come from the connections you make outside of the office. Following these steps will help you take full advantage of the many opportunities available in the AEC industry, and prep you for greater professional success in the future.
John Mrowczynski is a senior project manager at Reed Construction in Chicago. He works with the Interiors Group, and has experience in all facets of corporate interiors, with a focus on tenant improvement and design-build projects.