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Articles > IT Employer Information - Trade Groups are “KEY” in IT
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IT Employer Information - Trade Groups are “KEY” in IT

5½ Steps to Utilize Them Effectively

By JDA Professional Services, Inc.

As an IT manager, you read books and talk with respected mentors about how to become a more productive and effective manager, and you often hear suggestions of joining professional trade groups.  But, you wonder to yourself why this is so important and how it will help.  In your position, it is imperative that you stay current with industry trends, learn effective tactics for dealing with common challenges, and remain connected to people in similar positions and/or fields.  With experience in the IT industry reaching back to 1981, we have found that the best way to achieve all these goals at once is to join and participate in professional trade groups.

The key here is participation.  Simply joining a trade group does very little to better your situation.  One of the common mistakes made by professionals regarding trade groups is that they tend to use them on a sporadic basis when they need something, and most of the time this tactic is insufficient.  Being an effective member of a trade group is a long-term process involving the development and maintenance of relationships over time.  Whether you are currently a trade group member or are looking to join one in the near future, starting today you can learn to utilize trade groups effectively by following these 5½ easy steps:

Step 1:  REALLY DO YOUR RESEARCH
Before joining any trade groups, you should do your research to find the ones that best fit your professional needs.  These groups are specific. For example, some apply more to managers and would then deal with management-type issues more readily.  It is also important, however, that you join trade groups with a variety of IT professionals where you can possibly meet future employees.  The Internet is a great place to conduct your search.  Most professional trade groups have their own websites, so if you search key words for your industry you will likely find the groups that best meet the needs of your profession.  Another great resource for finding good trade groups are your best employees.  This strategy will give you insight into how active your employees are in trying to better themselves professionally, and you will find out which groups may contain some potential top talent.  You may also want to ask managers and employees in similar departments which trade groups have worked best for them.  Be sure to include your boss in on this research process.  As he or she has likely been in your position before, they will probably have some great ideas and will certainly appreciate your enthusiasm.  Once you have compiled a good list of trade groups, visit each of their websites and research their upcoming events.  Chances are you will find several groups that are of great interest to you.  If you want to make things easy on yourself, check out the Hi-Tech Events Calendar on the JDA website, which includes events from many of Houston’s most popular IT trade groups, and is by far the most comprehensive in the area.  

Step 2:  SHOW UP
Once you have decided which trade groups you would like to visit, start attending their events immediately.  Be sure to schedule these meetings in your appointment book.  In your busy life as a manager, it is very easy to cancel or forget activities that are not scheduled.  You will likely need to attend more than one event per group before deciding if you want to join the organization.  It is important to note that not all events will necessarily benefit or pertain to you.  There will also be some trade groups that are simply not a good fit for your professional needs.  And should you find such an organization, by all means, move on.  Upon deciding which trade groups will be most beneficial for you, start scheduling yourself to attend their events regularly.

Step 3:  GET TO WORK
Showing up is only half the battle of effectively using a trade group.  The other half is achieving your purpose in being there.  When attending trade group events, you should have two main goals in mind – networking and education.  Networking is an extremely important aspect of your job as a manager.  Not only is it imperative that you expand your network of mentors, colleagues, and customers, but you must continuously be on the lookout for your next crucial hire.  Always try to schedule yourself to arrive at an event 30 minutes early to allow time to speak with as many people as possible.  Most trade groups today will in fact include networking time in the event schedule.  While networking, you will meet all kinds of people; some will become excellent professional contacts, and others will not.  Keep in mind that every person you meet has a network of their own.  So while you may never directly do business with, exchange ideas with, or hire that person, they may know someone whom you’d like to get to know and vice versa.  When you meet someone who could possibly become a great contact, use your time wisely.  The biggest mistake people make in networking is focusing too much on themselves rather than the other person.  Most people try to hand out their business cards to every person in the room.  Your focus should be on getting to know more about other people.  Ask them questions, get their business cards, and show interest in what they say.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give out your business card or answer questions, but there are better times to put more focus on that.  Do your best not to ask for favors upon first meeting someone.  If you do, they may see you as “high maintenance” and will probably avoid your calls and emails in the future.  After meeting someone of interest, you should take a second or two to write down details about the person (e.g. what they look like or what you discussed) on the back of their business card.  This will help you to remember who they are, what they do, and how they could be helpful at a later date.    

Quick Tip ---- Trade groups often host social events which are great for networking as people are typically more relaxed and there is more time for conversing.

Your other goal at trade group events is to absorb as much resourceful information as possible.  Most trade groups will include an industry-relevant presentation at their meetings and do a good job of publicizing meeting topics in advance on their websites.  When you arrive at the meeting, make sure you find a good seat where you can hear the speaker and see any visuals they may display.  It may be beneficial to find a seat next to one of your new business contacts (preferably the mentor type), so you can witness their verbal and nonverbal reaction to the presentation.  They may have something extra to add to the topic.  It is very important that you bring a pen and paper to every meeting you attend.  Taking detailed notes is important if you intend to utilize the information in the future.  Our ability to remember details is not as keen as most of us would like to think.  Immediately upon returning to the office, it is a good practice to file your notes so that when you need information on that topic at a later date, your notes are readily available and easy to find.  

Step 4: START BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
Schedule yourself an hour or so after each event to review your stack of business cards and put your new acquaintances into your contact system.  If you wait too long after the event to do this, you may not remember important details about each person or conversations you had with them.  Be sure to add information about the person that will help you not only to remember who they are but to give you great conversational ideas for future communications (e.g. what they look like, where they work, what they do, their hobbies, and their kids and their hobbies).  Be sure to send your new contacts an email stating that you enjoyed meeting them and follow up with information regarding any conversations you had at the event.  In the future, make it a point to follow up with each of your contacts on a semi-regular basis.  Send them an article or an upcoming event date about something they mentioned was an interest.  That way it doesn’t turn out that the only time they hear from you is when you need something.  A good time-saving trick is to put all your contacts into categories based on the type of business they do or their personal interests or both.  That way you can send information to several people at once and be more effective in your networking.  Be sure not to make the all too common mistake of bombarding professional acquaintances with daily junk emails such as jokes, riddles, or religious inspirations.  If you do this, chances are they will block you from their email forever.  

You might also consider getting to know the leaders of your trade groups.  Typically they are familiar with most of the group’s members, and they may be able to guide you in your efforts to establish solid professional contacts.  Additionally, these are the people that make decisions regarding when and where to have events, which topics will be presented, and who will present the topics.  If you build strong relationships with the leaders, you may not only have the opportunity to voice your opinions on these issues, but your opinions may have more clout.  You may also offer to give a future presentation in your own area of expertise.  What a great way to help others, get some positive exposure, and earn the respect of your peers all at the same time.    

Step 5:  DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
One of the main purposes of joining a trade group is to meet people who may be able to help you in a time of need and vice versa. It would be pointless to put in all this effort if you were not going to make use of your contacts in the future.  If you have followed the advice and stayed in touch with your contacts on a semi-regular basis, they should have no problem with your contacting them for help when it is needed.  One of the best ways to ask for help is to send an email containing something that you think would be helpful to that person.  In the email, mention that you are in need of help yourself regarding a particular issue.  Follow up later in the day with a phone call.  Chances are you will get the help you need.

Step 5½:  BONUS TIP -- BE A RESOURCE!
Many experts say that the most effective way to ensure you can find help when you need it is to help others first.  Be sure to let your new business contacts know right away that you are willing to help them in any way you can.  You definitely want to make it on their radar so they consider you a valued acquaintance.  That way when you contact them at a future date, they are not wondering who you are or where they met you.  Becoming a presenter at your trade group meetings is a great way to be a resource to many people all at once.  If you are willing to give your colleagues some great tools to deal with their own professional challenges, they will likely be more apt to return the favor when called upon.

While these tips may seem like simple common sense, it is very easy to dismiss them and not take full advantage of your trade group associations.  By putting these suggestions to work, you can quickly become a more effective networker and trade group member.  Visit the JDA Hi-Tech Events Calendar on our website today, and begin your research of the best trade groups in Houston.  The sooner you join a trade group, the sooner you can start learning more about your industry and building more solid professional relationships.  In no time, you will likely see better business results.  

For other great ideas about networking, we suggest you visit the website of author, speaker, and “approachability” expert, Scott Ginsberg (aka: The Guy with the Nametag), at www.hellomynameisscott.com.

Remember that JDA Professional Services, Inc. is a reliable, effective, and highly knowledgeable IT staffing firm specializing in the recruitment of strategic-technical to executive-level professionals in Houston.  We provide staffing solutions through full-time, contract, and project-based placements.  Since 1981, we have been helping companies build great IT departments while helping IT professionals find the right career opportunities.  Because of our experience, we are the leading provider of industry and career management information for IT managers in the Houston area.  You can find other related articles on our website at www.jdapsi.com or call me directly at 713-548-5444 to discuss your IT hiring needs in detail.  


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