Although Charlotte has grown into a mid-sized city, longtime residents say it has retained its small-town charm and continues to be a tight-knit business community.
Because it feels like everyone knows everyone else (either directly or indirectly), it can be difficult to tap your network to find new job opportunities without your boss finding out.
That being said, efforts to expand and diversify the regional economy are taking hold, and networking is one of the best ways to get hired in a new company or industry. If you’re interested in moving beyond your current circle of local contacts, or thinking about moving to Charlotte, here are some tips for expanding your professional network from two longtime residents.
Meet New People by Volunteering
Don’t start asking people for job referrals right off the bat; get to know them first, advised Cristina Veale, a UI developer with Cardinal Solutions and co-organizer of Girl Develop It.
Being involved in the community is a great way to connect with others who share your career interests. “Working side-by-side on real tech projects is a great way to meet people, form relationships and build trust,” Veale explained.
Other tech pros may prove more inclined to refer you once they have an opportunity to see you in action. And knowing whom you can trust will make it easier to mention that you’re open to new opportunities without worrying about your boss finding out.
For instance, tech enthusiasts who volunteer to participate in Nightshift can learn new skills and connect with like-minded individuals while building a real digital product. Or there’s Code For Charlotte, where you can join other developers, data analysts, PMs and tech leaders in developing open-source tools and technology to transform city services.
Meet Business Leaders at Chamber Events
If you’re new to the area or interested in moving beyond legacy employers and IT systems, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start, according to Jim Burris, owner and president of web design and marketing firm Burris Creative.
“The Charlotte Chamber is very active and anyone can attend the meetings,” Burris explained. “You can rub shoulders with the presidents of local tech firms and business leaders who are looking to acquire talent and expand.”
Joining a committee is a great way to network and showcase your skills. Working as part of a diverse team provides networking opportunities that extend beyond a handshake or meet-and-greet.
Committee volunteers tend to develop deeper relationships that lead to referrals and job opportunities, Burris noted. For instance, he says that clients often ask him if he knows web or PHP developers who are interested in in-house positions. When an opportunity arises, chamber members often refer each other.
Take Full Advantage of Meetups
Don’t head for the exit after the speaker finishes their talk, Veale noted. Get to know the meetup organizer and take a few minutes to chat with the speaker; you never know where those contacts and conversations might lead.
The manager recognized her name when she applied for the position and decided to give her a shot. She has since recommended three consultants she met through networking for gigs at her new company.
Leverage Informational Interviews
If you’re employed by one of the major banks or energy companies that have traditionally dominated the local employment market, finding ways to connect with people outside your niche or industry can be especially challenging.
Informational interviews are a great way to get your name out there without the risk of alienating your employer by interviewing with a direct competitor. “Most business leaders in town will let you come in,” Burris said. “They’re happy to talk about what their company is doing and to discuss potential career paths or opportunities with people from outside the industry.”
Networking in Charlotte is similar to a waterfall, Veale noted. It may start out as a small stream—but as you meet more people and get more involved, it picks up velocity.