Most people say networking with invisible air quotes (and sometimes an eye roll):“Networking.”As in, that activity we know we’re supposed to do, but always feels silly.
As in, that thing on our to-do list that always gets superseded by more tangible items, such as updating our resume or publishing an update on GitHub.
As in, that reason we sign up for tech talks and software developer conferences and programmer meetups—and inevitably end up talking to those we already know.
We get it. We’ve been there ourselves. But here’s the key to successful networking: you have to reach out to people on your level.
If you message someone who’s way further along in their career, you might get a response, or you might not. Chances are, that person is extremely busy—and most of the knowledge is going to flow one way: from them to you.
If you connect with someone who’s less advanced than you, the opposite is true: they’ll learn a lot from you, but you’ll get less from the relationship (We’re not suggesting that you never sit down with junior folks. On the contrary, doing so is a fantastic way to give back to your professional community; it’s just not the right option for this type of networking.).
Talking to someone who’s at the same place as you is the best of both worlds. You can learn from them, they can learn from you, and if either of you gets a career opportunity that you decide not to take, you can recommend your peer.
Wondering how to start? Here are our suggestions:
1) Come up with a list of titles equivalent to yours
The first step is figuring out who’s eligible for outreach. Maybe everyone in your role has the same title. For example, if you’re a product manager, finding other product managers is going to be simple—the most variety you’ll probably see is “associate” product manager versus “senior” or “principal.”
If you’re a Tableau specialist, on the other hand, your contemporaries could go by a bunch of different names: data analyst, Tableau developer, BI strategist, analytics manager, BI engineer…and the list could go on and on.
Come up with all the variations you can think of on your specific title. LinkedIn is a great resource here; we recommend searching your core qualifications and seeing which jobs and/or people come up.
Looking to get noticed? Read more ways to get recruiters to find, notice & contact you on LinkedIn.
2) Find your prospects
That brings us to the next step: identifying good candidates for connecting. Armed with your list of job titles, run some LinkedIn searches.
Don’t restrict yourself to your industry or geographic area—you can learn a ton from people in other verticals or parts of the world. All that really matters is that their job is similar to yours, and that’s covered thanks to the filtering you did in the previous step.
Try not to be picky. After all, it takes a little less than a minute to reach out to each person, and there’s virtually zero downside. The worst they can do is not respond.
3) Use the right template
Writing the message is probably the hardest part and, luckily, we’ve already done most of the hard work.
Feel free to use this template as is or make some tweaks so it’s closer to your voice.
Hope you’re doing well. I came across your profile while searching for [job title]—I do [X] for [company], and I’m hoping we can share learnings, challenges, etc. I’ve done this with a few other folks and it’s been pretty insightful. Let me know if you’re interested in [a call, getting coffee.]
Note: There’s a 300-character limit for LinkedIn connection invites, so you may need to get a little creative to make your entire message fit.
4) Prepare for the conversation
Lining up some questions and conversation-starters in advance is key; you don’t want to go in without an agenda, or there’s a decent chance you’ll spend all your time on superficial topics.
There are a few things we recommend asking everyone:
What problem are you currently trying to solve?
What’s something you tried in the last year that worked/you’re proud of?
How can I help you?
The first two questions typically lead to valuable, interesting discussions, and the last helps you reciprocate their willingness to help you. We also recommend crafting some personalized questions for each person based on their job and/or experience, such as, “What did you learn while working at [former company]?” “Who do you follow in [Y industry]?”
We hope this strategy helps you learn from your peers, form new connections, and develop your reputation in the field.