Keep in touch!
Congratulations, you networking star! Now with a few coffee chats under your belt, you might be wondering what's next. You made a group of new friends, but now do you call them on a regular basis? Send LinkedIn messages? Never talk to them again? Will they think you are using them if you ask for help? What if you didn't really hit it off? Does that make you a bad networker? I have good news for you: you are not alone feeling this way!
Keeping Networking Friends
Making friends as an adult is hard. Keeping them is even harder. Why is this? I have a theory that it's because there's only so much time in the day and we have work, kids, cleaning, commuting, errands, etc. that need to be done. Friends can seem like a luxury or, the alternative, another stressful item on the to-do list. This may sound callous, but networking friends are a little different. You don't have to invite them to girls night once a month or really make any firm commitments. They probably aren't going to be in your inner circle, and that's OK! However, you do want to keep in touch with them.
Let's get something out of the way first. You aren't going to "click" with every person you talk to. Imagine if we all got along with everyone else--no dating apps, no divorces, politicians would be out of a job, world peace! Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in. I alluded to this in Part 3. Don't feel bad if you didn't make a strong connection with someone. When it comes to networking (more so than dating) there are plenty more fish in the sea! Thank them for their time and move on. Follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter or subscribe to their newsletter if you want, but unless you end up working on their team in the future, it's absolutely fine not to talk to them again.
If you do hit it off with your coffee chat, that's wonderful! All the more reason to keep in touch and follow up occasionally. How often should you follow up, though? Well, unlike some family members who want to give you grief because you only call once a week, you don't really have to touch base with your networking friends that often. Here are some of the instances when I reach out to people in my network:
- If I said I would reach out within a certain time frame such as a month
- If I am ready to apply for a position at their company
- When they post on social media that they have a career change such as a promotion or new job
- If their company is hiring, and you know someone who might be a good fit
- If I like them as a friend and I want to get to know them better
- To ask if they are going to a conference or webinar that's coming up
- To follow up on a presentation that they gave
You can come up with your own timeframes and reasons, but don't stress out about it. You don't want to be a stranger is the main thing, because you will want them to remember who you are when it comes time to leverage your network.
Leveraging Your Network
If you don't understand leveraging your network, it might come across as a jerk-move. Have you been in a situation where some punk kid fresh out of college got a job and they don't know anything but their uncle is best friends with the boss? Don't be mad at that punk kid! They just leveraged their network, and you should do it, too! The whole point of building a network is to use it. You want to be connected to people who will connect you with job opportunities, clients, or word-of-mouth advertising. At first, you will need to be the person to ask for introductions and opportunities. As you build and grow your network, people will start coming to you!
Say you get to the point where you are applying to that great tech company that your coffee chat from a few months ago works at. You haven't talked to them for a few weeks, and now you want to let them know you are applying for a job at their company, and could you please use them as a referral. But isn't this using people if you don't talk to them very often, and you only just messaged them because you want something? Yes, it is. There is an unwritten rule about networking connections: eventually, you're going to want something from them and vice versa. It might not be for several months or even years, but it's the purpose of networking.
Reaching out about a job referral or application advice can be even more intimidating and awkward than reaching out to them in the first place! Rest assured, this is a common practice, and even expected!
Example script: "Hi Ron, I saw the job posting for the Front End Developer position at SuperTech. I'm going to submit my resume. Would it be OK to put you down as a referral?"
Example script: "Good afternoon Andy, I'm applying for jobs now, and I saw your company is hiring for a Full Stack Engineer. Do you have a few minutes in the next day or two that you could tell me more about the role?"
Please keep in mind that people are busy and might not see your message right away. Just like with the coffee chat requests, it is fine to send a follow-up message, but do not spam people! Also, do not use anyone as a reference or a referral without asking them first!
The best way to leverage your network without feeling like you are using people is reciprocity. People give to people who give back to them. In 1974, researcher Phillip Kunz did an experiment by sending out Christmas cards to strangers. He received hundreds of Christmas cards back from people he had never met before, and it continued for years (listen to an NPR segment about it). So what does a new software engineer have to give in order to receive?
Remember Part 1 of this series? It's not what you know, it's who you know. And as a newbie, you aren't going to know a lot about whatever tech you have recently learned. However, if you have been following along with this series, you definitely know some quality people! Now you are able to give referrals. There are entire businesses based on giving referrals such as BNI or CenterSphere. The idea is that you introduce someone to someone else. For example, maybe you met someone who is a DevOps expert, or a seasoned QA specialist, or someone who lives in Atlanta. Some time later, while you are talking to someone else, and they aren't hiring engineers right now, but they do need someone for QA, or DevOps, or based out of Atlanta. You know someone! You can introduce them!
Always make sure you have permission to share someone's contact information. And please let them know who will be contacting them! There are a couple different ways to do this depending on what platform you are using. You can message each person individually and then send one person the other's contact information.
Example script: "Good afternoon Leslie, my friend Ann Perkins is looking for a full stack engineering position, and I know your company is hiring. Is it OK to give her your contact info?"
Email or group chats are easier to introduce people but still warn them ahead of time!
Example script: "Good morning April and Ben, Hope you are both doing well! Ben, April is a senior engineer at Major Software Corp., and they are on a hiring spree right now! April, Ben is a full stack engineer and looking for a new job. I thought his personality and skill set might be a good fit for your team! I hope you get a chance to connect!"
Now you are helping them grow their network, fill a need, and maybe even change careers! What a likeable problem solver you are!
Let's not completely dismiss the "what" you might have to offer. You're a player in the tech community now. Sure, other people might have more technical knowledge, but you have a different set of skills than they do. Maybe you have your eye out for interesting conferences or webinars. You can send to your contacts to see if they are going or interested. You can ask questions about new tech news that you have seen come out. If you clicked with someone and you have similar senses of humor, you can share funny memes! And remember how you don't have to only talk about tech? You could ask if your kids are going to be at the same marching band competition this weekend, or if they caught the game last night, or share the pics of that muskie you caught on that ice-fishing weekend you two chatted about.
Long Term Goals
How long should you keep in contact with people? This is not a hard and fast rule. Here's something to keep in mind: once you build your network, it will serve you for years to come. I have had several coffee chats (and even interviews) where I am not a great fit right now, but I will be in a few years. Companies are always growing and changing. They might be creating new roles in a few years that you would be a perfect fit for! If you stay in touch with people, they will remember you and might even reach out to you to come work with them!
How are you feeling about networking after reading this series? I hope you are feeling more confident and positive! I would love to hear if you used any of these tips and how your networking journey is going. Feel free to contact me with any questions.