The Beginner’s Guide to Networking Part 1

Talking to Strangers

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It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Are you someone who is looking to advance your career? Whether you are a career switcher, a college student, or just someone who wants to learn more and do more, networking is going to give you the most opportunities. Unfortunately, for many people, it can also cause the most stress. How do you meet people who work at the companies you want to work for? How do you become more successful like your role models? I created this multi-step guide to help you become more comfortable with networking, especially if you have never done it before!

First, a bit about my background. I am an extrovert who was raised by an extrovert. I joke that my mom taught us to talk to strangers (not the creepy ones in kidnapper vans, obviously). My mom was always talking to people in line at the grocery store, at community functions, sitting next to people at school band concerts—we just figured she had lots of friends and knew everybody. She didn’t necessarily know them. She just talked to them. Learning how to talk to strangers helped immensely when I grew up and worked in marketing and sales. Sometimes I had to scour the internet to find my own sales leads. Other times I was representing myself as a freelancer or my employer at events. Either way, I had to figure out where to find people and then how to actually connect with them.

Networking to switch to a career in tech is much better than networking for sales! People are more likely to want to connect with you if you aren’t selling them something. People also love to talk about themselves and their careers. Keep this in mind when you are reaching out to people you don’t know.

Finding People

One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic is that people are much more open to virtual networking. This comes with a couple bonuses: you don’t have to leave your house to meet people, and you can meet people from all over the world! Take advantage of this.

Here are some good places I find people in tech to network with:

Also keep your eye out for virtual conferences, especially ones that have breakout networking sessions. This is obviously not an all-encompassing list. Please add suggestions if you have any recommendations!

Reaching Out

Now that you have found some people through events and social media, how do you make that connection? If you are watching/attending something live such as a virtual conference or stream, and the host asks where everyone’s from, answer! If you are in a tech hub or bigger city, there will probably be quite a few people from your area attending. If you are from a smaller place like Omaha, Nebraska, you can say “hi” to people from nearby areas such as Kansas City or Iowa. Give your neighbors a shout out in the comments section or DMs. Strike up a little conversation and ask them if they are on LinkedIn so you can connect afterwards and schedule a coffee chat.

Example script: “Hi Ron, I see you’re in KC! I’m right next door in Omaha. How’s the tech scene down there?”

After you connect on LinkedIn or Twitter or email, you can schedule a follow-up coffee chat.

Example script: “Hi April, nice meeting you at the Mega Tech Live conference! I was wondering if you could tell me more about your career switch to tech? I would love to chat with you sometime next week if you have 15-20 minutes.”

Pay attention to the speakers at the conferences. The speakers are usually helpful people, and they often will give out their links to LinkedIn, Twitter, and GitHub. After the conference, message them! If you connect with someone via LinkedIn, you can send a message with your connection request.

Example script: “Hi Leslie, I watched your session about open-source contributions at the Super Tech Virtual Summit. It was great advice! I was wondering if you have 15-20 minutes sometime in the next week or 2 that we could chat more, and you could tell me more about your experience?”

If they don’t have DM on Twitter, there’s a more public (and slightly scarier) way to connect, and that’s by tweeting at them. You can also retweet/quote the conference tweet (they usually exist). Granted, this is not a direct request for a coffee chat, this is part of a long-game strategy that we will get to shortly.

Example script: “Just attended @annfakeaccount presentation about using React Hooks and learned a lot!” #thatConferenceHashTag

You can use these same approaches contacting someone from a stream or podcast!

You can also meet people who work for companies that you are interested in working at. This strategy takes a bit more legwork. First of all, you want to research the companies. What do you like about it? What do you want to know about working there? Next, you want to find out people who work there. Sometimes the companies will have a “Meet the Team” page that has everyone who works there and how to connect with them. You can also find that company on LinkedIn and look under the “People” tabs. Finally, take a deep breath. Contacting people who could potentially be your future boss or coworkers can be intimidating. Shoot your shot! After all, you aren’t asking for a job through their DMs, you are asking for information!

Example script: “Good morning Andy, I’m a new software engineer, and I am going to be looking for a new job soon. I have heard some good things about Amazing Tech, and I was wondering if you have 15-20 minutes next week that you could tell me more about working there?”

What about that long-game social media strategy? How does that work? First, follow people from conferences, tech twitter, or different companies. Next, interact with them! Like their posts, leave a comment, retweet posts that you find interesting or informative. This is similar to marketing—you want to have top of mind awareness. Make yourself known as a real person who is getting into tech, and that you are looking for advice. Hopping straight into someone’s DMs to ask for a job is not going to get you very far! After you have built a rapport, then ask for a coffee chat.

Example script: “Hello Chris, I have been following you on Twitter for quite some time, and you always have great content! I’m a new software engineer transitioning my career from marketing, and I was wondering if you have 15-20 minutes in the next couple of weeks, if you could tell me more about how you started working at Amazing Tech and your experiences there?

Messaging Tips

Now that you are ready to start reaching out to strangers aka networking, here are some general tips for sending messages:

  • Keep it short and sweet: People are busy, and if you are sending long-winded messages with multiple paragraphs, they probably aren’t going to get read fully or even read at all!
  • Get to the point: Don’t beat around the bush! If you want to schedule a coffee chat, ask for it. Don’t waste people’s time with fluffy messages wondering if you can ask them a question.
  • Be honest: Tell people why you want to connect. If you are new to tech, tell them you are new, and that’s why you want to get to know people. No need to pretend like you are an industry expert if you don’t know very many people in the industry!
  • Don’t be creepy: Do not comment on anyone’s looks, tell them they are sexy, or message them for anything that is not professional.
  • Don’t spam people: Give people time to respond. If they don’t respond in a couple weeks, you can send a follow-up message, but if you are a nuisance, you aren’t going to get a connection.

In the upcoming parts of this guide, we will cover insecurities and anxieties, in-person events, what to talk about, and how to keep good connections. I want to help people get over their fear of networking, meet wonderful people, and eventually find jobs!

What is the hardest part about reaching out to strangers for you? Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about networking or if any of these tips helped you out!

Read Part 2: Getting up the Nerve

Read Part 3: What to Talk About

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