When I was younger I used to be appalled by the term “networking”. It sounded so underhanded and unattractive. The entire premise of shaking hands with someone and having the underlying expectation of “you’ll scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” just felt contrived.
But at the time I didn’t realise the power networking had to not only open me to an immense pool of opportunity but to also provide serendipity and amazing conversations with people I was genuinely interested in who were also genuinely interested in me.
When I started networking, I was a total noob. I had no idea how to write emails, use LinkedIn or even strike up conversation at an event. This article is for anyone new to the world of networking who’d like to know the secrets to meeting awesome people and maintaining valuable relationships.
Read below if any of that sounds interesting and you’d like to reap the benefits of networking and meet some awesome people.
1: Why should I even network?
I’m sure you know what networking is. But if you don’t, it’s where you connect with individuals in similar industries or spaces in order to exchange information.
And while people drone on and on about the fact you should network, very few people go out of their way to do it.
The fact is, the people with the strongest networks tend to have the best opportunities available to them. That alone should motivate you to bite the bullet and take the steps to get out there. But if you’re still not convinced, the benefits don’t end there. Other advantages include:
- Job opportunities. 85% of people are hired through networking. By expanding your network and building a presence as a capable leader and worker you’ve become a walking resume. You’re more likely to get hired from a friend because they trust your work over a random job applicant.
- A support network. Developing a network means you’re not forced to face problems in life on your own. It means you’re able to lean onto other people for help or guidance with your own projects and work.
- Community of like-minded people. If you’ve never heard of the Paypal Mafia, you should search them up. They’re a group of billionaire techies that first started as the founding team at Paypal. They’ve gone beyond to work on other massively well-known startups like Tesla, Palantir and LinkedIn, but prove that surrounding yourself with other driven and intelligent individuals will pay in spades in the future. If that sounds cool, you should also look into mastermind groups.
- Building your confidence. Almost no one finds it easy or natural to start talking to random people and become buddy-buddy, but the more you interact with “strangers”, the more self-assured and adept you become at doing so.
- New perspectives. If you don’t surround yourself with individuals of all backgrounds, experiences, and mindsets, you’ll trap yourself in an echo-chamber of your own thoughts. Talking to new people from different walks of life can help you grow as a person.
2: How you should think of networking
What’s your reason for networking?
Hopefully that’s convinced you to pull up your LinkedIn and search for networking events. But not so fast. Before I get into the right approach to networking and how to reach out to people without getting seenzoned, I’d like to ask… Do you have clarity on why you’re networking?
Even though I’ve listed all the wonderful benefits of networking, I’ve had many times where after a coffee, I’m left with a “now what?” kind of feeling. No learnings, no new contacts, no new ideas, nothing. While people boast about how “a person they reached out to changed their life” or the benefits of networking (sort of how we did earlier…), networking can also be terribly unproductive and overrated if you don’t have a purpose.
So why exactly are you networking?
- Are you reaching out to recruiters for a job?
- Are you trying to meet experts or leaders in your industry to get new insights?
- Are you curious on what someone else’s job is like?
- Do you just want to meet cool people working on a project or startup?
Your intentions for networking is super important, because it should dictate the kinds of people you reach out to and how you meet these people.
For example if you’re looking to network to get a job, you should be reaching out to recruiters and people in similar or senior roles at companies you’re interested in working at.
The point is, don’t start networking simply for the sake of networking. It’ll rub off as disingenuous and won’t be very productive in the long-run.
3: Where should I start?
It’s hard to know where to start in reaching out to people if you don’t know anyone. Our say on the best place to find people to start talking to is would be LinkedIn.
Hopefully you have a LinkedIn account that’s primed to start reaching out to people, but if you don’t or think yours needs some more polishing, you can check out our guide on creating an eye-catching and authentic profile here.
LinkedIn is one of the most critical professional resources you can use to expand your network. If you have LinkedIn I would suggest to start by…
Looking for people that are 2nd degree contacts
If you’ve ever done a bit of networking before, you would’ve heard of 1st, 2nd and 3rd level connections. Below you can find an image of what I mean.
LinkedIn will show you on a person’s profile if they’re a 2nd degree contact. The reason why you want to aim for these people first is because they’re more likely to respond to a message or reach out if you both mutually know someone.
Cold contacting people that are fields of interest
Otherwise, LinkedIn’s search function is the next best thing.
For example, if you’re interested in cyber security and want to find people with experience in that line of work, it’s as simple as searching “cyber security” in LinkedIn. If you’d like to narrow down your results, LinkedIn’s also great at that too! In the top bar you can find people based on their location, company or even past company.
Sift through the people that appear and view their profile to see if a person is someone you’d be interested in connecting with. If they are, press “connect” and send them a personalised message to connect.
Sending a personalised message is incredibly important, because you’ll automatically stand out from the pile of people who don’t send a message when connecting.
For myself, only 1 in 20 people that request to connect with me send a personalised message, and guess what? I accept every one of those requests as opposed to those who don’t.
How to Introduce Yourself
An introductory message or elevator pitch can follow this simple structure:
Hi [Person’s Name],
I’m [Your Name], a [Degree] student at [University]. I’m passionate about [Field/Industry of Interest] and I previously [Past Work/Volunteer Experience].
I noticed your profile and was interested in learning more about your experience at [Company] as [Role]. I would love to learn more from you about [Whatever You’re Curious About].
Would you be available for a 15-minute phone call next week for a quick chat?
And putting this into practice might look like…
I’m Anna and I’m a Computer Science student at the University of New South Wales. I’m passionate about cyber security and ethical AI and I’ve previously interned as a Data Science Engineer at Cyber Solutions.
I noticed your profile and was interested in learning more about your experience at Facebook in their Artificial Intelligence department. I would love to learn more about your career journey and hear your take on how we can use AI as a force for good on social media.
Would you be available for a 15-minute phone call next week for a quick chat?
The more personalised you can make these reach out messages, the better.
See if there are any tidbits about the person that interests you or you’d like to know more about and include them in your message.
If they mention they used to be a chess grandmaster and you used to lead the chess team at your school, bring it up. If they went to the same school as you, bring up the fact they’re alumni. If they’ve posted about something they’re interested on LinkedIn and you so happen to have that same interest, talk about it! The point is, any connection you can make with this person from the very start cements your chances that they’ll want to talk to you.
What if I Don’t Hear Back?
If you don’t hear back, it’s a shame, but people are busy and forgetful.
If they haven’t responded to your initial message after a week, send them a follow-up message noting that you’re still keen to talk.
If that still doesn’t work, I would suggest instead sending an article you found interesting that related to their work in a months time. A few weeks from then, ask if they would be willing to catchup on Zoom or have a coffee.
If they still don’t respond back to you, it could be that they’re, frankly, uninterested in talking to you. Don’t take that as an insult or your own fault, they could simply have a lot of things going on. Nonetheless, there are plenty of other people out there that can be helpful or willing to talk to you.
4: Maintaining Your Relationships
But wait, there’s more!
In the same way you would catchup with friends, the same applies to your network.
Assuming you hit it off well with the person you reach out to on LinkedIn, you should keep in contact and update him or her on your milestones, achievements and work updates. If you’ve positioned the person you’ve met as a mentor they will love to see you stay in touch and the impact they’ve made in your career. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people you’ve helped succeed and kill the game – that’s hype.
A template for what to tell them can be as follows…
Hi [Person’s Name],
Hope you’ve been well since we last spoke in [Month]! Thanks again for all your help so far.
I wanted to give you a quick update on what I’ve been doing for the past 3 months which are as follows:
It would be great to hear from you! [Call to action]. Thanks and have a wonderful day!
An example of this in practice would look like…
I hope you’ve been well since we last spoke in January! Thanks again for all your help so far. I wanted to give you a quick update on what I’ve been doing for the past 3 months which are as follows:
– I recently started interning as a Junior Cyber Security Analyst for a Sydney-based SaaS startup
– Just finished a free online course on Udemy on Python
– Built a prototype for my software development project!
It would be great to hear from you. How have you been since we last spoke and how is Facebook treating you? Would love to know! Thanks and have a wonderful day.
A pro-tip to stay on-top on maintaining your relationships is to track when you reach out to people.
You can use our own spreadsheet template to manage your networking connections, here.
5: Other Places to Network
The reason why LinkedIn is a great go-to, is because it’s accessible and allows you to connect with most people on the internet. Of course, people in the industry you’re interested in might not be on LinkedIn––the platform mainly caters to people in business and tech.
If that’s the case you can meet people at:
- Internet forums and online communities. In the past few years there’s been a tremendous rise in online communities, for example: Indie Hackers (for entrepreneurs), Hacker News (for developers), FinTech Circle (for people in FinTech)
- Hackathons, industry conferences and networking events. Every industry tends to have flagships events and conferences where people congregate to discuss news or get to know others. Checking platforms such as EventBrite can help with identifying different events with opportunities to meet industry leaders. However, there can a danger to networking events where you only expand your horizontal network (link).
- Community work. Volunteering and community work can also allow you to meet other people you generally wouldn’t meet on platforms such as LinkedIn and can also introduce you to people in the not-for-profit sector or those working in social enterprises.
- Student organisations and groups. If you’re in university, student groups will also generally run events and mentoring programs where you can meet with industry leaders more closely.
6: Best Practices to Networking
So now that we know why we’re networking, where to go to meet people and how to strike a conversation, you might still feel like you’re sitting in the deep end of things.
We’d like to offer some principles that will help you with your networking endeavours and turn you into someone people want to meet and talk to.
Principle #1: Prepare well
Preparing well will be the key to making the most of your session with a person who has offered to give up their time. Be sure to:
Do a background check on the person before your meeting
Note down if there are any experiences that interest you as some talking points or area for conversation. Not being able to know a person’s past experiences and walking blindly into a meeting with them is a recipe for disaster and a wasted opportunity.
Prepare a list of questions
Doing a background check can help with deciding if some questions aren’t necessary. Some professionals like to write about their experiences in a blogpost and might not be impressed if you ask a question that’s directly related to something they’ve written before.
Principle #2: Be professional
This one goes without saying, if you’re meeting with someone more experienced than you we can call this person of “higher status”. It’s just fact in this scenario.
As a result, professionalism and etiquette is extremely important, so make sure that:
- You are on time for your meetings.
- You keep the conversation between 15 to 35 minutes. Some people may be willing to chat longer but most people will expect coffee chats to be half an hour. 15 minutes is if the person is particularly busy.
- You actively listen and learn from their stories, insights and wisdom. Engage in a conversation, not a script.
- You are gracious and appreciate the time and effort the contact gave you and write a thank you note or email within 24 hours of your conversation.
- You don’t ask for a job or a referral. If they’re comfortable enough, they will offer you a referral. If they don’t, don’t push for one.
Principle #3: Give more than you get
This is the most important principle.
The mentality most people have when they network is they meet someone and ask “Is this person going to give me a job?”
If that’s the case, nobody will want to have you in their network because you only bring self-interest onto the table.
If you’re early in your career you might feel like you have nothing to bring to the table to older and more senior counterparts. This isn’t true. There are many ways you could contribute for example:
1) Share articles and insights to help them with what they’re working on
By sending nuggets of insights to someone every few months or so will enable them to keep you at the forefront of your mind. It brings up topics or discussion and shows you want to contribute to their work.
3) Liking, commenting, interacting with them on social media
This is the simplest way to engage with someone. People tend to remember the people that engage in their content or updates. Sharing their post can show that you value their insights. Directly messaging someone with appreciation for their work also helps build a connection because it shows you’re a fan.
3) Introduce them to someone that could help them
If you know someone in your network is struggling with a challenge or is curious to learn more about something that someone else in your network could help out with, intro them! It shows that you’re invested in helping people in your network and can create relationships between people in your network.
In saying that, networking for job opportunities is totally valid, but it’s not something you can ask and expect from a stranger. If you reach out to someone and ask to “pick their brain” without having put much work upfront, you create little interest for them to interact with you. If you’re asking for support from friends they’re much more compelled to help you. Reason being: you’re friends.
The dynamic shifts when you see networking as an opportunity to help other people and makes you someone people want to maintain a relationship with.
Networking can be extremely rewarding and open many doors for your career, but equally its tiring, challenging and in some instances can be a total waste of time.
When I ran my startup I went on a networking spree, but my entire approach was wrong. It led to countless seen-zones, rejections and “No’s”. Ever since changing my networking approach to the one I described above, I’ve seen a considerable change to the people in my network and the people I call friends.
I believe that by following this guide you too can unlock tonnes of career opportunities and build relationships that can last a lifetime.
It’ll suck to give it your 100% and get ghosted by strangers, but don’t give up.
A single person, friend or mentor can change a life and if you don’t have your skin in the game then you won’t get to meet that person.
Good luck with everything and all the best with your networking!