Networking your way to a job
Want to reach out to strangers at your dream company for a referral? Or connect with former colleagues that you've not spoken to in ages? Here's how - with actual examples of people who succeeded.
Out of all the things you do to get a job, networking has the highest return-on-investment.
This is probably not the first time you heard it. Starting with your university’s career counselors and those career fairs where you were told to distribute printed copies of your CV, networking has been preached as the secret to a successful career. But no one has ever told you how to network, or what networking really is. In this issue, I’ll share what bad networking messages look like, and real life examples of excellent messages.
“Hi, I’d like to add you to my network.”
Networking is not sending a LinkedIn connection request. Everyday, I receive a dozen connection requests. Each time I see a stranger’s photo with a random job title at a company I’ve never heard of. They either leave no message or have a generic message. I find no reason or motivation for me to add a complete stranger. I click on “ignore“.
Sometimes I receive messages that are more specific, like the one below.
This person is very clear about what they need from me, which is a step up from the generic messages. But they are also asking me to do extra work with no value in return (unless their profile is a good fit for the role I was hiring for, which, it wasn’t, because we weren’t hiring for this type of role). This person could have also simply opened the careers page to see if there was a job for them, so this networking message is not giving them unique value either. I declined the message.
Network like a human
Platforms like LinkedIn make it easy to click on buttons to send out connection requests en masse, but networking is, at the end of the day, still a form of socializing: you are interacting with an actual human being who will react to what you say. People forget that they still need to be friendly and polite. Personalizing the message also lets the reader know that you are not a bot.
What differentiates networking from other forms of socializing is that both sides can benefit professionally from the relationship. If you are the one reaching out first, let the other person know exactly how they can help you, and offer something in return. That way, you are truly creating a win-win situation where both sides feel like they can gain value.
Some jobseekers have asked me “I don’t know what I can offer the other person, what should I do?” Simple answer — just ask them! “What can I do for you in return?” shows genuineness, professional maturity, and your commitment to this relationship. If they don’t have anything in mind, follow up with “Who can I introduce you to?”. There’s always something you can offer, even if not now, perhaps in the future. Your network will always be longterm relationships.
Photo by DocuSign on Unsplash
What can you ask for?
If you are looking for a job, there are 3 specific things you can (and should) ask for in a networking conversation: 1) information about your ideal companies, 2) a referral to a job, 3) staying in touch.
Company Information 🔍
This is pretty straightforward. If the person you are reaching out to works at your ideal company, you want to know more about how the company is like to increase your chances at landing a job, as well as to make a more informed decision about your next career move.
Make sure to check what their preferred way of communication is. You could ask to jump on a quick call, meet up for coffee, or have them answer your questions in writing, but give them the option to choose. I was asked by jobseekers to jump on a call when I preferred to text (because I have way too many calls in my life), and I also asked someone to grab coffee with me when they suggested dinner.
Most companies have a referral program, where if an employee refers someone to a job and that person gets hired, this employee earns a cash bonus. The referral program I’ve seen in Berlin offered from €250, to €500, €2000, and even €5000 in some cases. €5000 is double the average after-tax monthly salary in Germany! This means, if you are asking for a referral from someone, you could potentially put €5000 in their pocket. Win-win situations don’t get more ideal than that!
Of course, you still need to approach them in a friendly manner. Even with a cash bonus, most people don’t want to just refer anybody; there’s still a chance that you might not get hired and they get questioned why they referred a bad candidate. If I were reaching out for a referral, I would write something like this:
Hi Sophia, nice meeting you!
I read about your work at Company A and was really impressed with Project X. I’d love to work with someone your caliber on this mission to …, would you mind giving me a referral to this position? If there are any questions, I’d be more than happy to explain why I’m a fit via a (virtual) coffee, and get to know your experiences better!
Staying in touch 🤳
Perhaps due to whatever reason (maybe they don’t work there anymore, or they are not able to give you a referral due to conflict of interest), they cannot offer you immediate value, make sure to stay in touch. This is not just a LinkedIn catchphrase! You’ll get to see valuable industry updates and knowledge, future job openings at their company, and even other opportunities to collaborate like events, podcasts, newsletters and more. A personal example: since the launch of my newsletter, Dania at AI Guild reached out to me to speak at an upcoming live event for jobseekers in the data science community, which then led an increase in my website visitors and my newsletter readership.
Networking emails that really worked, in real life
Finally, examples I’ve collected over the time when people not only got interviews but also managed to create new opportunities that didn’t exist before.
This person landed a quarter-time Head of Product role at Gumroad:
This person got Stripe to make a new role for them:
This person landed a first interview with Notion:
This person landed an internship by speaking directly to the needs of the company:
Good luck, and have fun networking!