"It's not about what you know, it's about whom you know."
"70-80% of jobs are found via someone's network."
Most of us have heard cliches and stats like the above. And I think most of us intuitively know that having a network of people that can help us find opportunities is a good thing.
Using the spray and pray approach and applying to as many jobs as possible doesn't work very well anymore.
But this can be one of those vague, nebulous concepts that we all know is a good thing to do and have – but actually going about it is difficult.
If you want to grow a successful career and keep your job opportunities open, you need to learn how to network.
There are two main obstacles when trying to successfully network as a developer.
- It has a bad connotation and reputation
- It's hard to do right
These two things are related, so let's tackle the first here then get into some practical ways to do it right.
Networking Has a Bad Connotation
We associate networking with irritating events and transparently fake attempts to make friends and get stuff.
Or at a slightly less horrible level, reaching out to a bunch of random people on Twitter, having awkward conversations, and trying to find something in common with them out of thin air. Maybe you'll get a response if you're lucky, and then it fizzles out from there.
But real, effective networking isn't about any of this.
You don't have to constantly pester people asking for stuff, attend awkward events, or initiate fake conversations.
Because of modern technological miracles, it's as simple as interacting with people on Twitter and sending some emails. And it doesn't have to be awkward.
Now, I say simple, but simple doesn't mean easy.
How in the world are you supposed to strike up a conversation with some random person you don't know, and then if you have a hard time with that, how can you possibly leverage that relationship into a job?
The thing to keep in mind is that networking is a long game. If you approach networking selfishly or with short-term goals in mind, it will not work.
If you approach networking as a way to make new friends, build real relationships, and add value where you can, it will create a snowball effect.
This doesn't mean it can't benefit you – it can and should. Networking should be mutually beneficial to each person involved. The reason networking has a bad connotation is because when networking is done right it doesn't feel like networking. It feels like making new friends and helping each other out where you can.
The ultimate goal is to create a strong enough network that you don't ever have to worry about finding work. You have built enough of a reputation with enough people that you can simply put a call out to your network and you'll have opportunities coming to you.
Long-term networking pays off because you have built enough social capital with enough people that you can ask for opportunities when you need them. And that social capital you've been investing will be returned.
This, however, takes a long time. So you need to approach this genuinely and patiently.
Now, there are ways to use short-term networking to stand out and get jobs, but it's a very specific strategy that needs to be handled directly and honestly because it has a stated, specific goal that you are trying to achieve. When done right this can be very powerful. We'll get into both long-term networking strategy and short-term networking strategy in this article.
You can do all your long-term networking these days indirectly by simply interacting with people on social media and maybe sending some emails.
Because of the power of the Internet, we can begin to build relationships with people with nothing but an email address and a few social media accounts.
I have my issues with social media, but it is a tremendously valuable tool when it comes to networking, specifically Twitter.
Every day I see people posting stories of how they started simply building relationships on Twitter and now they have freelance work, have received job offers, and generally are building very successful careers on the back of social media.
Now let's get into some practical ways to actually go about doing this.
How to Network Effectively
Let's dive into specifics for how to actually do this. We'll be using two main tools: Twitter and email.
Side note: LinkedIn is underrated as a platform for landing a job, but it can be very valuable. I wanted to focus on one social media tool here, but if you are interested in using LinkedIn to land your first job, I highly recommend this video series from Danny Thompson.
We'll focus on social media for our more generalized, long-term networking, and then dive into a specific tactic using email to make yourself stand out to potential employers.
You won't have to cold call people, attend events, or send awkward, desperate emails/DMs asking for stuff.
Just genuine connection and relationship-building with people you admire.
Long Term Networking with Twitter
The goal here is very simple: to increase your visibility. After you've constructed a good online presence, consisting of complete Twitter profiles, a complete and active GitHub profile, and a good portfolio site, you need to get people to actually see it.
This is the kind of networking we're going to be focusing on: utilizing social media platforms to increase your visibility.
Over time, people on Twitter will start to become familiar with you and your skillset and personality. Then, people will start approaching you for different opportunities as you naturally show your skills and personality.
How do you do this?
By liking and commenting on stuff, following people, and connecting with people.
Yes. It is that simple. People try to overthink social media and come up with some crazy system or hack. But if you talk to the people that actually succeed with it, they all treated it as just genuinely sharing their thoughts, what they were working on, posting thoughtful replies to Tweets when relevant, and just being a human being.
The really cool thing about Twitter is that their algorithm works off of spreading content. So when you like or comment on someone's post, their network will see that, or at least some of it.
People try to come up with the best systems and hacks to gain followers and grow their network. But I recommend just using the platforms as they were designed to be used. It really can be that simple.
Don't underestimate the power of this because it is simple and obvious. Everybody wants some sort of step-by-step system or hack to do things, but the most effective way to network is by just being a genuine person.
This is the most effective way to start because everyone can do it. It doesn't require spamming peoples' inbox, making cold calls, or talking to anyone in person.
All you are doing is using social media as it was intended to be used, by genuinely interacting with people.
This is real networking at its finest: simple, genuine, and something you can do every day.
Don't try to overcomplicate this. Once you get started with this simple step, you'll gradually start learning how to effectively interact with people over time and naturally get better and better and building relationships and connections.
Now, with that said, it can be difficult to come into this having never done it before and be able to do anything. So here's a starting point of a few simple things you should do every day.
Start with this template, and naturally grow it into doing your own thing.
These steps assume you are already following a decent number of people in the developer community. So if you aren't, look for some first. If you've been on Twitter any amount of time, you likely are already following some people.
A few general tips before we get into the specific steps:
- All of this needs to be genuine. No spammy, "Awesome job!" or "Nice!" replies. Only tweet if you have something of value to add to the conversation.
- If you are able to, getting to a conversation earlier is usually better
- Don't target accounts with too large of a following. If you are just getting started, accounts with less than 15,000 followers are a good goal to engage with and then you can scale up as you start to grow.
- Experiment with schedulers, but don't feel tied to them. I tried one for a while and found I was able to be more consistent when I tweeted thoughts or realizations as they occurred to me
- Try to set aside engagement time. It can be easy to get lost in Twitter, so try to set specific engagement time each day so you don't kill your productivity
- Reply to 5 tweets from people that you admire with relatively large followings
- DM one person you admire thanking them for something and telling them why you like it
- Try to tweet out 3-5 high-value tweets per day. High-value can mean something insightful, a specific method for doing something, an update on what you are working on (working in public is a fantastic networking strategy), or even simply an honest thought that you don't hear very often
I can't give you formulas for what to Tweet because that will defeat the purpose. There are plenty of those floating around and they may get high engagement but they are generally annoying and people are getting sick of them.
Be honest, be genuine, and start now. It will get easier and you will get better as you go.
Start with these three simple steps and scale from there. But start small and simple because consistency is what is important here.
Short Term Networking with Cold Email
Alright now we're going to get into a somewhat controversial method of networking. But it's one of my favorites not only for networking, but for directly landing a job.
The cool thing about this method is that the primary goal is to make yourself stand out to land a job, but it's an indirect networking tool as well.
Because even if you don't land a job directly from it, you have placed yourself in someone's mind as unique and willing to go the extra mile for something they care about.
Basically it comes down to these steps:
- Finding a few, say 5-10, companies you really admire and want to work for
- Finding the best contact person at the company
- Finding their email address (Twitter DMs and LinkedIn messages could also work if you can't find an email)
- Figure out something small of value you could contribute and build a small mini-project custom for them that demonstrates that thing of value
- Send in a video pitch introducing yourself, talking about why you love that company in particular, and talking about why you would be a great addition to the team
These are just the basic steps broken down, and there is a lot to this process. But you can learn a lot more about the specifics from the company I learned this from, Crash.
They have a software, book, and course that go into this stuff in great detail. It's a game-changer because nobody is willing to put in the time to do this because everyone gets so trapped in the traditional permission-based routes like job boards and applications.
By showing you are willing to step outside those comfort zones, you will be extremely attractive to potential employers and build a valuable network in the process.
There are three critical components of this that make it so effective:
- Showing you are capable of thinking outside the box and taking initiative despite perceived roadblocks
- Showing your skills by building something real, instead of just talking about your skills like you would on a résumé or job application
- Facilitating human connection by recording a short, personalized video of yourself
We covered the first one above, so let's talk about the other two and get into a few specifics of how you can pull this off. Again, I learned this from Crash so check them out if you want more details. All credit for this technique goes to them.
One of the most powerful aspects of this strategy is that you are taking the time to build a small custom project that is relevant to this particular company.
Keep in mind this project doesn't have to be anything crazy – an hour or two worth of work – and the company doesn't ever have to necessarily use it.
The goal is simply to show that you know enough about the company to build something somewhat relevant to them, prove that you have the skills you say you do, and stand out by showing that you are willing to put in that much effort to that company.
Free work gets a bad rap, and when free work is specifically requested from a company, like some companies that ask someone to build an entire functioning application as a sample project for an interview, that's crap.
But choosing to take the initiative to build something like that on your own is a great use of your time.
Facilitating human connection is the third really big benefit of this. When you are recording your pitch video, the goal is to communicate who you are very briefly, talk about why you admire that company and want to work for them, talk about the skills you have, and then talk about why those skills would be valuable to that company.
This combined with the custom project is insanely powerful. Try to keep it short, around 2 minutes, smile, breath, and write some bullet points.
Don't write a script, as that will come off as robotic. Just jot down some bullets to cover so you don't get off track.
My favorite way to do all this is to create a custom page on your portfolio site dedicated to the company.
Then you can put your custom project on there, embed your video, and send out a simple cold email to the right contact person.
I'm a big fan of writing extremely short, direct cold emails.
Let's see what this might look like in practice.
Imagine I'm a React developer with a strong affinity for design. So I want to be able to combine my React skills with my design skills and do some front-end development with a heavy focus on implementing great design.
Side note: This is an excellent example of skill stacking, combining two different but complimentary skillsets to make yourself more unique and valuable to companies.
Say I want to work for a company called Paperize. They take peoples' handwritten notes and digitize them. This is a fictional company I just made up, so any resemblance to a real company is purely coincidental.
I found the Lead Developer and decide they would be the best person to reach out to, since based on my research of the company on their website, LinkedIn, and content they have written. This person seems to be heavily involved in the hiring process but more easily accessible than the CEO.
So I take a detailed look at their website and notice a couple of things:
- They talk a lot about flexibility being important for employees on their website. This is extremely important to me as well, so I jot that down as something to mention in the video. However, I also know being effective at a remote job with asynchronous schedules requires a certain amount of discipline to be productive, so I want to make sure I say I have experience doing that
- There's a form on their website that's a little clunky, so I can spend an hour or so rebuilding that form in React to function better and make a better UX for it.
So now I'll build that and record my video saying something along the lines of:
"Hey Paperize! I'm Ken, I'm a React developer looking to contribute my development and UX skills to an amazing company. I've been following Paperize for a while and really admire your focus on taking something that's mundane but that everybody does and that's important, and turning it into something extremely easy.
I was looking at your website and noticed that there is a form on your contact page that could use a little love, so I went ahead and coded a new one up in React for you that has a nice, smooth UX for the user. The code and lie demo are below.
I love Paperize and think that my combination of React skills with my love for clean UX would make a great addition to the team.
Thanks so much for taking the time to watch this! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 123-555-1234 so we can get to know each other more and I look forward to hearing from you!"
Something like that would work great.
Then I would set this up on a page on my website dedicated to Paperize and send the Lead Developer a super short email like:
Subject: I want to work for Paperize
Big fan of Paperize and your work, so I made you something.
[link to it]
Keep it super simple. Your goal here is not to get a job, it's to pique their interest enough to click the link in the email, and then pique their interest enough to follow up with you.
There is a lot more to networking than what I covered here, but often the hardest part is just having a concrete starting point, so I wanted to give you that here.
If you are looking for a concrete, step-by-step plan to land your first job as a developer, along with support from myself and community of peers, I think you'd love being a member of my combination course/community, Lever.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to read this, and good luck on your networking journey!