Some say that the interview process is a lot like dating. Onsite interviews are a bit like meeting their friends and family for the first time. The offer stage is a similar commitment to getting engaged. Networking is a bit like the awkward “getting to know ya” phase.
So, where can you meet the right networking partner who will refer you to the company of your dreams?
Networking events? While these may work from time to time, they are a bit like speed dating. Everyone is trying to meet as many people as possible, and it can be difficult to build the type of meaningful and trusting relationship that would lead to a referral.
Like match.com or the dating apps, there are platforms like LinkedIn that can help you meet lots of people with no strings attached. However, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll probably end up connecting with a bunch of people that you’ll never have a future with. That’s why finding that Mr or Miss Right (networking partner) starts with knowing yourself.
What are your top priorities for your next career opportunity? What would you want to learn or contribute; what environment would be the most engaging for you? Once you’ve identified your criteria for your ideal opportunity, we can use LinkedIn to find people that are currently in your ideal situation.
How to use LinkedIn effectively
LinkedIn is a great resource to find people who have navigated their career paths to arrive at a position that you’d like to be in. Speaking with individuals who are where you want to be can provide you valuable insights that will benefit you on your own journey. But how do you connect with these people? To start, look for an established commonality that you can use to begin a conversation.
For example, if my goal is to work as a Software Engineer at Google, I would start by searching for Software Engineers at Google. I’ll then filter the list of results to find people like me - look for people who went to the same university as you did or who have worked for the same companies in the past.
Once you've identified a few potential networking partners, it's time to reach out. While it is okay to reach out to people on LinkedIn, you want to be cognizant of what may turn them off.
The wrong way to connect on LinkedIn:
"Hello I am a software developer with 8+ years of experience. Here is my resume and cover letter (attached). Please let me know if you have any open positions for me."
This approach requires the recipient to...look into your experience, understand it, research open positions, find one that seems like a match, then put their reputation on the line with their employer... all for a complete stranger.
The right way to connect on LinkedIn:
I'm a software engineer and fellow SCU alumni (go Broncos!).
I am considering applying to an SWE role at Google. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and learn more about your career journey and how you are enjoying Google.
Let me know how your schedule looks in the upcoming weeks and we can set something up.
Establishing commonality early, makes you feel more familiar and comfortable. When you offer to buy them a cup of coffee, it shows them that you value their time and sets a president of reciprocity.
Can I buy you a cup of coffee?
Once they have agreed to chat, set a time to meet in person. I recommend meeting in person, rather than over the phone as it’s more personal and encourages future discussions.
This is not the meeting to ask for a referral - they don’t know you enough to do that. Your goal for this meeting is to understand how they landed this position, what their day at work is like, and if the company’s culture would be a good fit for you. A key question to ask is this: “What makes someone successful in this role?”
When you listen to them talk about their experiences and their views, you learn quite a bit about how suited you are for the role, and how suited the company and role are for you. You also learn the possible gaps in your skills and what you need to hone before you apply.
If you are not a match for the role yet, continue the conversation in the future. Show them that you are taking their advice seriously. Ask them what resources they've used in the past to build those skills. Get certifications, read books, do projects, and as you do, continue showing them your progress.
This may take some time, but it is a worthwhile investment. On the one hand, you'll build skills that will help you in your next move. What's more, it shows that you are willing to work hard to earn your opportunities, which gives them ammunition to write a meaningful referral note.
You are no longer a stranger, but a mentee to champion!
Asking for a referral
Ask this: I found this position at your company. Do you think I will be a good fit?
Not this: Can you help me find a job?
One of my first referrals came from someone I had known for 7 years. I was pursuing a career in the sports industry, a goal that he shared when he was younger. I had decided that being on the road for most of the year would not work for me and I wanted to get into recruiting.
He is 5 years older than me and had significantly more experience. I got a lot of value from him but career-wise had little to offer him. However, I wasn’t cultivating a relationship to ask for favors. He taught me a lot and I reciprocated where I could. He had two dogs who I watched when he needed a sitter. We bonded over mutual interests like softball, entrepreneurship, and reading. After many years of building a relationship, he knew me well. When an opportunity opened, he referred me gladly, as he knew enough about me and why I was suited for the position.
For a referral to work well, the referrer must know you well. The most effective networking takes time and trust. The best time to start networking is before you start looking for a job or after a rejection, when you have the time to uplevel yourself before you reapply.
If you want to maximize your chances for referrals, identify what you want to get out of your career. Find people on a similar path. Even if they move companies, they will generally move on to new opportunities that will be equally as desirable for you. Build a relationship and they will be happy to help you in any way they can.
Companies view referrals as one of the best ways to hire talent and with good reason; there’s a greater chance that these hires are well-suited to the role and the company’s culture. A referral is rarely ever a professional transaction. With referrals, expectations are set between the employee and their networking partner. As connections go, these relationships are built to last, which is why the best referrals come from within your network. And a good network is about the quality of relationships, never the quantity.