Networking: It's Not Just for Extroverts Anymore

Networking was THE thing that gave me an edge in my job search, and it was the thing that lead to me getting my dream role at my dream company. But when people ask me "How do you do networking?" they find out it really means getting comfortable talking to complete strangers. This talk will teach you techniques to take the edge off of networking to get a leg up in your career.


Emi Pixi: [0:01] Hi, my name is Emi. My pronouns are they, them, and she, her. Most people around the Internet know me as Pixi or TheCodePixi.

[0:09] A little background about myself, I come from a nontraditional background before getting into tech. I spent about a decade working in the coffee industry and ended up managing a café for quite a few years.

[0:21] I then dabbled in some office work doing ecommerce, customer service, office admin, and office management. For the past eight months, I've been working as a developer at Shopify, and I owe it all to networking.

[0:33] In fact, in my job search every single interview I had was a result of networking. I didn't get a single interview from a cold job application. Now, I'm not saying that that can't or doesn't happen for people, but it definitely didn't happen for me.

[0:47] Networking wasn't the thing that gave me a leg-up in my job search and helped me get to where I wanted to be. If you're a dev who's currently looking for work and especially if you're looking for your first role in tech, this talk is for you.

[1:00] I started studying web development and programming back in 2018 on platforms like freeCodeCamp, Udemy, and egghead, and never looked back. I enrolled in Flatiron School in mid-2019 and graduated in March of 2020.

[1:16] I pretty much started my job search at the worst possible time to start a job search. I knew that I needed to do things differently at a time when it seemed like most people were losing their jobs, companies were going through hiring freezes and layoffs, or just shutting their doors entirely.

[1:32] Fortunately for me, I'm a natural extrovert. Networking came very easily and naturally to me, but as I went through my job search process and talked about my job search techniques with my friends and peers, I realized that networking is really intimidating for so many people. That's where the idea for this talk came from because there's never been a better time for introverts to start networking.

[1:52] Now let me tell you why. Back in the before times, before this whole worldwide pandemic health crisis thing, the main ways that you would network with other people in your industry were by going to meetups or meeting people at conferences, having networking meetings over coffee, and generally needing to talk to people verbally face to face the first time you met them.

[2:11] For someone like me, that stuff is super easy and came naturally to me. I love meeting and talking to new people all the time. For more introverted people and people with social anxiety, those kinds of meetings and events are terrifying.

[2:23] Now that pretty much every event is being held remotely, and we're all hanging out on Twitter and social media a lot more, the main ways we're communicating with people are asynchronous, tech-based mediums.

[2:34] That means that you no longer have to walk up to someone you've never met before, introduce yourself, and hope you don't accidentally put your foot in your mouth, and generally just get so nervous that you forget how to speak.

[2:44] We have the absolutely beautiful luxury of time and editing. We can introduce ourselves to people via email, LinkedIn messages or direct message, and social media, and we can take time to craft a really thoughtful message that best represents ourselves. Think of it as the cover letter 2., the next generation of your first introduction to the company you want to work for.

[3:06] Two of the main questions I get from people when I talk about networking are, isn't it rude to just email or DM someone you don't know, and how do I introduce myself without seeming like I want something from them?

[3:18] Firstly, no, it's not rude. But yes, it can be. It's all about your technique and being empathetic and courteous to the person you're introducing yourself to. Now hopefully, we all know we should never just be messaging people the word, "Hi," or, "What's up," especially if we don't know the person we're talking to. We can and should do better than that.

[3:36] I would say that if someone has their Twitter DMs open, they're active on LinkedIn, or they have their email address publicly available, they've done so under the assumption that people are going to contact them through those channels.

[3:49] When you first reach out to someone with the hope of having them as a networking contact, you want to make sure you introduce yourself appropriately and let them know why you're contacting them.

[3:58] I did this most often via Twitter DMs or LinkedIn connection request messages, something as simple as, "Hi, I'm so-and-so. And I saw that you work at such and such company in some role. I'd love to connect and talk about your experience in your role since I'm really interested in working there," is a totally appropriate introduction message.

[4:17] Better yet, if you're mutuals on Twitter, or maybe you've seen this person give a talk before or attended the same virtual events, you can bring up other ways in which you can relate to that person.

[4:28] What you want to do in the introduction message is introduce yourself and who you are and set an expectation for your interactions with this person. This goes back to the comment about seeming like you're using this person or just out to get something.

[4:41] Here's the thing, people love to help other people. People love to be seen as experts or thought leaders and just generally appreciate when people acknowledge their expertise and experiences. We all want to see each other succeed. If someone doesn't want that, I'm going to go ahead and say they're not a networking contact you want to have anyway.

[4:59] Something I should mention is to focus both on the quality and quantity of your contacts. You want to make meaningful connections, of course, but if you're actively looking for work, I'd also suggest you aim to make at least 10 new outreach attempts per week. On average, only about half of those people will ultimately respond to your initial outreach, and that's OK.

[5:20] Once you've done your introduction, and you want to make sure you try to set up a face-to-face meeting with this person. It can be over Zoom, Google Meet, or Skype or whatever platform you prefer. I know this part is intimidating, but the best way to make a real connection with someone and represent yourself most accurately is going to be through a real conversation.

[5:39] There's a lot that can be lost in text. Tone can't be inferred via text or DMs, and there are so many subtleties that people only get by talking to you for real.

[5:50] I typically would wait until there had been at least one or two back-and-forth messages with the person that I was trying to connect with. Then I'd ask if they had some time in the next week or so for a 15-minute call to chat.

[6:01] Again, you want to make sure you're setting expectations for your interactions with people you're networking with. We're all busy people, so it's good to give a brief time estimate.

[6:10] Almost every single networking call I've had has gone well beyond that 15-minute time mark, but it at least gives you and the other person you're connecting with and out if there's something else that you need to get done or other things you need to do, or you're just not interested in having an extended conversation. You want to make sure that you're being considerate of their time.

[6:30] You also want to tell them why you want to chat with them. For me, most often, I framed it as either being curious to find out more about the company they worked for or about their specific role. If you're really into accessibility, for example, and there's an accessibility expert at some awesome company that you want to talk to about what they do every day, tell them so.

[6:50] If you just really want to work for some company and want to know more about what it's like to work there, tell them that too. If they don't have time for a call, you can always ask if they're willing to chat about the same topics via message or email, but I highly, highly, highly recommend trying to get on a call with them.

[7:08] Once you've made your introductions and you've set up a call with the person you're connecting with, you want to make sure you ask the right questions once you get to speak with them face-to-face. You also want to keep the conversation relatively casual and fun. This should be an enjoyable conversation for both participants.

[7:24] It's also totally fine to start out by just introducing yourself to each other and providing a little background and generally making small talk. Hopefully, once you've gotten the semi-awkward introduction part of the call out of the way, you'll be able to fall into a pretty natural conversation.

[7:39] You should come prepared with, I would say, at least two or three specific questions you'd like to ask the person you're talking to. The things I would typically ask were about how they generally felt about the company they work for and the work they do, how they ended up in their current role, and if they had any general advice for someone looking for their first role in tech.

[7:58] Try to ask very open-ended questions and definitely try to make sure you're asking questions about the person you're talking to. You want to show that you're there because you're interested in them and what they have to say, and not necessarily only there to find out what they can do for you.

[8:12] Remember, this isn't a formal interview. It's just two people who work in the same industry hanging out and chatting. Don't take it too seriously. Remember to have fun.

[8:22] You've gotten through the process of sending a cold outreach message. You've chatted with this person for at least 15 minutes, and you both know a bit about each other. Hopefully, you found out more about the job or the company that they work for.

[8:35] The next step is to close by asking for a referral if you decide you're still interested in the company they work for after hearing what they have to say. Generally, I tried to close each call by asking the person I was talking to if they knew of any open roles at their company they thought I'd be a fit for and if they would be willing to provide a referral.

[8:54] Here's the thing about asking for a referral that I think most people forget. It's not just a favor to you. The person being referred to the role isn't the only one who benefits from the referral. Most companies have some sort of referral bonus structure in place, and some of them are very generous.

[9:16] If you get hired at the company that refers you to, they're likely looking at a bonus of anywhere from a few $100 to a few $1,000. Hopefully, this person also has your best interest at heart and won't refer you for a role they don't think you'd be a fit for.

[9:32] I personally was able to get a real interview as a result of every networking call where I asked for a referral. Remember to ask. You and your referrer might both be looking at a huge win, if you do.

[9:46] Now hopefully, after you've had a decent number of networking calls and you've made some good connections and gotten a few referrals, you'll end up with a job offer. If not, a few job offers. What happens now?

[9:58] First of all, you definitely want to be sending sincere thank-you emails to every single person you met during your search, whether it resulted in an offer or not. Make sure you're expressing your gratitude to the people providing you with referrals.

[10:11] You've also met these people from other companies that you aren't going to be working for. Even though you won't be working with those people now, most people change jobs every few years. A few years down the line, a good percentage of the people you spoke with could be working at new companies, and you never know when you'll be looking for work again.

[10:29] There's also something to be said for making friends in your industry. It's really amazing to have a few people in your life who work in the same field as you, and who want to see you succeed. You can ask each other questions and help each other out or just generally bond over something not even related to tech and make a new friend.

[10:45] My point here is to not let those connections fizzle out. Keep in touch with people, update them, and let them celebrate with you when you finally get that job offer. Follow each other on social media. Keep in touch via LinkedIn or email, and just generally stay on each other's radar.

[10:59] It's totally OK and natural for connections and friendships to fizzle out over time but the ones that don't will be so valuable to your future, both professionally and personally.

[11:11] Something I want to touch on before I close out is this specific benefit of networking for people who are underrepresented in tech. For myself, I'm a non-binary person from a nontraditional background without a computer science degree. For me, finding a job without prioritizing networking would have been nearly impossible. My resume has been auto-rejected more times than I can count.

[11:33] I put a Twitter thread up last year where I emphasized the importance of networking specifically for people like me or people in similar positions. We all know that the pipeline problem is a myth. Tech hiring and the tech interview process is absolutely fundamentally broken.

[11:49] If you're part of an underrepresented group, I want you to consider networking and internal referrals as your way into and around that proverbial pipeline. The things about myself that I and many others would consider my best professional qualities can never shine through on a resume or a job application.

[12:11] Having good communication skills but being generally compassionate and empathetic, and the critical thinking and organizational skills required to get through an intense software engineering boot camp while holding down a full-time job and managing a chronic illness during a worldwide pandemic just cannot be communicated on paper.

[12:29] I'm sure that there are so many wonderful things about you, whoever you are, that are absolutely essential for your career in tech, that can't be seen on your resume, either.

[12:39] By focusing on networking, you allow people who you might end up working with to realize that they really want to work with someone like you. If they want to work with you, they'll be more than happy to provide you with a referral that will hopefully get you there.

[12:53] I hope that I've been able to provide some insight into the networking process, and I hope that you've come away from this talk with some actionable techniques you can bring forward with you in your job search now and in the future.

[13:04] You can find me pretty much everywhere on the Internet as TheCodePixi. If you're interested in networking with me, your best bet is to add me on Twitter.

[13:13] If you want to network and get to know other developers at all skill levels in a fun and inclusive online community that prides itself on being safe and a welcoming environment, I've created a special invite link to my Discord community called Code Cafe Online just for this talk. The link is capped at 50 users, so get in there quick if you'd like to join me over there. Otherwise, I'll see you around the Internet.