Tips for Building Your Work Network

Dear new developer,

I talked previously about a technique to help you network with strangers.

But networking isn’t just about meeting strangers and starting up conversations easily. The easiest way to build your network is to foster it at work. Again, this will help you if you are looking to hire, learn more about an interesting company for a job or partnership, or want to ask someone about technology they’ve used or problems they’ve faced.

Here are some tips that will help you do so.

  • Use LinkedIn. I’ve already written about that, so I’ll just say that you should keep your profile up to date with your positions and accomplishments, as well as link to folks you have met in a professional context.
  • Never leave a job on bad terms. This means giving the requisite notice, running through the finish line by documenting your work and preparing for a handoff, and not speaking ill of your former employer (of course, I am not a lawyer and there are definitely grounds for speaking ill of your employer if they’ve violated laws). You may be very excited about the new job, but think about how you’re leaving your current position, and treat your teammates as you’d want to be treated. Doing so means that when you want to tap your network, they’ll respond.
  • Reach out periodically. This can be as simple as sending them a LinkedIn note when they have a work anniversary or have changed jobs. If you know they are interested in a technology or domain and have run across an interesting article (perhaps via your RSS feed or your online community) send it to them with a quick note. If you are going to be in the town where they live, suggest meeting up for a coffee to catch up.
  • If someone has a request for their network, try to help. Depending on how strong your relationship, you may want to reshare the request, think of someone who could help, or attempt to help yourself. Be wary of doing too much for the strength of the relationship. I was overly enthusiastic once and sent a bunch of intro emails for a new service an acquaintance was starting. The service didn’t go anywhere and I felt foolish for asking people I was relatively weakly connected to for their help.
  • If you ask for help, follow up if someone provides it. Thank them and let them know how you used their help. Nothing is less fun than helping someone in any way and then having them go dark on you. And don’t ask for help too often from the same person–this is more qualitative and you have to judge the strength of the relationship; the stronger the relationship, the more often you can ask.

I’ve used these tips in the past to keep my network alive and will do so in the future. Unlike in other professions, the bar for network activity in development is very low, so if you do even one of these, you’ll likely stand out.

Sincerely,

Dan

Use LinkedIn, and use it well

Dear new developer,

Set up a LinkedIn profile and keep it up to date. This will serve as a public resume. (Yes, a github is great too, but you might not always have time to keep code up to date or an interest in a maintaining a large project.) Once a year, at a minimum, document what you’ve done in your profile. This is a low effort way to showcase your skills. LinkedIn has a vested interest in being at the top of the search results when people search for your name. And hiring managers will.

Also, used LinkedIn to record connections to people that you meet (at jobs, conferences, meetups or randomly). Folks have different thresholds for connecting (some people connect to anyone, some people want to meet you, some people want to have worked with you). It doesn’t hurt to ask; just don’t be offended if someone says no thanks. My threshold is “have I met you in person or engaged with you online”. This means that my connections are of varying strength–some connections I’d hire (or work for) with no question, others I met once and have never talked to again.

Recruiters on LinkedIn tend to be low value keyword matchers, unfortunately. But you never know, someone might be able to place you. If you do talk to a recruiter, be honest about your desires. Take what they say with a grain of salt, as when they are talking to you, they are trying to make a sale. Also make sure you ask them about their view of the job market, salary ranges for people with your experience, and good skills to gain. If they aren’t willing to share such information, they probably won’t be much good to work with.

As a friend put it, LinkedIn is a rolodex that someone else keeps up to date. This can be helpful when you are looking for a job. Troll your connections’ companies, and then ask if your connection and intro you. A warm intro is far more likely to lead to a conversation and interview than submitting a resume via a website. I offer that up to many people as it’s a low effort way to add value to someone on the job hunt.

Sincerely,

Dan