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Are you a student looking to get into the job market soon? Or an established professional interested in new developments in your field? Perhaps you’re looking to pivot to an entirely new career? Or trying to garner engagement for a product you’re releasing soon? Networking is your answer. Here’s what it is and how it benefits you in the words of Kevon Cheung, Founder of Public Lab, Course creator of Build in Public Mastery, Author of Find Joy in Chaos.
Networking is meeting people who share a profession, industry or interests and exchanging ideas and information with such people. In this context, it’s meeting and engaging with these people with the goal to support each other’s career paths.
Whether you’re working towards a career in product management, software development, product design or anything else, one thing is sure – you stand to benefit boundlessly from growing your network. With the career game, the more people you acquire, the merrier. Whether you network linearly or horizontally it’s a win-win all the time.
It is important to mention that you absolutely should not approach every person or event with a need to network. Honestly, everything IS an opportunity to network but don’t be the weird guy at the birthday party trying to ‘pick someone’s brain’ or ask someone if they can be your mentor. Fortunately, these days, networking can be done online. Many professionals find social media to be excellent tools for growing their network.
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The best advice is to let things happen as organically as possible. Admittedly though, waiting for an organic process can be time-consuming so you might need to facilitate things a bit. That’s why networking events are always a great idea. At least at these events, everyone knows what they’re there for. With other less professional events, just go with the vibe. Don’t just talk about yourself, listen to others too. By listening, you learn things and those things are the key to your next steps.
On your social media pages, you can share bits of your work that you’re comfortable putting out. Share your process, involve people in the process and engage. Kevon’s method was to ask for volunteers on Twitter to read the first chapter of his book. The first time, he got six volunteers who read and gave him feedback which he acted on. The next time he got twenty readers and eventually, on the day the book was released, two thousand people read it.
Whether it’s real life or on the internet, try not to relate with people just because you have calculated the ways in which they can be beneficial to your career. Simply strike up conversations with individuals that you find interesting in and out of your field and you’ll be shocked at the gems you discover.
So what are the benefits of putting in this work and growing your network?
It’s not your net worth, it’s your network or whatever Steve Jobs said. Okay, Steve Jobs absolutely didn’t say that but he should have. Here’s the thing - people talk. The person you spoke to at the event the other day, who found you interesting and remembers that you’re a Product Manager will mention you to the friend of his friend who recently established his start-up and is looking for a Product Manager interested in doing new things. Or someone who follows you on the internet saw the link you posted to your design portfolio and sent it to their boss who was on the market for a Product designer.
Sometimes, networking is like throwing your hat in the ring and just hoping for the best because you really don’t know which of the conversations you had or with whom, would materialize into something profitable for you. Also, employee referrals account for 30-40% of all hires, just in case you need evidence that people do talk and they often refer those that they know for numerous opportunities.
By building in public, attending events and talking to people, you’re making yourself and your business visible to the people you want to see it. More and more people learn about you and what you do, they give you feedback and as you show up more frequently to these sorts of things, you become a household name. Very often, what might appear to be an overnight success is the result of months, perhaps even years of putting one’s self and one’s work out in the open.
Additionally, when you make people familiar with you and the product you’re working on, they’re more likely to support you when the product launches. If a random Kevon came and published something, very few people would care. But Kevon that’s been interacting on the timeline, asking questions and putting out posts, that’s a Kevon they care about and whom they’ll support.
Growing your network means relating with a range of people. What that exposure does is that it lets you know what is out there. Perhaps someone is doing work that’s similar to yours in a specific way or they’re working at something from an angle that you have been trying to figure out. This is how you know what things are possible, and the people making them happen. You might be inspired to reach out to these people, or maybe you’ll gain the clarity to go back to the drawing board on your idea.
As we’ve mentioned before, actively networking or looking to build your network means talking to more people and putting yourself out there. Based on the simple rule that the more you do something the better you get at it, and you will get better at networking. It will come easier to you and you’ll be able to do it without giving it too much thought.
This is particularly helpful for those who are less extroverted or struggle with putting themselves out there - literally or on the internet. Just put one foot in front of the other, attend one event, post one tweet, then another and another and before you know it, you’ll be running.
If nothing else, networking makes you know more things. Whether or not you think that all the things you're learning are useful or not is a different discussion. The fact is, you can't interact with that many people or go to that many events without learning something you didn’t already know. And if you find that you’ve stopped learning, that might be an indication that it’s time to network in a different pond.
Combine your network growth efforts with readiness. Success is what you get when opportunity meets preparation. By networking, you’re creating opportunities for yourself. The next step is to be prepared to represent yourself and the image that you have sold. Follow up on contacts, even in small ways like following them on Linkedin and leaving comments on their posts or going to drinks to follow up on something you started talking about earlier.
Respond to calls, emails and other forms of correspondence as promptly as you can and just keep doing the work that you have claimed you do. Ultimately, relax, do what feels right for you and enjoy the process.