Following on from Part One where we discussed resumes or CVs, let’s now explore another part of job hunting that is very different in the tech world: networking. And no, I don’t mean doing stuff over the internet or a LAN. It’s about getting to know people and having people get to know you. Networking is generally a powerful tool in any job hunt, but I think it’s unique in tech.
It’s part of tech culture that we form communities. Just about every company, product, open-source tool, you name it, have some form of community attached. Join them, and participate in them to get your name known in the community.
But get yourself known for positive things. Don’t be a gatekeeper to new folks coming in. Don’t be toxic with those you disagree with, no matter how tempting. Being a force for good can get you stomped on sometimes, but pick yourself right up and keep going. Being a positive force in a community is enough of a reward! If you’re looking for a career, it’s essential.
Building on the communities point above, developer communities associated with larger frameworks or big companies like FAAANG tend to have meet-ups in most cities. Join them. Contribute, even if it just means doing the most basic helpful tasks. I’ve run several meet-ups, and the most valuable people are the ones that don’t consider anything beneath them. They’ll take on the most mundane tasks. That helps them network with peers and, importantly, allows organizers to get to know them well.
I recall speaking at the Google Developer Group (GDG) in Seattle, where a young woman approached me. She had attended many meet-ups over the final two years of her degree in Software Engineering at a nearby University. She was just about to graduate and soon to start a job at an excellent local tech company. How she did it? She attended every Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, and independent meet-up she could find. Recruiters also participated at these, and one from that tech company got to know her and eventually hired her. A textbook example of someone doing it the right way.
Most companies like Google, Microsoft, and others have a formal community of folks deemed ‘experts in the field. In Google, we call then GDEs (Google Developer Experts). These folks usually come through the communities and meet-ups and get known as experts in an area. They get nominated to be reviewed by the company, usually with an interview, before achieving this status. Being recognized as an expert by the likes of Google or Microsoft helps you find a career anywhere. Becoming a recognized expert like this can be a great career launchpad. It’s worth investigating!
Referrals are possibly the most powerful tool in getting recruited by larger companies. They’re also one of the most misunderstood.
First of all, here’s what not to do. Don’t reach out to people you do not know, asking them for a referral into their company. Seriously, please don’t do it. I’ve seen advice to the opposite, where people say it’s just like going and knocking on doors until someone answers, as a great sales technique. That’s a bad analogy. It’s more like approaching a stranger at a bar and asking them for an introduction to all their single friends telling them how awesome you are, in the hope of getting a date. Creepy, right? That’s more what spamming someone and asking for a referral resembles. People argue that one should be more lenient on folks who are desperate to find a job. I argue back that desperation isn’t an excuse for laziness and pushing the burden onto others. If one genuinely is desperate (as I have been many times), one should be willing to burn the calories to do it right and not look for damaging shortcuts.
Why? Because a referral is supposed to be just that. Telling the company about somebody you know who would be an excellent fit for available jobs. Referring a person means you are putting your reputation on the line to give them a chance at a career. You don’t just ask a random stranger to do that.
I get at least ten people a day asking me to do that.
Oh, and think about it deeper – it demonstrates very poor judgment to approach a stranger like this. What happens if you then apply for the company, your resume ends up on their desk, they look you up on linked in, and they see that you once spammed them for a referral? They’ll likely move onto the next resume. And what if the person you spammed is a recruiter? They’ll probably flag your resume so that nobody in the company will be bothered by someone with such poor judgment.
So please don’t do it.
What can you do? Well, consider all of the above – being a part of a community, participating in meet-ups, by joining expert groups. What happens then? People from your target company will get to know you and will be able to refer you.
Because a referral usually involves them answering questions about how they know you, how long they’ve known you, in what capacity, what your abilities are, etc.
And if they only know you as a random spammer - well, is that the reputation you want to build?
But if it’s a good referral that answers all of the above questions well – it can get you to the front of the line for your resume to be read. It can bypass a lot of the stuff that we spoke about in the last article.
I applied for Google three times before they hired me. The third time came through a referral from a skip-level manager who knew me at a previous company. Despite me flunking some of the interviews, they still hired me!
That’s how powerful a referral can be!
So, please, take the time to do it right.