Note: This is a complementary post to my article on how I transitioned from a U.S. diplomat to joining Facebook.
1. Networking is about developing professional relationships: If you’re in career transition, developing relationships with people knowledgeable about your new industry is key. Once you start, networking is not as intimidating or transactional as it sounds: It’s meeting interesting people to learn more about what they do, why they do it, and offering what you can do for them. Networking can yield many benefits, including:
- Insider information that will help you refine your target organization list and determine whether an organization’s culture is a good fit for you
- A referral
- More introductions: Always ask your contacts who else they can connect you with
- Hidden opportunities that have not been posted online
- New friends
2. In-person is best, but respect people’s time: While in-person meetings are always better than virtual, many people have successfully made the transition through solely virtual networking. I did the majority of my Seattle networking while I served in Istanbul and went from less than 10 to 500+ contacts. Be respectful of people’s time, as some people may only be available for a 15-minute phone call.
3. Reach out. Whether in-person or virtual, send a short and clear message introducing yourself, why you want to talk to them, specifically what you’d like to discuss, your general availability according to their timezone (be flexible on time, especially if you’re overseas), and several options (in-person meeting, Skype, phone call) so they can pick the option that works best for them. Below is a list of who to reach out to, in priority order:
- Close friends, family, and former classmates: These are your warm intros. Ask if they can connect you to anyone in the industry you’re interested in.
- School alumni, acquaintances: Use a combination of LinkedIn and your school’s alumni directory to identify contacts at an organization you’d like to learn more about. If you’re considering moving to a new city, check if your school has an alumni network in that city and attend their events.
- Cold message: Be more strategic here, because people are less likely to respond. Perhaps someone you found on LinkedIn has what seems like a dream job and you want to learn more. First, check if you have a mutual connection who can introduce you. If not, send a concise message explaining why you’d like to chat.
4. Know your 1-minute pitch. A variation of “Tell me about yourself” is almost always the first question during an informational. Have different versions ready for the organizations you’re interested in and tailor your pitch to the person you’re talking to. My pitches changed several times during my transition as I refined my strategy and target list.
- Pitch yourself using the language of the organization you want to join, not the position you currently have. This is especially important for those in career transition. Identify the top skills the organization needs, and show that you already have these skills, you just demonstrated them in a different context. Your contact may be unfamiliar with that context, so paint them a picture. (For more on organizational language, see #4 in my article on career transition).
- Do your research on the person you’re meeting and the organization. Note anything you have in common (e.g. attended the same school), because people often remember these personal details above anything else.
- Be clear about what you’re looking for and offer what you can do for them. Networking is a two-way street.
5. Send a thank you note within 24 hours. Remind them of what you discussed and follow up with any specific asks mentioned during the meeting (e.g. intros to more contacts, referrals, resume review, etc). Use Boomerang to set up automatic thank you reminders so you don’t forget.
- Add them on LinkedIn
- If you meet with someone they introduced you to, follow up, thank them again, and let them know how it went.
- Stay in touch, so they’ll think of you when they hear about opportunities.
6. Attend conferences to scale and diversify your networking. To the introverts out there, this may sound like your worst nightmare (I can relate, I’m an introvert) — one-on-one coffee chats may seem more comfortable. For women and people of color, this may also be intimidating if you want to enter a largely white male-dominated industry (I hear you!). But conferences are a very efficient way to meet all the recruiters and industry representatives you need to know at one event and will save you time and money in the long run. The more you attend, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Tips:
- Show up early so you get one-on-one face time with recruiters, hiring managers, and organization representatives.
- Introduce yourself: Everyone’s there for the same purpose, so don’t feel awkward when you introduce yourself, this is what people expect! Organization representatives are there to talk about their organization, and you’re there to learn more — it’s already a natural connection, so just make the first move and introduce yourself.
- Follow frequent conference speakers on LinkedIn, as they may offer discounts.
- Take advantage of early bird discounts: Monitor Eventbrite and other event websites regularly or set up an alert.
7. Volunteer: Volunteering is a no-pressure way to meet people with shared interests. Many people I spoke with in Seattle found their jobs through fellow volunteers’ connections. Such volunteer work includes serving on a non-profit board or a City Commission or volunteering for a start-up weekend or co-working space.
8. Attend industry events and get relevant job alerts. Discover events on Facebook, Eventbrite, Meetup, and at local co-working spaces and other venues. If you’re a woman interested in tech, sign up for Tech Ladies. If you’re interested in international jobs, sign up for Global Jobs alerts. Sign up for this Google Group for social enterprise jobs.
9. Get a warm intro to a recruiter: One of the best networking outcomes is a warm intro to a recruiter that hires people with your skillset to fill positions you’re interested in. Recruiters are always looking for hidden talent, so getting them on your side is key, especially if you’re transitioning and not an obvious choice. If they think you’re a good fit, having them vouch for you and push your resume to hiring managers is an ideal outcome.
10. Don’t silo your networking based on roles you’re interested in: Talk to people working at different levels and in different roles, as they can all help you in different and unexpected ways. For example, if you’re interested in non-technical roles in tech, talk to software engineers and data scientists to get a better understanding of important cross-functional relationships. You’ll gain a broader sense of the organization’s priorities and challenges, learn the organization’s language, and may learn about parts of the organization you hadn’t previously considered that may be a better fit.
11. Let your network know you landed: When you land a new job, send a note to everyone that helped you during the search, thank them again, and offer to help them in any way. If you’ve taken the time to organize your networking contacts, this part is easy.
12. Network when you’re not looking for a job: Meet people and attend events when you’re not in career transition, so when you’re ready for your next opportunity, you’ve already established a diverse professional network. Moreover, the strength of your network will allow you to create value for people in your network when they need your help.
These are some of the networking lessons I learned from my own transition and from the many people who helped me along the way. Good luck!
Rebecca Yang is a former U.S. diplomat who served in Istanbul (2016–2018), where she covered human rights, religious freedom, and domestic politics. During this period, she helped lead her team through a coup attempt, terrorist attacks, and an evacuation. She is currently on Facebook’s Global Trust and Safety Operations team, which aims to keep Facebook a safe and trusted platform for people, businesses, and Facebook.