“Breaking into business” can feel a lot like sitting alone at the middle school lunch table trying to make new friends. If you’ve never been or cannot empathize with that companionless child, I’ll save you the pain: it’s no fun.
That lonely child was me about two years ago. Except, as you guessed it, I was not still a little kid slumping over at the lunch table.
I, like many people I know, was trying to break into the tech industry.
For context: I was 18. I had no real business connections. I had never had a formal internship. I did not have a twitter (or a blue checkmark for that matter). Heck, I think I had under 500 LinkedIn connections?!?
Plain and simple: I was that abandoned kid at the table with nothing cool in my lunchbox to offer.
I had two options: sulk & complain or do something different. Thankfully, I chose to try and do the latter. And, with a lot of luck and effort, things have changed.
Sooo much has changed. I have written all about that formative growth here, here and here ~ but the TL;DR is that I’ve managed to build a deep network of awesome people, work on things I really care about, and develop real, hard skills.
None of this. None of this would have been possible without the people who helped me along the way. The individuals who took, what may have lookedlike at the time, irrational chances on me (that lonely kid at the lunch table). I cannot emphasize enough just how thankful I am for those people.
I think lots of people share similar aspirations to me. Young and old. We all want some sort of fulfillment.
But sometimes it is hard to figure out what that something looks like. I wholly believe that people, of all kinds, are the gateway to finding those passions and aspirations.
The question I get a lot, from people who may have read my story or shared a similar dilemma to me just one year ago, is:
How can I start building these relationships? Where do I even begin to look? How can I add value? How can I break into tech?
First and foremost, I have never been a fan of prescriptive advice. Especially in this case, where there is no real “guaranteed to work” recipe you can follow that will output success.The luck coefficient is extremely influential in most things, so I’d focus on doing all that you can do to put yourself in a position for luck to take the wheel.
The next thing I’ll add is that this “guide” may be a bit unconventional. I am sure there are expert “networking coaches” out there with some contradictory evidence/advice.
I’ll make it clear and easy for you to decide who you want to listen to: I am not an expert in this. I am studying Finance and Computer Science, not relationship building.
These tips worked really well for me, so perhaps you appreciate the transparency. Besides, I’m always here to help: just email me (really)!
Everyone wants something different out of life. That is what makes the world, and business particularly, so interesting. You should start by asking yourselves the hard questions and figuring out what you want..Do you want a job? Internship? Money? Experience? What is it that you want?
Many people get stumped right here. I did. So how do you figure this out? Well, I think there are two philosophies:
The first is you spend a long time thinking. You think, think and think and hope that one day you’ll come up with this holy grail goal of yours that will fulfill your life. That is option A.
The second way is to just go out and work. To try jobs that you are not 100 percent sure you will love. To try and learn through experience. You could be wasting a lot of time here doing jobs you may hate, but hey, you’re learning nonetheless.
I find that the best way to come up with and define goals is through some mixture of the two strategies. One way to hack this, and level up, is to talk to people, who have experience, and learn from them so you do not have to make the same mistakes they did.
We hedge a lot of time and emotional investment on that perfect job. Until, of course, we get there and it turns out to suck.
So develop an experiment where you can test your assumptions quickly and learn a ton about the career you might want to consider. Figure out what you need to do today to learn more about an industry, job, or career. For me, that meant talking to as many people as I could.
Pause here. I said something that may be controversial to some: talking to as many people as I could. As with most advice, I’d like to give two caveats:
Once you have what it is you want to do (call it your goal), it is really easy to build the experiment. It’s kind of like if you wanted to run a marathon, what would you do? You’d simply run every day. Building a network is very similar, except instead of running, you’ll substitute different tactical steps.
Whatever industry you are interested in, chances are there are group of people in it who are super passionate about what they do. Find out where they hang out. For tech, that may be Product Hunt and Twitter. For Investment Banking, that may be Wall Street Oasis and linkedin. For making friends, that may be the movie theatre.
Wherever that is — go there!
The next thing you want to do, although it may feel weird, is you want to create a list of people that you want to meet from that field.
It is important to be genuine here. When I started networking, my goals were super transparent. “Using” and “manipulating” people via networking will never work out. Honest people win.
Creating a list is simple. Build a google sheet or excel doc and list out a few categories. Name, company, and email will work fine.
How do I get their email?
There are many tools out there. My favorite is slik. Not being able to find their email is no longer a valid excuse so once you have a list of “targets,” begin to fill out the email column.
Hitting that send button can be intimidating. It is one of the scariest parts, especially starting out. There are a few things you can do to mitigate that fear. The first — figure out where you can add value for those people. This is tricky and often case dependent. I’ll write a blog post more about this another day, but for now just reach out to me and we can talk about it.
The next, construct a simple email. Key word here: simple. No one likes reading long emails. Here is an easy one:
My name is Jordan and I share a passion for the intersection of tech and business.
I am really interested in your experience with ____ and ____ and would love to find a time to chat about your past as well as advice you have for a student in the future. Also, I’d love to help you out doing ________ because I am _______.
Shoot over a time that works for you and I will be sure to make it work,
Voila. A simple template. It is the easiest way to start a conversation with someone. Everyone loves free help.
I ended up sending a ton of these emails to people that I was really interested in talking to or working with. The only real blockade is that you have to write, pretty much, the same words over and over. Of course, you customize the why and personalize the message, but a lot of it ends up being the same.
Ok now for the most valuable piece of advice I can possibly give you. You have to be persistent.
What generic advice? Am I right?
Ok, let me tell you the cold hard facts. More than likely, people will not respond. In fact, I’d bet on it. Most people will never answer you. You have to be persistent. You have to manage expectations and understand that you are in it for the long run.
“Networking” is not a one month thing. You do not all of a sudden start networking and magically have a huge network of real relationships. That may work for getting linkedin connections ~ but it will not work in reality.
And when people do respond, work your magic and make it count. So what does that look like?
“Being nice” can go a really long way. It’s an underrated asset that many people abandon in pursuit of fame and success. Trust me, it will not go unnoticed.
Another thing, people like helping people who are determined to do well. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather talk to some lazy slob, or someone who is really going after it? When is the last time someone cold emailed you offering to help you? For free? Rarely, if ever happens. That is why — when you do it, you really stand out.
So that is how you “Hack Networking.” You come across as real, genuine. You leverage technology to make it as easy as possible for you to talk to the right people. And you work on it consistently, over a long period of time. Relationship building is much of an art as it is a science. I’ll never forget that. And I’ll always be grateful for the relationships that I have built.