Mash's Musings

Network like a superfan

Published Aug. 17, 2021

Network like a superfan. The goal is to get their life story, not find answers to yours.

Networking is either extremely underrated or overrated, depending on who's asking. For a business school grad, I would say that networking is overrated. Networking can help with the discovery phase of finding a new role and can compensate for some lack of experience or skills but is not a silver bullet. For anyone else, networking is extremely underrated.

As a first generation immigrant, I was taught that hard work and hard skills were the only keys to success. Put your head down, do good work, and you will be rewarded. Networking carried with it the stigma of being a used car salesman, hawking yourself to whoever will listen. As I have learned repeatedly through experience, this mentality sets up for some major disappointments career-wise. Practically speaking, breaking into new roles or top companies can be nigh hopeless without referrals. And on a more personal level, you have little sense of what a particular role actually entails until you chat with someone doing the thing.

The biggest mistake I see is viewing networking as transactional. The number of LinkedIn requests I get that are either "Hi, can I have a referral?" or one step away from that is a testament to this fact. This is the professional version of opening a dating app chat with "Wanna fuck?" Call me a boomer but I find this pretty unappealing. The trick is to network well before you are actively job hunting; incorporate networking into the career soul-searching phase and things will seem a lot less intimidating. Reaching out to a stranger on LinkedIn to ask their thoughts on the future of tech, for example, is going to be a lot less intimidating than asking them work to get you a job. Most humans like to talk and discuss things they are interested in.

Your goal in networking is to try and get a sense of the other person's life story. The best outcome will be to have made a new friend and the median outcome should be to get a new perspective on how to get to a specific career point. Imagine the attitude and questions you would have if you were to sit down with a career or intellectual hero of yours. Put yourself into that same mindset when chatting with someone new and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how genuinely interested you are. Leave some room in the conversation to share what bigger question you are trying to answer and where you are at but remember that this is not the main goal.

If the other person sees a match with what you've shared and what is available at their company, let them offer up a referral. Like dating, this will not always work out and that's fine, again remember that job hunting is at some level a numbers game. Feel free to ask if there are other people in the company that might be open to chatting whose journey might align more closely with yours. Chaining connections like this can be intimidating but teaches you to get over the nerves of reaching out to strangers. Seek additional perspectives and insight, and let referrals come through as a side effect. View networking as transactional and you'll find your social credit card getting declined more often than not.