Using Your Network To Find A Job

Former Coworkers and Friends

One thing that many aspiring developers forget when trying to improve their personal network is that they already have one. In all honesty, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely already have a personal network of hundreds of people. I grew up out in the sticks, at the end of the power line (literally), yet just the contacts from my childhood comprise hundreds of people, dozens of whom have careers or contacts in computer-related disciplines. And this is from a guy who grew up in small town Tennessee. I later went to college in the “big city” (Nashville) and met thousands more people.

The point is you already have a network and you are absolutely insane if you don’t use it to your advantage. Even if none of your former coworkers, friends, and contacts from school are professional software developers, it’s highly unlikely that the same is also true of all their friends and contacts. In addition, if you are thinking about becoming a contractor or consultant, your nontechnical contacts can also help you out to a surprising degree, either as potential clients themselves or because of their own networks.

At this point, I’d also like to mention that most of us tend to think of old friends and coworkers as they are when we were around them, rather than remembering that they change as much as we do. As a result, it’s quite possible that even if you don’t think you know someone in this industry (or someone who can otherwise help you), you actually do.

Now, you might be tempted at this point to start sending emails to people. Don’t do that. If you know even a moderate number of people, sending emails to all of them will quickly get out of hand. Not only will it take a bunch of time to send emails to everyone, but the responses will also take up a lot of time. In addition, you may not want everyone to know that you are in the process of trying to get a software development job. I don’t know about you, but just because I know someone doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to trust them when I’m trying to start a new career. It also doesn’t mean that they are actually able to help me in a useful fashion (for instance, I have multiple friends in Australia who would love to help me find a job, but I don’t plan to move). Instead of contacting your entire list, you should segment it and tailor your messages based on what you can do for them and do it slowly.

It may seem a bit annoying, but the fastest way to get someone’s attention is to be useful to them. When your approach to other people is based on trying to get them to help you, it’s very easy to turn people against you or simply be ignored, whereas if you have the potential to be useful, people are more likely to help you out. “Useful,” in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean that you do work for them (although if they have simple computer problems you can help with, that will still help you). Instead, get into the habit of making contact with a few people a week, and take time to actually find out what’s going on with them. Keep notes (I use a spreadsheet when doing this), and forward things on to them that you think might be useful to them. This can include jobs if they are looking for one or potential business contacts for their employer. Ideally, what you want is to have a list of people to whom you are a valuable contact. This can be especially helpful if you connect members of your network who need things with other members of your network who provide those things. That’s the first step to getting on people’s radar and staying there.

There is one other thing you can do for people in your network that is valuable and doesn’t necessarily require you to find them business contacts or jobs, and that is to serve as a reference for them. Generally speaking, if you’ve had at least some work experience, you will have had a positive working relationship with at least a few people. You should reach out to those people and let them know that you are happy to serve as a reference if they ever need one. In addition, you can write a recommendation for them on LinkedIn or other professional web sites. Besides helping the competent people you know find work, this also gets you into a good habit, that being the habit of serving as a resource for other people. While it may seem like a small thing now, this is a habit that will pay off well further along in your career.

Now, I know that at least some readers will read the preceding items and think that it sounds a little like I am suggesting that you should help people so that they will reciprocate. It sounds that way, but it isn’t. You should be doing this without the thought of reward, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of a lack of self-interest. In essence, the best way to think about it is that you are a part of an ecosystem and these practices help improve the ecosystem. While your career is your own responsibility, it will be infinitely improved by having a solid network of people around you. The experience of the other people in your network will similarly improve by your efforts. Instead of looking at yourself as being separate from others, it is far better to think of yourself as a representative of a larger set of people, all of whom are going in the same direction. This mindset will take you further than simply going it alone.

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