Whether you are looking for a job or trying to meet a new mentor, your best resource will always be people. Most jobs are never listed on the open market. How do all these positions get filled? Personal recommendations and word of mouth. If you're a new grad fresh out of college, a solid network can help land a job in today's competitive environment. Having a large number of connections might be the crucial element to having your unique skills discovered, enabling you to contribute to an amazing project. You might even pivot someone's life completely by introducing them to an amazing mentor who will push them to achieve their full potential.

As much as some people may wish otherwise, it's practically impossible to achieve success without people helping you. Think about various famous people who achieved great heights. Almost all of them credit their success to those that helped them along the journey. No one did it all alone.

Networking is not Evil

The most common response I get when I bring up the topic of networking is something along the lines of:

"I don't 'network' - this feels like just using people!!"

I'd like to clear up this major misconception.

While there is a small number of people who will blatantly use others to achieve their goals, most people are decent human beings and want to have a positive impact on the world. Networking is not a zero sum game - if done properly, your connections will empower all participants to grow and achieve new heights.

Networking is just a fancy term for knowing people and helping them, either directly or by bringing them together with someone who can enable their growth. It can be as simple as this: you know a person in the industry who is looking to hire a capable worker. You also have a very good friend who recently got laid off, but has a great resume and is looking for a new position. You introduce them to your connection in the industry, and they get the job. Did anyone get "used", or lose out? No, of course not! Your industry connection got a worker and can move forward with their goal, your friend has a job, and you have the gratitude of both. All three of you won. This is essentially what proper networking should be.

Types of Interactions

There are two main categories of interactions:

  • Direct: A direct connection is when you know a person and you two are helping each other. You might take turns sharing advice, or one of you may mentor the other. The relationship is a source of motivation and inspiration, with regular exchanges of useful information. You send each other handy links and meet up for coffee talks. In a non-professional setting this is a regular friendship.
  • Connector: You are a person who knows many people, and often make introductions. You have lists of people who you can recommend to others to fill various roles, and you also keep track of who needs what positions filled. People reach out to you to grow their teams, or to simply meet new friends and mentors. You often meet new people and quickly introduce them to your existing connections, creating amazing bonds among people. Your referrals serve to satisfy the needs of all parties involved, and serve to build your status and reputation.

Both of these categories are extremely important and valuable. The direct connection allows you to work on a more personal relationship with someone, where you two grow together and are more informed about what is going in in each other's lives. When you act as a connector you have less time to focus, and spend most of your effort on introducing people and keeping track of who is growing in what direction, and what would speed up their progress towards some goals. As a connector, you might recommend people for hire, or introduce people so that they can share ideas and learn from each other. Your strength is knowing who will benefit from what meetings, and making them happen.

A small note of caution: keep in mind that when you make an introduction, you are implicitly vouching for the person and as such are bargaining with your status. If you make a bad referral to a job, this will sour your relationship with that employer. Always try to act in everyone's best interest - networking is built on people and their impressions of you.

Networking Events

As you begin to grow your presence and engage with the professional world, you'll start to get invited to various networking events. They usually have food provided, and can take the shape of general meet and greet minglers, or more directed forums such as a talk or panel. In order to maintain and grow your network try to attend at least a few a year.

These events are usually pretty easy to find. If you're not seeing as many invitations as you would like, try subscribing to some career growth mailing lists with event announcements. Join some groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and keep an eye on Eventbrite and other platforms that provide information about networking meetups. You can also ask your peers and coworkers for recommendations.

Before you go to network, sit down and make a list of goals. Are you going to maintain current relationships or make new ones? Are you trying to learn from the speaker (if there is one) or meet people in your field? Alternatively, you might attend a conference where you know little about the topic, in which case make some goals regarding what you want to learn.

Often these sorts of events will be sponsored by some company. Before you go, read up on the latest news regarding the company (financial, business, technological, etc) and be aware of the situation and challenges of the company. It makes a huge impression when you talk to a current employee of the sponsoring company and you know as much about the company as they do. This will make you stand out and give you a higher chance of leaving a strong impression and achieving your goals.

If you are attending in order to work on relationships with people rather than pick up new domain specific skills, do your research on who is likely to be there and what they need. By taking the time to figure out people's needs, you can better tailor your offerings and grow your connection faster. Know what you have to offer and how you can help a person grow. Read up on what they are doing, browse their LinkedIn, and figure out your best approach. In general you want to offer help and growth so that the gains are mutual, but at times it's perfectly acceptable to ask for favors or advice.

Your help can take many forms - it can be a piece of advice freely given, a recommendation of a person, or even volunteered time invested in a person. You know best what you have to offer, and it's hard to put this into words. Be aligned with your overall goals, and remember that the goal of this process is to meet more people and strengthen you existing network.

Remember to always bring business cards so that you can easily swap contact info. Watch your alcohol intake (limit is two drinks), and hold your drink in your left hand so you can shake with a dry right. Finally, always be polite to everyone that you meet - you never know who you'll end up talking to or otherwise dealing with in the future.

Have an Elevator Pitch

When you attend any professional event, you'll be asked to introduce yourself and what you do hundreds of times. You should have a thirty second summary ready to go - nothing is worse than simply introducing yourself as "Bob from Marketing". A good elevator pitch should have the following:

  • Your name.
  • What you are currently working on.
  • Your skills and relevant past experience.
  • What you are seeking or offering.

Here are some example pitches:

Andy at a college networking event:

Hi, my name is Andy. I'm an incoming junior at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in Psychology. I'm very interested in the topic of consciousness, and came here tonight to meet people to collaborate with on a new study that I designed.

Jessica at a neuroscience talk:

Hi, I'm Jessica. I'm a Ph.D in applied neurobiology, and have worked in Smirnov Labs for 10 years. In the past, I've worked on prosthetics, brain imaging technology and advanced sound recording systems. I came to hear the latest in neuroscience and meet interesting people.

Derek at local meetup

Hi everyone, my name is Derek. I love to fly in my hang glider on a weekly basis. Recently I got blown into the water and had to fight some sharks with my GoPro. Decided to swing by this morning to buy a new hang glider and mace for sharks.

As you can see, a pitch is nothing too extraordinary difficult to create, yet a good one can leave a lasting impression. You know yourself best, so sit down now and write one!

The Art of Following Up

Now that you've met all these new people, learn how to follow up with them. Growing connections is great, but this will get you nowhere if you never maintain those relationships. The first step to establishing a connection is to follow up after you meet. In professional settings, this usually involves connecting on LinkedIn or sending an email. For people who you meet as friends, the same concept applies. Send a message on facebook, text them, or reach out on whatever social platform you use. By doing this, you are indicating that your time together was more than a one-time event - you show that you appreciate the interaction, and would like to continue the conversation in some manner in the future.

In your message, send a brief reminder of who you are, how you met, and what your main takeaway from the conversation was. I like to send a note expressing my interest or respect for the person and the project they are working on, or perhaps provide a link to some useful resource they will like. It doesn't cost me much time, and usually helps them more and establishes a nice start to our dialogue. Some examples are below.

Email to Mr.X after tech conference:

Mr. X,

It was fantastic meeting you at {TECH CONFERENCE}. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about {COOL THING HERE},
and wish you all the best on {PROJECT HERE}. This is the article I mentioned: {LINK HERE}.

I'd love to stay in touch - my LinkedIn is in my signature, and this is my primary email.

All the best,


Message to Cindy on Facebook:

Hey Cindy, super awesome meeting you at John's birthday bash. Your story about that dude who killed a
shark with a GoPro was epic. Anyway, you mentioned your brother was a CS genius and looking for a cool
place to work - feel free to send him my info and I'll be happy to help.

See you at the next one!

Ping to recruiter after career fair:

Hello {Recruiter},

My name is {NAME} - I was the guy with the crazy bow-tie. Thanks for finding the time to tell
me about your open positions and provide the resume feedback. I hope that next year your
company will have more open positions for shark slayers. By the way, you mentioned you were
making an Android Wear app - I found {link} to be extraordinarily helpful.

All the best,


In short, if you meet someone who you care about and would like to continue the conversation, commit to following up! At the same time, try not to over do it - quality over quantity is best. You want to have a manageable number of connections that you maintain and grow, rather than "knowing" thousands of people but truly connecting with none.

Staying in Touch

Following up after the initial meeting is step one - maintaining your various connections is the hard part. Depending on your relationship, this can involve an email, a Facebook post, or even a phone call / coffee meeting. To be honest, this is something I'm still figuring out myself. I've tried using a calendar and various static lists, but I think I need a more automated solution that can remind me as needed to reach out to people. (Update: I'm in the process of making an amazing web app for this. Stay tuned!) One approach is to make a list of people, based on frequency. I have lists for monthly connections, quarterly, semi-annually, and yearly. I schedule in a time on my calendar to sit down and parse the list, then send various invitations.

In general you want to have all your relationships be mutually beneficial. Send cool links to each other, motivate each other to work on interesting projects, and have deep conversations. Ask questions, challenge them to grow, and introduce them to people you think will help them on their journey. Remember, the goal is not to use people. The goal is to create a network that empowers all participants and creates incredible new opportunities.

Find time to check in with each other when there's a lot going on. A friendly coffee chat can make the difference between a finals week meltdown and a successful semester. The same goes for work environments - you never know when your support is needed.

General Philosophy

Everyone makes their own choice on whether to be a giver, matcher, or taker. Takers use people and never give back. Matchers have a strong sense of fairness and will give only as much as they get. Givers will invest in people, often putting in more than they get back. All three strategies can lead to success, but I myself try to be a giver. I urge you all to be the same - give a bit more than you get. Take time to help people, share your experience, and make introductions where you can. Don't be a doormat and keep your giving to reasonable limits. However, you'd be amazed what a little donated time can accomplish. I've had experiences where I invest a tiny fraction of my day into a person, and years later they will reach out and thank me for the advice or help offered. Be kind.

Make sure to watch your reputation. You want to be known as a trustworthy, helping individual - nobody likes working with backstabbing pricks. Keep in mind that when you introduce someone or recommend a candidate you are implicitly vouching for them. If you promote people who detract from others this will reflect on you as well. I make it a habit to only recommend the people I would work with myself; and only those that truly fit the position or situation. If it's appropriate definitely check up on how your introductions or referrals are doing once in a while.

The word "networking" can have a negative connotation, conjuring images of sleazy salesmen with endless business cards, but it doesn't have to be this way. If you're helping people, creating new connections that flourish, and adding to the sum total of success then the bigger your network the more good you can bring into this world. That is a goal worthy of pursuit.