Networking is a loaded word that you either love or hate.
Luckily, if you know where to go, tech industry networking is both easy and inspiring. Essentially, networking is all about meeting people and forming professional relationships outside of your immediate circle of coworkers.
However, just the word networking can make your palms sweat. Like all things in Product, the key to good networking is preparation. And who knows, you may even learn to love it.
Before You Start: How Not To Network
The art of networking is surprisingly subtle, and there are a few things that can very quickly turn all of your efforts into mush. Networking approached in the wrong way can actually be detrimental to your career, so before you even think about getting started, here are some things you absolutely want to avoid:
❌ Bothering people: If someone hasn’t replied to your first 3 messages, they’re not going to respond to the 4th, 5th, or 6th. Leave them alone!
❌ Flirting: It shouldn’t need to be said in this day and age, but leave your dating-mindset at the door.
❌ Coming on too strong, too soon: Asking someone to mentor you, or for a recommendation at their company after only a brief back-and-forth (or none at all) is no way to make genuine connections.
❌ Quantity over quality: Don’t just write out a message and copy and paste it to every single connection possible on LinkedIn. It’s better to have a few quality connections over a horde of superficial ones.
So after all that, think about what networking is really about…
⭐ Learning about new job opportunities
⭐ Building relationships that enrich your professional life
⭐ Finding Product Management communities that help you to learn and grow
⭐ Giving back and sharing your own knowledge and support to others
Networking for Product Managers: 5 Top Tips
#1 Find Your Niche
The tech industry is vast, and so it can be helpful to narrow down your networking opportunities. Maybe you’re specifically interested in getting a new job, in which case finding online communities/groups with jobs boards will be the most helpful to you.
You can also narrow it down to meeting people from the same demographic as you, be it sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, or nationality. For example:
These groups exist outside of your company, but there may be employee groups within your company, especially if you work for FAANG.
You also don’t have to limit yourself to a single niche. There are intersectional communities out there for all kinds of people in the tech industry. If you can’t find one for your niche, start one! If you’re out there looking for people like you, chances are they’re looking for you too.
Another option for finding your niche in professional networking, is to choose an industry or area of interest. Maybe you’re in EdTech, or cybersecurity. Maybe you’re super interested in cryptocurrencies, NFTs, the Metaverse, and Web3.
Both online and IRL communities exist in so many areas, so get out there and find your people!
#2 Find Your Local Tech/Product Community
One of the most beautiful things about the tech industry is that although it’s easy to find people just like you, it’s also easy to meet people who are nothing like you! That’s where your local tech/Product Management community comes in.
Finding your local tech community, full of engineers, marketers, leaders, FAANG teams, startup entrepreneurs, and tech students will help to deepen your knowledge of tech. As a Product Manager, it’ll also help with your understanding of and empathy for tech roles outside of Product.
It may also be a surprisingly helpful source of tech jobs. While there may not be a jobs board officially, you might find yourself chatting to an engineer who knows about a job opening within their Product teams. Even if they don’t, you might learn something about software development that you never knew before!
Check your local Meetup.com, Facebook, or LinkedIn groups to see if there are any in-person events for tech professionals in your local area.
#3 Work on Your Elevator Pitch
Something that can give us anxiety when it comes to networking is not being sure what to say. Especially about ourselves. By working on your elevator pitch, when people ask you ‘so what brings you here?’, you won’t get flustered.
This is especially important for professional mixers and career fairs, where you’ll be meeting potential recruiters.
Check out our full guide to elevator pitches, both for you and your startup.
#4 Network In Your Current Company
It’s so easy to take the people in your current company for granted, no matter how large or small the organization. Tech companies are full of fascinating people, and networking in tech starts in your own backyard.
This tip may sound ridiculous to you if you’re in a startup of under twenty people, and you know everyone by name, face, and their favorite color. But if you work for a larger company, and aren’t familiar with too many people outside of your closest circles, it’s time to branch out.
Networking is often attributed to job searching, and job searching only. But the benefits of networking extend to your current job too, and can help you to do it better. Maybe you’ll learn something about the sales team that you never knew, and that helps you make important Product decisions. Or perhaps there’s something you know that can lead a different team to a big win.
#5 Keep an Open Mind
It’s good to network with a purpose, but if you enter every room with a single-mindedness that shuts out all other opportunities, you’re missing out. Let’s say you find a mixer for tech industry professionals in your city.
If you go in only wanting to talk to fellow Product people, you may miss a fascinating conversation with a designer, who would have given you some excellent insights on why your onboarding process is failing. You might also miss meeting the student who would have turned out to be your next all-star Associate Product Manager.
The fun of networking is the variety of people that you can meet, and the many doors that can open to you. It’s also your opportunity to give back – to pass on some knowledge or to give someone else an advantage in their job hunt.
So approach networking with goals, yes. But also approach it with an open mind, and a willingness to explore.
So now you’re excited to put yourself out there. Where to start?!
First of all, check out this great talk on transitioning into Product Management (skip to 14.20 for networking tips!).
Next, grab your ticket for #ProductCon, the #1 place to meet the Product Management community.