Golden Networking Rules for CS Majors

by Adithya Solai

Make sure to read Part 1 of this series: “Golden Resume Rules for CS Majors”.

From Unsplash

Motivation

Here are some common questions I receive from undergraduate CS Majors:

  • “How do I get a referral with no family or friend connections?”
  • “How do I network with recruiters?”
  • “How can I land an internship as a Freshman?”

Hopefully, my points below will answer all of the questions above.

Does Networking Really Matter?

As I mentioned in my Golden Resume Rules for CS Majors article:

New-Grad tech jobs are one of the few recruiting domains where it is more about what you know than who you know or the prestige of your college.

The importance of what you know over who you know makes the tech industry a perfect fit for the stereotypical anti-social CS Nerd.

However, networking and referrals can go a long way if you are in a disadvantaged position like those listed below:

  • You are a Freshman
  • You go to a small local college
  • You have a weak resume (low GPA, lack of personal projects, etc.)

Build Relationships Early

The most important aspect of building strong professional networks as a CS Undergrad is timing. The mistake that most of my mentees make is waiting until Fall semester (when internship applications are open and recruiting season is in full swing) to start thinking about networking and asking for referrals.

Tech professionals are shrewd enough to identify when a CS Undergrad is only reaching out to fish for a referral. Also, sending a straight-forward initial message like the one below is unlikely to lead to a referral:

Hi X! I see that you are on the Y Team at Company Z. I have lots of experience and interest in the technologies used to create Product Y. Could you please look over my resume and consider giving me a referral to join your team?

All great relationships take time. Consider sending your initial message 3 months before your intended recruiting season. In this initial message, you need to show intellectual curiosity for the tech world and a desire to learn more about the professional’s team and company.

Hi X! I see that you are on the Y Team at Company Z. I’m interested in learning more about the technologies used to create Product Y. Do you have some time to answer some of my questions over a quick phone call?

Two Types of People

But why would a random stranger want to talk to you?

Most people fall into at least one of two categories:

  • They genuinely like to help others.
  • They are narcissists that like to talk about themselves.

Both types of people are to your benefit. Even if you are feeding the ego of a narcissist that is lecturing you about their professional life, you are still getting a lot of valuable information from them.

Leverage Common Experiences & Interests

Professionals are more likely to respond to your initial message and give you a phone call if you mention something they can relate to.

The easiest common experience to leverage is going to the same college. For example, I went to the University of Maryland (UMD), and our mascot is the Diamondback Terrapin (or “Terp”). Once I find a Software Engineer at a company I am targeting that also went to UMD, I would start my initial message like this:

Hi X! Fellow UMD Terp here.

Here is a quick step-by-step guide on how to use LinkedIn’s Search feature to filter down to professionals that work at a company you are targeting AND went to the same college as you:

  • Open LinkedIn. Click on the My Network tab in the top-right menu.
  • Click on Connections in the left menu.
  • Click on Search With Filters
  • You should now see the default Search filters, which just shows your 1st-level connections.
  • First off, you want to include your 2nd-level connections in your search. 1st-level connections are the people you are directly connected with. 2nd-level connections are all the people that your 1st-level connections are directly connected with that you are not directly connected with. The diagram below makes this easier to understand. The nodes {A, B, C, D, E} are your 1st-level connections, and the bolded nodes are your 2nd-level connections.
Made with https://csacademy.com/app/graph_editor/
  • 2nd-level connections are powerful because you have at least 1 thing in common with them: you both know the 1st-level connection that connects both of you. You can even ask the 1st-level person to directly connect you with the 2nd-level person you are targeting via an email, group text, or group LinkedIn Chat.
  • Your pool of 2nd-level connections gets larger and stronger with more 1st-level connections. By networking with 2nd-level connections, you will eventually convert them into 1st-level connections, creating more 2nd-level connections. This creates a positive feedback loop!
  • Here’s how to include 2nd-level connections in your LinkedIn search:
  • Next, let’s filter down to professionals that went to the same college as you (make sure to click Show Results):
  • Finally, select all the companies you are targeting:
  • Feel free to play around with more nuanced filters in the All Filters menu we used to select our university.

Medium For Sending Your Initial Message

If you are able to find the email address of the targeted professional, then just send them an email. Leverage the email medium to attach your resume and provide URL links to some of your professional work (relevant personal projects, blog posts, academic papers, etc.).

If you can’t get their email address, you should try to leverage LinkedIn’s “Add A Note” feature that appears when requesting to connect with someone. The “Add A Note” feature has a 300-character limit, so you will need to use the short-and-sweet initial message examples from the Build Relationships Early section.

You can also use LinkedIn’s InMail feature that let’s you send longer messages in a Connect request. However, this is a paid feature. If you know you are going to be aggressively networking in the coming weeks, you can use your free 1-month trial of LinkedIn Premium to get access to tools like InMail.

Planning The Initial Phone Call

Once the professional agrees to a phone call, work out a time to talk. Create a https://www.when2meet.com/ event to reduce the number of cycles where you ask each other if a particular day and time work. This will save them time, and you don’t need to hold their attention as long. Make it easy for them!

Once the time is finalized, create a Google Calendar Event for the call. Include your phone number and/or video conference link in the Event. Make the Event 30 minutes long, but make sure you are free if the call runs over 30 minutes. You want to keep the call going as long as you can.

Invite the professional to that Event using their email address. This will help make sure they don’t forget about the call. It’s good etiquette to send a short confirmation email/message on the day-of to make sure they are still available for the phone call (things come up!).

Hey X! Are you still good to go for our phone call this evening at 6 PM? Just wanted to confirm. Thanks again for your time!

The Initial Phone Call

You need to steer this conversation with targeted questions.

Prepare more questions than what you can realistically cover in 30 minutes. Then, rank the questions based on your expertise of the topic (least expertise at the top). Ask your questions in that order to maximize your learning.

To create these targeted questions, you will need to do more research on the professional. Dive deeper into their LinkedIn Profile and do a Google Search on them. Try to find the following:

  • Resume
  • GitHub Profile
  • Personal Portfolio Website (like adithyasolai.com)
  • A blog that they write

Now, dive deeper into those resources mentioned above. Research more about the previous companies and teams listed in their Resume. Read the ReadMe's of their personal projects on GitHub and skim through their code. Read their blog posts. Read any academic papers they have published or co-authored.

Towards the end of the phone call, ask for ways that you can learn more about what was discussed during the call. Ask for recommendations on books, blogs, subreddits, and articles. Also, ask to be connected with people in their team/company/network who would know more about a topic that you still have lots of questions about. This will show intellectual curiosity and a bias for learning.

More importantly, you need to actually read those recommendations and reach out to those new connections after the call. Report back to the professional with your own thoughts on the recommended reading material. Also, keep the professional updated on your progress in networking with the recommended contact. Your rapport with the professional will naturally grow from there.

Seek Help From Those Who Have Helped You Before

"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Our natural approach for seeking help is to call in a favor from someone we have helped in the past. However, the psychology research behind the Ben Franklin Effect says otherwise.

When you ask a small favor of someone who is indifferent towards you, they have a decent chance of doing the favor because it is so small. Then, the helper undergoes cognitive dissonance: they claim to be indifferent towards you, but also did you a favor as if you were someone that they liked. To resolve these two contradictory thoughts, they will conclude that they do like you to some extent.

Then, you can go to the helper for a slightly bigger favor because they are no longer indifferent towards you. Then, the cognitive dissonance cycle will occur again, and they will like you a little bit more. Then, you can go to them for an even bigger favor, and the cycle continues.

In the context of tech industry networking:

  • The helper is the tech professional we are trying to network with.
  • The initial small favor is recommendations for books, articles, and blogs.
  • The next favor is a 30-min phone call.
  • The next favor is connecting you with someone in their network that has more expertise on some topic.
  • The final favor is giving you a referral for a job.

It’s A Numbers Game!

You now have the knowledge to carry out a full networking cycle with a tech professional from initial message to a job referral.

You’ll make mistakes the first couple of times you try to execute this strategy. Even when you become a networking expert, this strategy will still fall apart due to factors you can’t control:

  • The professional doesn’t have time to respond to you.
  • The professional forgets to respond to you.
  • The professional doesn’t feel comfortable doing video calls with strangers.
  • The professional has some hidden bias against you.

Therefore, the best approach is to execute this strategy with 100 professionals in the hopes that you can build a great relationship with at least 1 of them. Networking is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and scrappiness.

Thank you for reading! Happy networking!

E-mail me at adithyasolai7@gmail.com with any questions/comments!

Related Readings

I’ve written other career-oriented articles. You can browse my Medium profile to find one that interests you (https://adithyasolai.medium.com).

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