/ Product Management

Networking to grow your PM career

Networking and mentorship have been two cornerstones of my career development. Whether it’s to find new roles, explore opportunities, or to seek advice from someone who has explored a path you’re interested in, it’s valuable to have a strong network you can tap into.

In this article, I’ll explain ways that you can grow and leverage your network to help you in your PM career.

Build a strong inner circle

For anyone first starting out in their career, I recommend keeping tabs on all of the professional/personal contacts you consider valuable in one central location. For most people, that’s a service like LinkedIn.

The sweet spot for LinkedIn connections is 500+ (nobody can tell your specific number of connections past this point). The number of connections serves a few purposes. It makes you seem like a well-connected individual, it helps you keep tabs on who is at what company and in what roles, and lastly, it helps others find you!

While 500 connections may seem daunting, you probably have a solid base of acquaintances that you can already connect with on LinkedIn. I recommend starting with people you know/have met in real life:

  1. Friends and Family: This is the easiest group of people to connect with, people who have known you for a long time and can vouch for you as a person/professional. These people have the highest likelihood to accept your connection invites.
  2. Classmates: If you went to a large college/university that is well known for producing tech talent, definitely reach out and invite your classmates to connect. Start here with people you met in your class or student groups that you know in real life.
  3. Co-workers: Similar to classmates, it’s completely normal to connect with your co-workers via LinkedIn to grow your initial network.
  4. Clients/Partners: This one is especially pertinent if you work in an externally facing role. Add people you have worked with directly who again can vouch for your skills/expertise.

For example, I started by adding friends from my high school, undergrad, and grad school acquaintances. From there, I began adding co-workers that I would meet as I navigated through the early part of my career. Remember, these connections will be the core of your network and you’ll use this to expand/leverage your network moving forward.

Expanding your reach

While your inner circle may have the expertise/connections/advice you’re seeking, most of the time you will need to know someone else in order to get what you’re looking for.

Have you ever heard of the ‘Six degrees of separation’? The principle is basically that any two people are connected, on average, by 6 or fewer social connections. This is why networking is so important.

Here are some ways you can leverage your existing network in order to grow and expand your reach:

  1. Ask for introductions: An easy way to meet new people is to simply ask your existing network to make an introduction. Your existing connections can vouch for your social proof and helps remove skepticism that typically comes with reaching out cold.
  2. Contact ‘Alumni’: Another easy intro to potential connections is mentioning something you share in common like a company or a school. It’s an easy way to discuss why you’re reaching out to them specifically when you both have something in common regarding your background.
  3. Show interest in their work: If the person you’re connecting with provides some sort of thought-leadership or has a public persona (content creator, Linkedin post, etc.), you can use that particular piece of work to segue into an introduction.

Structure the 'ask'

When you reach out to new or existing connections, you need to make sure you’re not asking for too much. This of course can vary depending on your comfort level with the individual. Remember, trust is an equity and new connections likely have little to no trust with you.

Here’s some tips on how to appropriately structure the ‘ask’:

  1. Keep it short: Don’t ask for an hour of someone’s time, try 15-30 min. If you build a great rapport, you can always chat with that person again.
  2. Make sure you be direct with your request: Be direct and specific. Things like “I need help with my resume for X job” or “How would you navigate the salary negotiation phase” are much better than something generic like “I need help”
  3. Take care of the logistics: Do all of the planning for the meeting/conversation. Set up the zoom/hangouts/call/meeting details, offer up some reasonable times, and be flexible. Remember, this person is providing you immense value, so don’t try and make it harder for them

Always provide value

One of my favorite tips I like to give those looking to grow/expand their network is to constantly be providing value. Not only will you keep your tools sharp by sharing your expertise, many times you’ll be unknowingly planting networking seeds that you can sow later on.

There have been numerous times where I’ve helped junior PMs who have then returned the favor to me years down the road. Even more immediately, you should try and find ways to thank those who have taken time out of their busy day to help you progress in your own PM journey.

Here are some ways you can provide value:

  1. Create something: I like writing for Exponent because I’m able to capture some of my lessons and provide value to the broader PM community. Consider starting a blog, website, or even sharing an article whenever possible
  2. Open pathways: If you notice two people who could probably benefit from an introduction, be proactive and start the conversation for them! You could unknowingly be doing someone a huge favor.
  3. Mentor: I think of careers as a continuum. There’s always someone more experienced than me and someone who could use mentorship. Try to find someone to share your knowledge with and pay it forward.

Conclusion

There are many ways that people can build and grow their networks. Networks take a lot of time and nurturing in order to really reap the benefits, but I promise that it’s well worth the effort. Remember to not only ask for value but also provide it. I encourage all of you to get out there and start connecting!

Looking for a great community to network with? You’re in the right place! Exponent provides a fantastic community for people looking to kickstart their tech careers. Check it out at tryexponent.com

Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee

Startup Product Manager. Former PM @Autodesk. Co-founder @Roughdraftgames. Georgia Tech & Berkeley Alum. Fluent in Rocket Science & Slack. DM about Technology, Board Games, ATL sports.

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