The Network Effect

Yesterday I accepted a job offer. I’ll start in a few weeks, and I’m very excited about it. I’ll share more specifics when I can, but not today.

The search is over. I’m happy and relieved.

As I’m still processing this, let me dump an initial batch of learnings based on these stressful last few weeks. Because, yeah — in case you had missed it — I lost my job a few weeks ago.

Before I get into it, let me acknowledge one aspect here:

“stressful last few weeks

I am extremely privileged to have this happen so quickly. I could say I’m one of the “lucky” ones. In a market where over 100k people have been laid off, I managed to find a job that, honestly, I see as a step up.

Wow, I must be that awesome, right?

I’d love to believe so; that this is just my intrinsic awesomeness coming to fruition. However, I think reality is a bit more complicated. I have a lot of thoughts on the topic of privilege, but this write-up is already going to be all over the place. I’ll leave it at this for now: I’m privileged to have found a new job this quickly. I know this is not the case for others similarly affected, and I hope you all find something good soon too.

This was the first time in my career where I could publicly announce I was “open for business.” In the past, this always had to be a back door, covert-type operation. Some years ago, for one local company I had initial interviews in a nearby restaurant, and later in a back room on the floor of their office where I was least likely to bump into people I knew. Yeah, I’m just that famous (in this small-ish city, with an even smaller tech industry where everybody knows everybody).

Not this time. I was able to shout loudly on LinkedIn and even reactivated my Twitter account to yell: “I’m looking for a job, you can hire me!”

And I was privileged enough to get a lot of actionable responses. This leads me to my big learning:

It pays off staying on good terms with people that you’ve worked with, even when you decide to leave.

Now obviously, this is somewhat anecdotal (based on interacting with about a dozen companies or so), but my non-scientific conclusion is the following:

There is a strong correlation between the success rate in getting a high-quality job offer, and the quality of the relationship with a person close to that job offer.

Or in other words, and as much I hate to say this: networking matters.

When I say “networking” I have a clear mental picture in my head: a cocktail party type of room with standing tables, with groups of people talking, where you’re expected to butt in:

“Hello everybody!”

And strike up a awkward, casual conversation. Then, work hard to be considered interesting, and distribute your business cards.

“Let’s have dinner some time!”

Yeah, that’s not the type of networking I’m talking about here. I could never do that.

What I have been doing, while not intentionally for this purpose, is to explicitly keep in touch with some people. Sometimes in a structured way (a monthly call), sometimes more randomly, a dinner, a message here and there. Not strategically (they’ll be able to offer me a job one day), but because... I like them (crazy, I know).

However, I also discovered that people I didn’t think I had interacted with for years, apparently did still maintain a connection with me through my writing. I heard quite a few times: “yeah, I never commented, but I read everything you wrote over the past years.” As it turns out, writing is a very scalable way to maintain a network. Not just writing text, but code as well. I had a conversation or two with people who are happy SilverBullet users.

So, how did this all play out in the end?

Within a day or so of me posting my availability on LinkedIn, somebody reached out that I had worked with (not very directly, but we were aware of each other). They had moved to another company and were looking for a few senior managers. We had an initial call, then another two “this is not a real interview” calls to get to know some of the people I could end up working with. One that same week, another the next. And then, just two weeks and 3 hours after my layoff, they called me with an offer.

This was way faster than I had anticipated (I was preparing for multiple months), but it put everything else in “accelerated” mode. I could hold off a little bit on answering the offer, but not indefinitely.

I was happy though: the offer was very attractive, definitely something I’d like to do. But when you have options, you can be somewhat selfish and just pick the best one for you, right? I liked that there was an end in sight, timeline wise. I wasn’t sleeping all that well due to the stress of not knowing.

So I started pushing a bit on the other “threads.” In many cases that resulted in an accelerated “thanks, but no thanks.”

However, in one case it resulted in a super accelerated process of effectively a single day. I had some history with this company, I had already spoken with a number of people there in the past and have a solid relation with the person hiring, so he (thinks) he knows what he’s going to get (muahaha). In a single day I had a call with the CEO, then VP of Product, and that same evening received an informal offer. The formal offer followed the next day. That was it. Done.

In Dear Recruiter I already hinted at this, but I can confirm: speed matters. Not just because it reduces stress for the candidate (waiting is the worst), but also because it very clearly communicates: we are excited about you and we are going to do everything in our power to try to get you to join us. This has a huge impact on how you perceive a company, and as a result the chances of you saying “hell yes!”

My best recruitment experiences in my career thus far have all been like that: the company doing whatever is required, even breaking the rules to pull you in. How can you say no to that?

The roles I interviewed for can be classified as follows:

  1. Engineering Manager: I’ve done this, I have a clear track record. Also: I enjoy doing this. If this is what I need to do again due to the current market, I can happily live with that.
  2. Mid-level manager: this my current career stage: Senior Engineering Lead at Mattermost, Director of Engineering at OLX. Teams of teams with between 20-70 people. I understand this job well by now, and I can do it, yet I don’t necessarily feel I fully “mastered” this stage yet. Still plenty to learn here.
  3. The top jobs: CTO, VP/Head of Engineering. While my LinkedIn shows I’ve had this job, it was one time in a messy start-up context, and once in an outsourcing company. I wouldn’t claim I’ve had this role in a more mature product company yet, but this would be a nice jump forward. Maybe now?

I especially learned a lot during interviews for some of these “top jobs.” I had three such conversations from three very different types of companies:

  1. With a high-profile, very well funded, yet still small start-up (that I was connected to via former colleagues — network!)
  2. With a small, fairly unknown start-up (also connected via former colleagues — again: network!)
  3. With a larger, more established company (connected via a “C-Suite” recruitment agency, who reached out after two former colleagues referenced me — dare I say: network?)

As one CEO told me, hiring for such roles externally is actually pretty hard. Using your close network is likely the best way. And it makes sense. Do you really want to take a gamble on a person “off the street” that you don’t know at all, based on a few hours spent in a recruitment process? These are roles that can make or break a company. You can’t just “try out” somebody and ditch them if it doesn’t work. Although... somebody told me a story of how he was fired in such a role after 2 weeks — so that does happen.

The second thing I realized is that many of these roles are never really advertised. You can only get them by just being connected to the right people or recruiters.

I had one call with a recruiter that specialized in recruiting for these “top jobs.” For 45 minutes we had a nice conversation, but very low on details about the specific company we were talking about. “It involves physically moving objects.”

I asked him about this. He explained that this type of process was extremely sensitive. Often, few people in the company knew such a role was open, sometimes not even the person to be replaced. Yikes. Therefore, only if he saw enough potential in a candidate, he would reveal details about the role and company. Apparently I was interesting enough to be told, and indeed, I knew the company pretty well. I didn’t feel I was ready for that level of challenge yet, though. Also: this would be a multi-month process, with a large pool of other candidates. I didn’t really want to take that gamble at this stage. Still, it was very interesting to better understand how this type of recruitment happens in the real world.

The common theme: it’s all about the network. So keep that network running.

Hey man, how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?

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