Guest Post by: Nikola Mojic (Mentee, Session 11, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Yogesh Sharma]
This is a story about why taking a pint of beer has no alternative. This is also a story of how to find a like-minded person to take that pint with. On top of those things, this is a story that shows you how that pint helped me, and how it most definitely can help you, on your path of learning and growing as a Product Manager. Or even more importantly, as a human.
To be honest, this is a heavily covered topic. On social media, business blogs and among other hype channels, networking topic is among most published. So why did I choose it as my one important learning?
The lesson I learned that there is much more in developing your personal professional network than they cover. First, I do not like the focus on social media, while face to face meetings are mostly neglected. There is almost nothing on how to achieve meaningful face to face meetings. Second, I do believe there is much more utility of personal network then an easy job search in the future.
As I grew, I encountered different ways of networking, through different channels. As most people experience, it starts with school, continues to college, and then finally it comes to employment.
And, with no doubt, this is great. Most of my best friends are from the first two, and there are some great colleagues from work. But I must admit, once I graduated, networking opportunities shrunk drastically.
Moreover, the networking opportunities all mentioned channels offer are usually personal, or via shared interest and hobby. Rarely, they come due to professional interest alignment. Maybe with other roles it is different, but with the rare role of Product Manager, you will move away from most of your friends, in terms of profession.
That is exactly what happened to me. I finished the path that was set up for me via formal education, and I found myself at the crossroad, with a blindfold. I was certain I wanted to pursue Product Management, but I had not even the slightest clue how. Plus, I had no one to ask advice from.
Sure, there are books, online courses, and blogs which can help, and they do. They can make you literate, but they can’t make you a writer. What I lacked was human, personalized advice and experience.
At this point, I’ve heard about meetups and conferences, thus I’ve decided to try them. I’ve been visiting my sister in Boston in October 2016 and saw a volunteering opportunity at the Machine Learning conference. Decided to give it a try. One of the best decisions in my life.
After these 3 days at Microsoft NERD Center at the edge of the MIT campus, I’ve had an epiphany. Listening to talks of Product Managers, followed by chatting between the sessions and finally taking a pint with them in the evening gave me a completely new view of the PM role. I started finding out what is happening behind the curtains, on day to day basis.
The part that bought me was the amount of value you can get by providing others with the value of the conference. After realizing that, I’ve decided to join the organization. Since then, and I’ve organized 6 conferences on 3 continents.
Organizing these conferences gave me the opportunity to grow my network with Product Managers from different geographies, industries, and companies. This network changed me and improved me as a Product Manager, teaching me that having a professional network of people you know in person is invaluable. I’ll try to break down this lesson into benefits, and provide guidance on how you can obtain these benefits yourself.
- I found I’m not alone. All of these experts started just like me once upon the time. They were lost at some point in their career. They faced similar problems, and if you listen, they will gladly help you jump over some of these pitfalls.
- I’ve met people I couldn’t otherwise. You can talk one on one with heads of the world’s top companies over a beer, hearing how things work without the media decoration.
- My network is a great learning support system. Many of these people were happy to share with me materials and books they found useful, not only during the conference but in the following years as well.
- You get expert feedback on your work. Having honest relationships with other PMs offer great feedback mechanism for your(and their) work, with an external view.
- You can give back to your network. This might be something small or big, depending on your skill level. Your unique experiences help others in the community grow, and if you’re in the development stage, having a sounding board to bounce ideas off of is invaluable to the growth of your project.
- Business opportunities. Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. Whom you know really impacts what you know.
For example, during my work as a partnership manager on organizing the before-mentioned conference, 95% of the successful partnerships came from organizers personal networks. Warm into from people who meet you does wonders.
- New Jobs. 70-85% of all jobs come from personal networks. I’ve experienced a few job offers from people I met, even without looking for a job.
I would like to stress out that there are bad ways of using your network. If you achieve something that will harm anyone in any direct or indirect way, you shouldn’t do it. If you are using it to make an unfair advantage, please think about it again.
The way of relationships and networks to be used are for mutual benefit and growth, in a way that is not harmful to the environment. Teaching each other, helping do a better job or giving feedback are a few examples of this. Please use your network(and power) responsibly.
Where to start
If we can agree that meaningful personal connections with other Product Managers(or any role indeed) can greatly help you grow your knowledge and opportunities, how can you obtain them?
1) I would strongly suggest reading up on human psychology. You do not want to abuse it, but you do want to know how you can make someone enjoy your company. You want to understand how you can help them benefit from your friendship and grow. Long lasting relationships are the ones both sides benefit from. The book I suggest here as the textbook on human connection, Dale Carnegie’s: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Even it is 83 years old, it offers a great overview of human psychology, which is still pretty much exactly the same.
2) Maybe you already did lots of them, but in case you didn’t, please take a few evening to attend a local meetup on topics you have interest in. If you are from the smaller environment which does not offer what you are looking for, take a day and travel to the place that does. I guarantee it will provide you with benefits beyond your expectations.
You can find most of them at meetup.com and eventbrite.com (also covering conferences and workshops).
3) Organizing a conference is not a small task, but it’s achievable. You can contact me anytime to hear my experiences or ask for advice, I’ll do what is in my power to help.
However, I would suggest by starting on a smaller scale, organizing a meetup. This is a great way to start growing your network and experiencing the benefits I listed in the previous section.
4) Either you created a new connection or you want to improve the existing ones, the time to start is now. Start by giving value. Offer a good book, article, help on a project or just an ear to listen to their problems and possibly give feedback. You’ll be amazed by what will you learn.
I do emphasize that the relations we develop in person are irreplaceable throughout this article. Internet and social networks offer many different ways to meet people today, but there is the fact that humans are emotional beings. The type of relationship whereby some would be willing to go out of their way to help you requires a certain amount of depth which is difficult to emulate online.
I learned there are no downsides of having a strong professional network. Things these relationships offer amplify your skills far beyond anything you can do on your own. Being surrounded by great Product Managers offer unique opportunities for learning, feedback, and new jobs. Start building your network today, sign up for your next meetup.
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Check out the Mentors & Enjoy!
The Product Guy