Prompted by my search to find a new PM team member, I decided to reconnect with my local peers to converse on products, recruiting and more.
I had been so heads down for the past few months, getting up to speed as the new Product Head Honcho, that I had put any and all contact with external Product Managers way down on the priority list. Where would I fit that into the schedule? It had been challenging enough for me to carve out extra time to meet with our existing customers - and I knew I certainly couldn't defer that activity.
The invites to catch up over lunch and coffee had begun to pile up as I made excuse after excuse for why it was never a convenient time for me. But the truth is, I had been increasingly isolating myself from my peers. And these were colleagues who could help me validate some of my recent Product Decisions and provide significant insight into many of my current challenges.
What drove this decision
In a previous Product Decision, I had chosen to replace one the PMs on my team, which immediately shifted me into recruiting mode (typically an exhausting exercise). In an effort to minimize recruiting fees, I began my search by reaching out to my own network of Product Managers. This provided me with a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends, and through them, new contacts.
The decision: Use my pressing PM search as a motive for networking with other Product Managers
I have found that most people like to feel helpful and are often flattered when asked for their opinions or for assistance with a particular problem. And, if talking shop over coffee isn't incentive enough, many professionals will gladly take time out of their schedule to help out a colleague, especially if the appeal is specific and reasonable.
In this particular case, I was hoping to identify suitable candidates to join my Product Team. By using my contacts to tap into the larger talent pool, I was confident I could accelerate my recruiting efforts. But I would also use the valuable face time to review a few of my past and future product decisions with these specialists.
Plan of attack
My first rule of professional networking is to make sure the meetings are productive for both parties. I began this post by declaring that I had very little spare time to spend outside my company. With that in mind, I began every meeting request with the assumption that my counterpart would likely be in the same position and would need some assurance that I would not be wasting his or her time.
So, aside from showing simple courtesy like confirming the meeting, arriving on time and choosing locations that would be convenient, I took extra care to make sure I was prepared for each discussion.
Provide a Job Description
The primary goal for these meetings was to cast a wider recruiting net and to identify viable candidates for my open Product Manager position. I tried to make that clear in the invitation in the hopes of prompting some early reflection. But because the PM role can be different in each company, I wanted to further clarify the exact type of applicant I was seeking.
I had chosen to defer posting the PM job description on our web site until we had exhausted other available channels so there was no link I could share with my colleagues. But rather than send along some "pre-requisite reading assignment" ahead of our meeting, I chose instead to bring along and share a hard copy of the job description. The physical document, as a take away from the meeting, was meant to keep my appeal for help top of mind - for at least a few hours afterwards.
Prepare a List of Topics for Gathering Feedback
As I mentioned earlier, Product people like to talk shop as much as the next person and truly, I was no different. Once we had moved past the initial pleasantries and discussed the open PM position at my company, I switched gears to pick their brains on any of a number of subjects that I had recently encountered.
I truly wanted feedback and advice on my own projects so in an attempt to make the discussions more productive, I formalized my thoughts and even created some specific questions on each topic - because as a PM, you should never miss a chance to improve your interviewing skills!
Offer Assistance in Return
Besides paying for the coffee or meal, which always goes over well, I also made sure to save time at the end of the meeting to switch the flow and turn the conversation around. I wanted to give my colleague the opportunity to share with me what was happening on their end. What product-related problems were they wrestling with? How was their team performing? Did they have some big product developments happening in the next few weeks?
And it never hurt to ask whether they were happy in their current job - sometimes you can get lucky and find a candidate in your immediate network.
Whenever the conversation turned to a problem or opportunity that I genuinely felt I could help with, I offered my assistance. And I made sure I followed up with any action items in my thank-you email.
I am pleased to report that through this PM networking activity, I did indeed identify several viable candidates and that accelerated our hiring efforts. But more than that, I was able to reconnect with and renew important relationships with many of my peers. I collected valuable, relevant insight from these professionals that helped me validate or in some cases, adjust some of the product decisions I was making. I was able to expand my own network a bit, a typical but always welcome side effect. And then of course, there was all the great coffee!