Build Something & Go to Coffee

Mary Scotton
6 min readJan 3, 2023

I really want to write about ChatGPT (I mean, who doesn’t?!?) but I want to spend some more time exploring it first. Luckily, I just saw Kanika Tolver’s post celebrating 10,000 downloads of her Create a ServiceNow Career Twitter Space event and Stephanie Ciccone-Nascimento’s post about #jobhunting and they sparked a new connection: the best way to level up in your career is to build something and go to coffee!

Build Something

I attended Kanika’s event (my first ever Twitter Space!). When the topic of job hunting came up, one of the guest speaker said:

“It’s going to be a LOT harder for someone to hire you if you haven’t built anything.” — Cory “CJ” Wesley

I wrote that down. Fast. THIS is what I’d been saying to my ServiceNow mentee, suggesting possible applications he could build based on his non-ServiceNow job experience. (He looked skeptical when I pitched it, so I sent him the Twitter Space recording. 😉)

Why do hiring managers for tech roles, like Administrator or Developer, want to see what you’ve built? You went to the training. You passed the certification (more on that in future post…). That means you’re ready for an entry-level role…right? Maybe. Maybe not. 🤷‍♀️

Seeing what you’ve built is the best ways for a hiring manager to know that you 1) WANT the job and 2) can DO the job.

  1. If you aren’t interested enough in the platform to get hands on and build something, then will you really thrive 8 hours a day in this job?
  2. Going to class and being a good test taker does not equal deep understanding of the decisions and pitfalls of actually building something.

What should you build?

Start with what you know. My mentee is in the band for an NFL team. 🥁 The band is invited to perform all over the state. I proposed an application that would track those incoming “requests” and automate the process of approvals, staffing, resourcing, and tracking the outcome of each performance (# of attendees, payment (if any) etc.).

This type of end-to-end application gives you the experience hiring managers are looking for — experience you don’t have, yet. So, be your own boss and give yourself the assignment. Then, do the work:

  1. interview the business owner (who might be YOU, if you are building an app to track something in your life, like your wedding)
  2. write down the requirements (who is the approver? are there multiple levels?)
  3. design the app (will you use existing tables, extend existing tables, or build a fully custom table? what should the user interface look like? how many flows will you need to automate the processes?)
  4. build it with your own two hands (this will probably require you to google/reference that training you took and that reinforces the learning; you will also hit roadblocks and that gives you something fun to talk about in your interviews)
  5. test it (does it do the thing you wanted it to do? again, more fodder for stories when you are in a job interview)

When you’re done…

Go to Coffee

What? Going to coffee isn’t WORK? How is going to coffee going to help me get a job? Are you saying I need more energy and should drink lots of caffeine?!?

No. I’m not trying to push caffeine (in fact, one of my new year’s goals is to ween myself off caffeine, and if you’ve done it, I’d love to go to coffee with you to hear how you did it!). “Coffee” can be any drink. The key is who you’re going to coffee WITH.

“Building relationships is still the most effective job hunting strategy for the long term.” — Stephanie Ciccone-Nascimento

In her post, Stephanie hits on something I LOVE to talk about (like, really really love to talk about, I even delivered a keynote about it in 2016): the importance of making an authentic human connection, as part of your work day.

I encourage all of my mentees (and anyone else who will listen) to Go to Coffee because it’s something I wish I’d known sooner in my career. When I learned this (from my all-time favorite manager), it was like a secret door opened to a whole new world of possibility.

How I Do It

When I see someone on social media who is sharing interesting content, I follow them and sometimes I’ll like or comment. That’s the start. Over time, if I’ve seen and commented on multiple posts, I’ll send a connection request saying that I’d like to chat about <whatever the thing is they’ve been posting about> over “virtual coffee”.

With a co-worker, I’m not in an office, so it’s kinda similar — I’ll send an email or a Teams message. In person, it was easier because I could swing by someone’s desk and say “I’m going to grab a coffee in the break room, do you want to join me?” Or walk out of a meeting with them and say “that idea you were sharing in the meeting is really interesting, can we grab coffee sometime and you can tell me more about your project?”

Either way, if they accept, I suggest some times to chat and offer to do the scheduling. Once the meeting invite is sent, I do a little research to prep. I look at their online profiles, any books/articles they’ve written, talks they’ve given, so that I’m prepared with good questions. And I think about what I want to share and how my experience could add to what they’re doing.

In the coffee chat, I’m informal but professional. Grateful for their time and genuinely excited to be getting to know them. I talk work stuff but also share and ask about non-work stuff (where do you live, what do you do outside of work, etc.). I’ve found that connecting on a personal level helps build trust. I do my best to be an active listener (I talk a lot when I’m excited about something, so this is a struggle 🤦‍♀️) and to not have any expectations.

Each coffee connection builds a potential node in your professional network. My favorite question to ask at the end of a chat (after thanking them for their time!) is “who else do you think I should talk to?”

Final step: don’t forget the followup! If you said you’d do something “oh, I’ll send you an introduction to so-and-so” or “I’ll send you a link to this podcast I think you’d love”, then DO IT. That day. (Or the next day, that’s cool, too.)

You Can Do This!

I know that putting yourself out there — by asking someone to connect with you on social media, or asking a co-worker to meet with you to chat — is intimidating. Let your excitement about the thing you just built fuel you. You have something REALLY COOL to talk about! You had FUN building it, and you overcame challenges. You’d love to hear how that other person has fun in their really cool job (that you’d like to have someday), what challenges they’ve overcome, and any advice they have for you.

The great thing about going to coffee, in real life or in a 30-minute Zoom call, is it’s a short commitment — for both you and the other person. If you don’t feel an authentic connection, then that was it, just 30 minutes. Maybe you learned a little something or helped them out a little. Or maybe not. Either way, it was worth the time.

If you made it this far, then I believe you’re ready to level up in your career: Go build something and go to coffee! 🚀

Let me know how it goes. 😃 You can find me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-scotton/.

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Mary Scotton

Technology industry leader, evangelist, and connector who cultivates inclusive communities. She/her. maryscotton.com