US companies are spending $2 billion a year on recruiting, but only 27% of all tech jobs are held by women and only 14% are held by Black and Hispanic people. Meanwhile, 85% of open roles are filled by networking. People use networks to grow their careers, but clearly that access is not universal. Networks aren’t helping members of underrepresented groups find roles in tech, because these folks historically lack access to built-in, robust networks from friends, family, and school connections.
My mission is to democratize the professional network for tech industry at large. Both my co-founder, Randy Brown, and I believe in this mission because we are two people who used our networks to maximize our careers in tech. We both relied on co-workers and classmates from school and work to help connect us to the right people at the right time to find jobs and grow our skillsets.
I’ve managed product managers from all kinds of backgrounds, and I know firsthand how hard it is for them build networks. When I was a mentor and manager of product managers at Hightower, VTS, and Microsoft, I saw firsthand how often connecting members of underrepresented groups to other smart people would help their careers flourish. Often just the introduction was enough for them to make the most out of the connection. I came into those jobs with networks from my university or previous employer, so I shared that access with my direct reports. I realized I wanted to extend that access and those intros to more people, not just my direct reports and not just my own network: I wanted to share everyone’s network.
My co-founder Randy built Jopwell, the first DEI recruiting platform. He placed thousands of underrepresented tech workers in their first job and has seen firsthand how hard it is to grow without a network. Those placed through Jopwell would often be the first people in their families or neighborhoods in tech and wouldn’t have a network to tap into to handle difficult co-workers or unresponsive bosses. This would cause churn, slow career growth, or limit future career opportunities.
How do under-networked people build their networks now?
People try to create these networks, cold, over LinkedIn, in community groups, and on networking platforms. But it’s time-consuming; results are hit or miss; and these networks aren’t diverse. Messages go unanswered or the connection isn’t the right fit, so folks end up frustrated and discouraged—and without a network.
We’ve personally interviewed and talked to 300 junior and senior tech workers about mentorship and networking. Between the two of us, we understand the problem of networking deeply. We need build tools that improve your job performance, like I’ve done at Microsoft, VTS, and Hightower. We need to build great talent marketplaces, like Randy has been part of in Jopwell, Y-Combinator, and dev/color. Both the tools and the marketplace are required to help folks level up in their current job and find their next role—and ultimately grow in their careers.
Together, we saw the problem from both sides: managing talent in the workplace but also placing it. We both saw there was a huge gap in networks for the majority of people entering tech.
So we built Merit to provide access to high-quality networks via effective 1:1 mentorship. For junior tech workers, in a few clicks, you can talk to mentors by topics, location, or industry. For senior tech workers, in a few steps, you can create share-able, bookable mentor profiles.
Merit removes all the friction in connecting—reaching out, scheduling, prep, follow-up, and feedback—so you can focus on the impact: having great conversations that people that can grow your network and career.
Through mentorship, you gain access to warm intros through your mentors’ networks. These warm intros can help short circuit the process of applying to jobs. People trust recommendations from people they know, so warm intros increase the odds of success. The more people you know, the more likely you are to get a warm intro to your next opportunity.
Merit can only facilitate these connections; it’s up to users to make the most of them. Intros are doors opening: you still have to walk through them. You still have to show up, be resourceful, ask for help, and follow through. But for so many of our users, these doors have never been opened—or been completely absent. We’re looking for more ways to create and open these doors through warm intros.
Our community uses Merit a few ways to cultivate warm introductions when searching for a job. They conduct informational interviews with employees from prospective employers. They ask for feedback on resumes, portfolios, and cover letters. They practice mock interviews with hiring managers and interviewers. They get feedback and help on negotiating job offers. They find mentors in their industry, and then, depending on the connection, they get referred to jobs. They go back to their mentors once they start a job and ask for outside help or advice on new problems or challenges they encounter.
We know that the tech industry isn’t the only one with this problem: the challenges of growing and using networks to accelerate career growth span industries, job titles, and geographies. We want to expand Merit beyond tech workers in the US and Canada to knowledge workers across the world so that everyone can access a diverse, growing network that always takes your call.