Creative Networking Advice, From One Student to Another
I never would have thought I'd be giving networking advice, because on paper, I'm the type of person who would be a failure at it: I'm very introverted, I avoid trying to meet new people, and do I even need to mention that I'm shy and awkward?
But I recently had heard from someone that the people who were the worst at doing something were the best at understanding it precisely because they didn't immediately understand it. And looking back, that's what I've been trying to do all along. At some point in 2016, I had to face the uncomfortable fact that being good with people was important.
So I started to try. It was slow, and I never really knew what I was doing, but what mattered was that I kept trying. But then in February of 2018, I met up with someone who put me in contact with someone else, and after a chat with that person, I ended up being able to do a hand-lettering workshop in one of the most famous design firms in the world, IDEO Shanghai.
That was so insane and something I never would have dreamed of happening. I've always stubbornly tried to reject the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Good work will always win out, right? But once I started college, I thought about how everyone in every other prestigious design school out there would graduate with the same skills, but only a few of those are people that would be covered on a famous blog or get big-name clients, and that was when it finally clicked. It doesn't really matter who you know, but rather, it's really, really important who knows you (remember the workshop?).
And I'm still figuring things out as I go, but when I had a conversation about networking that lasted for two hours, it hit me that I knew enough to compile a blog post. I know one reason why I avoided this sort of thing before was because the most popular articles on networking are so business-y and icky, so here's something hopefully more friendly.
Picking a person
Start with figuring out what you want. Do you want to learn what it's like to work in a certain job? Do you want to learn how people got their job? Do you want to figure it out if a person can help you get an opportunity? Or if you were like me, do you just want to meet people for the sake of getting better at talking to people?
- Look through the people you already know, and see if there's anyone who can help you with what you want to learn. It can be someone you're following on the Internet or someone you know offline.
If you're not sure if someone that you know can help you with what you want, try to find out if they can recommend you to someone else who could help you. If you're in a university, take advantage of your professors or career services, or even your own classmates! Or if you're in an internship, your bosses are a great place to start. Ask for their tips on starting out, ask for what they look for on how they hire, and whatever else you might want to know.
- If you're anxious about being so upfront and telling people that you want things, I was in the same boat as you. But think of this: how can you tell if a bakery is vegan or not? Simple: they tell you. They tell you in their signs, they tell you in their pamphlets, and as people, we have to tell others what we want if we want people to know and help us get what we want. It's not their job to read your mind.
I had this fantastic roommate who was a senior, and I knew she was looking for jobs, but I realized one day that I couldn't help pass jobs along her way because I had no idea what kind of work she wanted. She had never told me that she wanted web design work, so I had read plenty of job opportunities without thinking it would be perfect for her.
- If you're anxious about reaching out to someone and asking for help, well, in the design world, there is an entire culture of professionals meeting with people for coffee! It really is a thing in other disciplines as well, and people won't mind at all if you ask to meet for coffee. And really, people do like helping other people!
Sending that email
- It actually doesn't have to be an email! I know it contradicts that header up there, but if this is someone you've already had some form of online relationship with, you can just casually send a message on social media. My first three were all done on social media because I wanted to meet people during my limited time in New York, and since I had already struck up conversations with them on social media, I messaged them on the places where I usually talked to them.
- When sending over that message, include a range of days and times when you're free. Don't forget to include some margin, though, for commutes or even some time for yourself to relax in the space. If you just send an email asking to meet, the two of you would still have to coordinate times through more emails later, and if the people you're contacting is working, a long email exchange might make it harder for someone to want to meet you. You could also drop the area that you're in to make it easier to coordinate a place.
The meeting itself
Ask what time the other person has to leave. It's pretty basic, but other people usually won't mention it, and it's best to be aware of it so that you'll manage your time to get what you want out of the conversation.
That said, wear a watch. It's hard to be discreet about checking the time with a phone, and no matter what you do, it will always look like you're unfocused and playing with your phone. Asking to record the call is also very, very formal, so unless that's what you're going for, take notes by hand.
Take notes. If you're taking notes on your phone, it will look like texting no matter what. Use good ol' fashioned pen and paper, and trust me, it's mind-blowing how valuable talking to the right people can be, and I've been grateful every time I took notes for myself.
I noticed that one of the reasons why I was so awkward with meeting people is that I was so caught up in thinking about myself--how to make myself look good, how to get what I want. Once I started making the effort to shut down that voice and listen to the person that I'm talking to, that awkwardness and anxiety went down. Fake it 'til you make it really works! Tell yourself to try and be really interested in what the other person is saying, and before you know it, you'll slip into being genuinely interested.
If that doesn't work, I try to listen and ask a question about a detail that they mentioned. It can be as broad as following up on how they got into that line of work when they talk about what they do, or it can be as granular as asking about how that degree that they mentioned ties into their job. It keeps the conversation going, and it does make you look like you're interested.
Remember that thing you want to get out of this conversation? Well, despite how networking is usually about getting something, don't forget that this is a conversation and you're talking to a person. Get comfortable and get to know the other person before trying to ask things.
Feel free to ask if they could connect you with someone else. Personal recommendations like that look much better than a cold email, and you'd want to keep your networking momentum going!
- Send a thank you message. That's an interview tip, but it also applies here. Thank them for taking the time to see you and their advice, and it's best to do that basic one right away. And if you do something that they had mentioned or advised later on, that's a great way to keep the connection going.
Tips for getting started
As someone who's always terrified of doing something wrong and researching the hell out of anything I do before I do it, let me tell you that it is unavoidable that you'll suck at the beginning. You're really going to benefit if you start as soon as possible, so that's that what this whole section is for.
You can start small and just aim for one person. That's it, just aim for one person.
One of the things that I do is I usually give myself a deadline of three days to send an email, and no rereading that email either! I'm really good at talking myself out of doing things, so having that rule really helps because it's like I don't have to decide about sending it. I'm terrified out of my mind right now, but I have to send that email three days later.
- Here's another rule for someone that you might run into in person, which is something I've had to come up with as I'm in university. It's really scary approaching someone that I don't even know, so what I do is I just say I'll talk to them after bumping into that person three times. Of course, this does require some reading of the room. I definitely wouldn't approach someone out of nowhere if they're busy or talking to someone else, and the elevator does not count as a good place to talk.
But that said, it gets the job done every single time. I get used to the idea of approaching the person, and it's hard to chicken out when I've been keeping count of how many times I've seen the person.
Let me know what you think!
I'm still trying and learning, but it's been objectively one of the best things I could do to help myself. I seriously hope this gets you started, and I'd really love to know what you think of it. No comments yet (I'm still deciding if I want to use Disqus), so send me a DM on Instagram!Back…