As a species, humans gravitate toward known quantities — especially when it comes to people. This tendency presents itself at an early age. I can trace the act back to some of my earliest memories with family — stranger danger was real. If you dive into your memories, you’ll find traces of it, either at your childhood home or on the playground.
Every day, we have hundreds of interactions with others, and the majority of those transactions are mindless. In these moments, we’re allowing pre-established bonds to drive who we can trust. Most of us tend to rely on people and organizations we know because it makes our daily lives more comfortable by removing routine decisions.
When people apply for jobs, some laws protect applicants from a wide variety of discrimination. Unfortunately, there is nothing that protects you from an applicant that knows the hiring manager.
This is why Networking is crucial as an ongoing aspect of your overall career-building strategy.
As a short-term activity, it can appear that Networking isn’t worth the time. Bonds form over time, so recent connections are likely to be loose bonds until you interact with them more. That doesn’t mean that won’t be useful in the short term, but you’re always going to have more success with people who you’ve known for a while. As a long-term plan, Networking is critical to the trajectory of your career.
The people you already know are the best resource for your current job search, but the people you are about to meet are the next move’s foundation.
Much like the rest of the New Pragmatic program, Networking isn’t an activity that you complete in a weekend. Your goal should be to attend and participate in different events at a steady, manageable pace for the months and years ahead. Remember, you’re not just trying to land a job, you are launching a career, and that requires a longer time horizon.
The only question that remains is where to begin?
Conferences and workshops
Industry events have long been a focal point as they allowed professionals to mix Networking with personal growth — often in resort-like surroundings. While the pandemic forced most of these events to transform into online events, the notion that it was possible to network at these events effectively was always misplaced.
The problem isn’t the location of the event, it’s the size. Conferences are often massive events, with many attracting thousands of participants. I love the fact that the price of many events has dropped as they move online — the fact that they are more accessible makes it harder to use them effectively for Networking.
Still, there are opportunities on the edges of most of these events. Game nights, karaoke, happy hours — they all scream get-to-know each other, but they often devolve into hanging out with the people you already know. They are often great times, but low average return on Networking.
Workshops fare better because you often find yourself broken into small groups for some portion of the event. It can be a great chance to collaborate with a small group, but talking with anyone outside of the group will be tough. Also, most workshops are intense. Learning something new for 8 hours is tough, so most people aren’t ready to hang out and talk shop afterward.
Personally, nothing returns a higher overall value for the time invested than finding a small meetup and meets consistently. Think of the workshop dynamic, but with the same recurring group of people in a less intense setting.
It’s a custom-made environment for Networking that has only become more accessible since the model for most meetups has shifted from in-person to virtual.
A simple search for ‘UX’ on Meetup or Eventbrite will generate enough possible options that you’ll want to limit the results by time. Also, Eventbrite offers the ability to specifically focus on online events, while Meetup still requires a location. As of this writing, everything is virtual, so this isn’t an issue, but it will be once we begin to gather in-person again.
The best meetup networking happens at events with 20 people or less. For this reason, I recommend focusing on UX Book Clubs. Nobody casually attends book clubs, so the people that do attend are really into UX. These events are peppered with attendees who lead design departments, and when you lead a department, you tend to have a hand in hiring — precisely the type of connection you need to make.
Until a few years ago, it wasn’t easy to quickly get advice from an industry professional. LinkedIn changed much of that by allowing us to see who we were connected to, which meant we could ask for introductions. The results of these interactions have always significantly varied. Occasionally, meetings happen, but more often, you get crickets.
A better approach is to utilize services like Amazing People Design List where you can target specific designers by specialty and... company! This ability means that if you want portfolio feedback from a Microsoft designer, you need to access the ADPL list and search for Microsoft (which will generate eight potential connections).
New services like Lunch Club pair individuals with common interest together for short conversations. Just answering a few questions will provide the Lunch Club A.I. with enough information to begin finding potential matches for you. If you’re goal is to work in FinTech, mentioning that in your onboarding will likely lead to a discussion with someone from a FinTech organization.
There is a skip-the-line option that we haven’t discussed yet. Namely, just cold call the individuals you’d like to talk with. Specifically, reaching out to design leaders on LinkedIn. For best results, watch this video, where I break down the art of the modern cold call. Stay confident; people that want to talk to you.
While none of these one-on-one solutions are perfect, they beat listening to lousy karaoke in the name of Networking.
Like the workshops mentioned above, hackathons can be intense. No two hackathons are alike, but these events often involve you working with a team of new faces on a vaguely defined problem against a ridiculous deadline.
Hackathons are an acquired taste, but they have this weird way of establishing bonds faster than your typical networking event.
If you live in a major metropolitan area, finding an in-person hackathon was rarely an issue pre-COVID. Now the landscape shifted, and you have your pick of a global assortment of events. Using sites like Major League Hacking and Devpost, you’ll want to filter by interest and date to focus the results on events that might appeal to you.
Provided you can invest the time required (which is a massive hurdle for anyone with a life), many designers struggle to get started with a team. Historically, hackathons have centered primarily on development, but the events have evolved to become more focused on product vision and execution. In many cases, the business concept is just as important as the technical solution. This shift provides designers with a logical role to play, but it doesn’t solve the time crunch that will stifle most attempts to perform any research.
The solution — come to the event with research in hand. As most events are centered on a published topic or problem, you can begin your work before the event starts. This approach doesn’t solve all the issues you’ll be presented with, but it does ensure you won’t be going through the event completely blind.
|How to network at conferences without being awkward||Katie Dickinson|
|The Modern Art of Cold Calling||New Pragmatic|
Without giving up on the rest of your daily activities, it’s nearly impossible to constantly participant in all the different activities listed above. Your goal is the same as it always has been — slow and steady wins the race. Follow the steps below to get started.
Part one: Selecting between conferences, meetups, hackathons as a starting point. Find three events that you could attend if given a chance. Log the event details in your Journal.
Part two: Using Amazing People Design List, identify three people who you would like to seek online feedback from in a one-on-one session. Target a specific company or skill and document why you picked the three individuals you selected.
Part three: Of the six selections you have collected, pick the one you will accomplish this week and another that you will achieve within two weeks. Your goal should be to continue the cycle each week into the future for sustained growth.
Once complete, update your Program Journal with links to the assets produced for this exercise. Post your Journal in the #Feedback-Loop channel for review.
Up next Job Tracking