Professional networking can be overwhelming during your transition into the design profession. As a student or an emerging designer, perhaps you’re intimidated by creatives who you aspire to be like or those that have more experience than you. You’re worried about what you say, how you say it and whether your work will meet their approval. However, keep in mind, they were once in your shoes. Experienced creatives have traveled the same road that you are currently taking. Therefore, this transition takes time, commitment and a willingness to meet those who’ve come before you — you must learn how to interact with them.
Sometimes it’s difficult to network when you’re new to the scene or possibly the youngest one in the audience. However, there are two ways to conquer the fear of being a rookie: your attitude and your actions (part 2). Here is your to-do list:
1. Be positive and approachable
Bringing a positive attitude to any situation allows for ease of conversation and a sense of the experience they will have with you. Being positive also coincides with approachability. In order to be approachable, recruiters, professionals and others must feel a genuine sense of comfort around you and your demeanor. Your body language should replicate your attitude, a positive one that is! Remember it’s critical that you smile, laugh and enjoy yourself. Don’t forget to make eye contact as well as use your manners. The last thing you want to do is deliver the wrong impression based upon your disposition. Professionals don’t want to work with a designer who is overtly negative or condescending. Showing your positivity sheds light on your work approach and foreshadows how you might handle difficult situations. In turn, this gives them reason to want to be around you if they are impressed with who you are.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Have you ever been nervous about attending an event or meeting and being the fresh face in the audience? Of course you have. However, for the sake of your career you must get of your comfort zone and be willing to take a risk. This process can be quite daunting simply because it’s an emotional leap of faith. Nevertheless, take small steps to achieve a new awareness for opportunities and connections you’d miss out on otherwise. When you decide to take that step, tackle your fears by educating yourself —whether it be about the company you are applying for or the topic at an upcoming design event. You may also try inviting a friend to attend a networking or design event with you. It’s always comforting to bring someone along who shares the same interest and who can benefit from the exposure as well. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back and find other ways to switch it up!
3. Create real relationships
In order to build lasting relationships, you must be real. Being real requires a genuine sense of purpose and interest. Unfortunately, being authentic is difficult to do at times, especially when you’re hesitant about meeting the new Creative Director or applying for your internship. Nonetheless, when you first meet someone, take time to ask them questions — research them, their interests or their line of work. People love to share what they are passionate about and designers do the same. This passion for design is already a foundation you should build upon — invest your time in conversation and commit to build upon the relationships you establish at a community meeting, local event or on your job.
4. Have a volunteer spirit and be an advocate
As mentioned previously, it’s important to be passionate about your profession. Ideally, this passion will transform into an action such as volunteering to check-in event attendees participating on a design panel, helping a local agency promote themselves, or even engaging with a professional by inviting them to speak at your school. Let’s not forget that it’s all about attitude and when recruiters see your energy, commitment and willingness to devote your time to the greater good, that’s impressive.
However, go beyond being a volunteer and assisting every now and then. Pick up the pace and indulge yourself in design while transforming yourself into an advocate. There’s no better place to be an advocate than with AIGA Raleigh and other creative organizations in the Triangle. Find a place that fits you and go make a difference, share the message and encourage others to do the same. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation for the profession, you’ll be able to see how it changes lives on a daily basis, including yours. Recognize that being an advocate will also teach you great lessons about yourself and strengthen your interpersonal, and creative skills as well.
5. Be available
It’s important that when searching for new opportunities, whether it be a full-time job or a freelance project, that you make yourself available. Recruiters, art directors, and those seeking new help or assistance want to know they can get in touch with you and that you’ll respond in a timely manner. Don’t wait numerous days before you respond, you want them to feel worthy and wanted of your time. Always remember to be mindful of their schedules and what they might typically be doing during the day. Don’t forget to always reply with a professional and appropriate response.
If your intentions are to follow up, and you’d like to meet again, make sure you do so. In your correspondence be concrete and specific (i.e.: Would you like to get lunch next Thursday or Friday?) Hopefully they agree and you’re able to reconnect. Moreover, don’t forget to interact with them digitally by providing them with other means of communication such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Skype.
Overall, there are numerous methods and modes of action you can take to re-evaluate your attitude and make the best first impression. This list is just a few of the most critical aspects that you should bring forth to the table. Being a student or emerging designer just means you don’t have all the answers, but have a willingness and desire to learn more. Make sure you are open, engaged, and honest with your experiences while putting your best foot forward to be approachable, real, and truly engaged with where you are. All in all, this should lead you to establish lasting relationships with the most important and influential people in your design community.
Blog Post: Part 1 of 2 | Stay tuned for “Networking: Actions.”
If you’re interested in ways to get involved with AIGA Raleigh, feel free to visit our “Get Involved” page or contact Kristin Fowler or Rich Griffis with questions.