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Last updated on 5/20/20

Network without networking

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Networking is a great way to connect with other professionals. You never know who you'll meet, or how connections will pay off later. It's always a good idea to go into networking with an open mind. Some people are natural networkers, but others will have to work harder. What's important to remember is that networking is more than superficial schmoozing or attending traditional "networking event" to mingle with strangers. You're looking to make connections with new people.

Explore the benefits of networking

Networking is a way to keep you fresh and current with people in the industry and industry trends, learn about approaches, and improve your craft. The goal is to make connections now that may be able to help you in the future.

Networking can happen in many different forms, but here are a few ideas:

  • Happy hours

  • Alumni associations

  • Groups of people with similar interests (i.e. expats, developers, code clubs, creative jams, etc.)

  • Book signings or product launches

  • Conferences on a topic inside (or outside) your industry (many software platforms like InVision or Figma Design host events as well)

  • Incubators who host dinners, workshops or conferences

  • Events at the public library, maker spaces, or co-working spaces

  • Community run workshops

  • PechaKucha or Ignite talk nights

  • Your own group!

You may be able to find local and often free events through Meetup or Eventbrite which are great for making connections when at home or traveling. Incubators or places like Google Campus often open their doors for free workshops, events, and conferences. Also, look to see if there's a board at your local library, bookstore, or coffee shop where people can connect or promote their events.

Depending on where you live, it's worth doing a bit or digging and asking around. The app Shapr is kind of like a dating app, but to help you make new connections in a professional capacity, with people in your area.

It can be tempting to stick with events involving your industry but don't underestimate the power of casting a wider net. If you're a UX designer, you could go to a developer meet-up or vice versa. Not only will you hear about the big issues they're discussing, but you may meet new contacts who are looking for someone just like you. They may be just the person who can build the app you've been prototyping for months.

You could also attend events and conferences in completely different industries to better understand the challenges facing other fields such as healthcare, finance, non-profits, etc. Find the people in the organizations who know how design teams work. One connection can lead to another. Get on people's radar who can help you get work. Even if a gig doesn't work out, you have a new contact, and you never know what opportunities may come up in the future.

Another approach to networking can be setting up informational interviews. These are not job interviews, but rather an opportunity to learn more about what a person does. You're never directly asking for a job, but you may find opportunities come up from your discussion.

One of the best ways to impress someone is to ask good questions that show that you've done your research, so come prepared. Quickly introduce yourself in your initial email (inspired by the previous chapters). You could say something like "I'm looking to connect with people in the industry in hopes of learning more about aspects I may not have considered. I'm sure you have a busy schedule, but if you do have time, I'd love to take you for a coffee to learn more about the work you do." Offering to take the other person out is a nice gesture, and shows that you respect their time. Keep your messages short, and direct. You can also share anything you have to offer them in terms of skills or know-how. A follow-up email to say thanks is always a good idea too. Consider highlighting a takeaway you learned or sharing a resource you think they'd enjoy.

Consider alternative ways to network

Attending conferences in real life is great. You get to immerse yourself in the topic for the day, meet new people, and discuss what you've learned with those around you. Conference costs range from free to thousands of dollars, so they can admittedly get very expensive.

An affordable way to attend conferences is to work as a volunteer. Some will have a page devoted to this, but many times, it may involve you looking up the right person, reaching out, and offering your time (and enthusiasm). You may not get to attend all the sessions you'd hoped, but you'll make other great connections with conference organizers, and other volunteers. Sometimes the simple act of helping tidy up at the end of a long day can really be a bonding force, where different conversations and connections can be sparked.

Loads of conferences record talks, and share them on YouTube, Vimeo, or the conference website. It may take a few months for them to get online, but if you can devote some time to watching them, you can learn a lot. You don't have the perk of being in the live audience, but if you follow the conference, or hashtag on Twitter, you can get a better idea of which talks to look out for.

Be intentional in how you use social media

Social media is far more than just sharing what you ate for lunch these days. You can use it to share ideas, discover the work of others, and connect with people around the world. You don't have to be on social media all the time either to make it work for you.

Here are some ideas for how to use Twitter smarter. You can adapt may of them to other platforms as well.

  • When you find a class, talk, article, or resource you find particularly inspiring, check to see if the author is on Twitter. Find a quote to share, or write something that you learned from it. When you do this and tag the author, there's a good chance they may share your tweet as well.

  • It's not about the number of followers you have, it's about the quality of content. 

  • Visit the account of a company, organization, or person whose work you really enjoy. Check out who they are following. Typically you can discover other accounts that will inspire you. 

  • Beyond company and  co-founder accounts, look for accounts of other team members to follow.

  • Engaging with someone on Twitter, even when they don't follow you, can still help put you on their radar. Never ask someone to follow you back.  (Everyone has their own way of managing their accounts, so don't be offended if you don't get a follow back.)

  • Search hashtags. #UX, #UXdesign, #UI, social media campaigns, etc.

  • Expand conversations to read reactions to tweets, and look at the profiles of the other people who have contributed to the conversation thread.

  • Check the Design Research Twitter list shared at the beginning of the UX Designer path to find more ideas of smart people to follow.

Keep in mind that LinkedIn has a feed that works similarly to Twitter too for sharing articles. You can also get creative and use platforms differently than they were initially intended.

Network for the long term

There are lots of ways you can network. Have fun experimenting with different styles, and figure out what works best for you. Even if you already have a job, it can still be worthwhile to make additional contacts. You can learn new ideas to bring to your workplace, or potentially make connections for the future. They may hire you, or you may hire them!

Let's recap!

  • Look beyond traditional networking events to expand your own network.

  • Build and foster relationships now, which will help you in the future.

  • An online presence can lead to interesting connections and opportunities.

  • Use social media as a research tool to learn about companies, organizations, and people you may want to work with/for.

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