I recently spoke with a designer friend who’s struggling to find a job. She just moved to a new city, and she’s applying at companies “cold”—she submits an application and hopes they contact her for an interview.
In her previous city, my friend knew dozens of designers. She used her professional network to find job opportunities in that city.
My friend knows very few people in her new area. She doesn’t yet have relationships with other professionals who can help her make the right connections.
My conversation with her reminded me of something: It’s important to build and maintain a professional network throughout your career.
Building Job Search Curriculum at Center Centre
I recently developed the curriculum for Center Centre’s Special Topics course, Preparing for Your Job Search. In the course, students learn a broad range of job-preparation skills like building a network, writing a résumé, and interviewing effectively.
Jared Spool led a workshop for our students during the course. In the workshop, he explained the benefits of maintaining contact with other design professionals:
Build a network of people doing the things you want to do. The professionals in your network will help you learn about the jobs you’re interested in. They may even reach out to you when they’re ready to hire and ask you to apply for a position.
After talking with my friend, building the course curriculum, and attending Jared’s workshop, I realized something: I have a huge professional network. I know designers around the world. But I don’t keep in contact with many of them.
I needed to figure out how to maintain my relationship with those designers. If I build relationships with people doing the type of work I want to do, and I keep in contact with those people, they’re more likely help me when I need help.
My Experiment: Contact One Person Per Week
I recently started an experiment to keep my network warm. I decided to contact one design professional every week. I set aside 30 minutes for this task each Thursday. I put the task on my calendar so I won’t forget to do it.
Each Thursday, I use that time to browse the LinkedIn news feed. I look for announcements from my connections. They share content like blog posts, news about the organizations they work at, or upcoming conferences where they are speaking.
I pick one person who shared something useful or interesting. I send them a brief message. If they shared a blog post on LinkedIn, I tell them why I appreciate their blog post. If they shared about a conference they’re speaking at, I congratulate them and tell them what’s interesting about their presentation. Then, I ask them how they’re doing.
My experiment has worked well. People respond to me. Sometimes it takes them a few weeks to respond, but they almost always respond. They tell me how they’re doing. Then, they ask how I’m doing.
Some of them even offer to meet up via video chat. I accept the offer because I love catching up with folks in my network. Chatting via also video helps me keep my relationship with them strong.
Deciding What People to Include in My Network
Since I began this experiment, I’ve developed a set of guidelines for making new connections. I focus on building and maintaining a network of people who:
- Do the type of design work I want to do.
- Have careers outside of UX design. For instance, if I meet a financial planner, I get to know her and stay in touch. Perhaps one day, her company may be interested in hiring me or one of my students for a UX position.
- Live in my current city or geographic area.
- Live in different cities, in case I relocate to another area someday. I even build relationships with people who live in other countries when I have the opportunity.
Helping My Students Build Their Network
We designed our curriculum to help students build professional relationships from day one of the program. Throughout their two years at Center Centre, Students attended course workshops from over 20 notable industry experts, including Mike Monteiro, Kim Goodwin, and Dan Mall. During this time, students get to know each of these experts.
Students also get to build relationships with designers and hiring managers who attend on-site, professional development workshops at Center Centre. Some of our students are already interviewing with professionals they met at these workshops. (Students graduate later this year in October of 2018.)
Now that we’re in the Preparing for Your Job Search course, we focus even more on maintaining relationships. We regularly talk with students about how to make new connections and keep in contact with them.
Making Deposits Into Your Network
I’ve realized that having a professional network is like having a bank account. With a bank account, you need to make deposits so you don’t deplete your funds when you make a withdrawal.
It’s the same thing when staying in touch with your network. When you contact someone and show a genuine interest in how they’re doing, you make a deposit into the relationship. If you need to make a withdrawal in the future, the person will likely want to help you.
I don’t plan to look for a job any time soon. I love what I do at Center Center. But I still keep my network warm so it’s ready whenever I need it.
I also keep my network warm so I can learn from other professionals. My designer friend, whom I mentioned earlier, inspired me to begin my weekly experiment. She also inspired me to write this article.
I plan to contact someone else in my network this Thursday, as scheduled. I look forward to what I will learn from that conversation.