This article was contributed by Gosia Zajdel.
A strong digital presence is essential for breaking into the design industry, but students who only focus on virtual networking may miss out on some career opportunities.
Expanding your offline social network can be a rewarding process that can lead to insight and even job leads. In the age of social media, how do you get started with old-fashioned networking?
1. Seek out Meetup Groups
There are a number of social meetup groups out there that provide an outlet for networking and conversation. Try searching meetup.com for a freelancer or designer group near you that holds regular meetings, as this provides a low-pressure way to get to know other design professionals in the area.
2. Connect with your Peers
It’s a common mistake to look at other designers in your graduating class solely as the competition, rather than as potential collaborators. The best networking opportunities often arise on the job or in the classroom, where you get the chance to have casual conversations that could spark ideas or new projects. It may be helpful to find a short course or internship with like-minded peers after graduation. Take advantage of the creative energy around you and stay connected to your peers. You may get recommended for a job that someone else isn’t able to take, or find a collaborator to help you launch your own startup.
3. Set Quantifiable Goals
At your first networking events, it’s easy to get intimidated. Don’t try to speak to everyone in the room, or you won’t make any meaningful connections. Instead, set a specific goal to meet. Examples could include the following:
- Giving out your business card to at least four people
- Telling three people about your blog
- Talking to someone who attended the same university
- Signing up for an upcoming design event
- Introduce two professionals whom you already know
If you exceed the basic goal, that’s wonderful, but it gives you time to focus on having more in-depth conversations with people.
4. Join Design Organizations
Depending on your area of specialization and location, try looking at membership to organizations such as AIGA as they often hold events. Taking part in design organizations helps you learn about industry trends and leaders, providing the chance for career growth while you’re still in school. Your university’s career advising office should be able to point you in the right direction.
5. Schedule One-on-One Meetings
Do you have any working designers or other industry professionals whom you respect? Reach out to let them know that you admire their work! You don’t have to write an essay; a short note with a basic question and a link to your online portfolio is fine. Not everyone will bite, but if you get a few responses try to schedule an in-person meeting. Schedule a coffee with your new contacts to pick their brains and gain insight into the industry. If a role opens up in the future, they may think of you first as the right designer for the job.
6. Network Before and After Conferences
Formal conferences provide a structured networking opportunity, but some of the best connections pop up before and after the main event.
- Before the Conference: Shoot out a few emails or post on Twitter or Facebook to find out if there are any peers who might be interested in attending with you. At the very least, you may find someone else attending the conference who would be willing to have a coffee and a chat beforehand.
- After the Conference: Similarly, when the conference ends you’ll find quite a few attendees who want to stick around and enjoy meeting new people in a more relaxed atmosphere. Try visiting the local pub after the design event and you may just meet some like-minded individuals in a less intimidating atmosphere.
7. Follow Up with Contacts
It’s a good feeling to leave an event with a hefty stack of business cards, but don’t forget the next step (PDF). You can’t just wait for the other person to reach out to you. Send a short email to each new contact thanking the person for his or her time, referencing the conversation if possible. This is where the beauty of online networking comes into play as well, as you can add the person as a contact via social media or ask them to follow your blog.
These are just a few ways to get out there into the physical world to help build your personal brand. The most successful networking approach for design students involves both an online and offline strategy.