When we say, “alumni,” we don’t just mean graduates of your school program, though those connections are certainly valuable. What about any volunteer organizations you belong(ed) to, intramural sports teams, meetups, or other non-work related groups where you met people from a variety of backgrounds? You can often find membership directories or alumni pages on LinkedIn, and start the conversation through your shared experience.
Send an email or message to someone in one of your alumni groups, and lead with how you’re mutually connected. Ask for a conversation to get to know them a bit better and learn about their role/company. If they’re in a design role, ask for feedback on a case study or portfolio project.
Send a short note immediately asking for a referral for a role just because you were both in the same rec soccer league five years ago. Establish the relationship first, and then bring up business.
One of the most important things to keep in mind about LinkedIn is that it’s a professional social platform, and all of your posts and interactions should be viewed through that lens. Your main audience on this platform is recruiters, hiring managers, and job seekers. So while you may be talking to future colleagues, keep the conversation about business until you’ve established that relationship offline.
Follow companies, join groups, and connect with designers (among other people) when in pursuit of landing a job, but also when you’re learning more about the industry and profession. By making connections with companies and employees before you see a job post, you’re setting yourself up for a call when a position does open up.
Assume that a connection equals a recommendation. Simply connecting with someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean they can vouch for your work. If you imply that someone referred you to a job, the recruiter or hiring manager will most likely reach out to that person to confirm details.
Making connections is a good start, but following up is the way to solidify those relationships and position yourself for conversations in the future. If you have a conversation with someone and they say to keep in touch, actually do it. Check in every 3-6 months, ask for feedback on new portfolio pieces, and send them a note when you land your new role.
Reach out to connections every few months, or when you have a relevant update or something of interest to share. If you’re attending an event where they’re speaking, or come across a topic that might be of interest, send them a short message. You should also follow up with recruiters or hiring managers you’ve connected with on LinkedIn, even if you don’t land the job. A brief thank you will keep you top of mind for future positions.
Assume everyone (or even most people) will get back to you. In reality, many designers don’t check LinkedIn unless they’re hiring or job hunting, so don’t take it personally if you never get a reply. You also want to avoid following up to the point of being a nuisance. If someone says they’ll get back to you and they don’t, give them a week and send a friendly check in. If they continue to ignore you, move on. If the contact is a recruiter for a specific job, feel free to follow up with short check-in emails for up to 3 weeks or so, each week. After that point, they’ve probably filled the role or put it on hold, and it’s time to cut your losses.
When we’re talking about networking, it’s usually in the context of getting something for ourselves—usually a job, referral, or something else career related. But once that transaction is done, make sure to reciprocate the effort. Send that thank you note, follow up with a quick update on how the new job is going, etc.
Cultivate your networking relationships. That doesn’t mean you need to send personal messages to everyone in your contacts, but do send thoughtful notes to the ones most important to you. Maybe you see an article, job post, or event you know one of your connections would be interested in. If you send it along, you’ve taken that next step to becoming colleagues instead of just connections.
Ignore connection requests and messages once you land your job. You certainly don’t have to check LinkedIn or your personal email every day, but part of being a professional designer is to stay connected to the community. You know how frustrating it is to never hear back, so try your best to be gracious to those who come to you with questions or thoughts.
Networking tends to be something people tolerate at best, and outright dread at worst. But if you think about it as a shared experience that has benefits for everyone involved, you can start to make it work for you.
To summarize, here are important reminders on how to be remembered for the right reasons:
- Harness your existing network outside of the professional realm.
- Use the power of the follow up, and follow up again if you don’t get a reply.
- Reach out to your alumni groups, and lead with how you’re mutually connected.
- Make connections with companies and employees before you see a job post.
- Reach out to connections when you have a relevant update or something of interest to share.
Try to avoid the pitfalls, and harness the powerful tactics mentioned, and you’ll be on your way to networking success.
To learn more about landing your first job in the UX/UI design industry from design career pros like Nicole, explore our UX Academy program—which includes up to 6 months of Career Services. You’ll be paired with a Career Coach to identify the right job opportunities, add extra polish to your portfolio, work on your interview skills together, and launch your new career!