So you just graduated from art school. Congratulations! You can now take all of the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired and apply them to the real world. It’s exciting! And scary, especially in an uncertain job market. But you’ve got a shot if you do three things.
I’ve recently been getting a lot of emails that start with something like, “Hey, I need your advice and help right now! It’s all about who you know, right?”
Damn right it’s all about who you know! Skills are fantastic, and skills will keep you going once you get your foot in the door. But how do you get your foot in the door?
It’s all about, “The Golden Rule.”
Whaaaa?? Isn’t it all about, “Networking”?
Yes, it is.
But first, it’s all about The Golden Rule.
Growing up, my mom always taught me and my brother to live by The Golden Rule. For those of you less civilized (or okaaay, maaaaybe you forgot), The Golden Rule is simply stated as, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
Now, how does the ol’ career adage of networking play into this?
The first couple times I received those, “Hey, I need your advice and help right now!” emails, my heart went out to the struggling designer looking for a break, so I took the time to write a well-thought and heartfelt email packed with my personal experiences, suggestions, and advice… only to hear nothing back.
That right there is a fantastic example of how NOT to network, kids.
And herein lies the true key to networking: If you’re going to get anything, you’ve got to give something.
Remember The Golden Rule.
And then apply The Golden Rule with these 3 elements:
- Foster relationships.
- Be genuine.
- Follow up.
1.) FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS
You can’t knock on someone’s door and expect them to give you stuff without anything in return. If you’re going to ask someone for advice, explain what you can offer right away.
Become an asset.
See what your connection cares about by checking out her Twitter account and seeing what she tweets about. Does your contact like Christopher Nolan movies? If you get word of a new Nolan film in the works, tweet it her way. Or maybe you find another contact/potential lead who is into glam rock poster design. (How do you know this? Well, you took the time to read her blog, right?) Take note and share some insights and relative links her way. She’ll remember you, or at least appreciate that you took the time to take an interest in her interests. You’ll immediately make yourself stand out from the crowd.
You can’t just bust down the door with a cowboy boot and declare to the world with guns a’blazin’, “I’m awesome! HIRE ME!” (Well, you can, and that would be pretty sweet, actually, especially if you DO get a job that way. Let me know if you do!) But the reality is that you’ve got to give a little to get a little.
That goes into the next part of applying The Golden Rule to networking:
2.) BE GENUINE
You’ve got to genuinely want to connect with that person for the sake of maintaining the relationship in the long term, even after you’ve gotten your first great job. If you’re going to use ’em and toss ’em after you’ve had your way with ’em, they’re going to smell that from a Bigfoot’s mile away and not help you in the future, or worse, tell others about your ‘wham-bam-thank-you-m’am’ MO, so you better get genuine quick.
Let’s say you get lucky, and your contact connects you with someone who ends up giving you your first great design job out of school. Fantastic! But remember, don’t leave your contact in the dust and become too cool for school. Because what if you’re ready to move on from your current job and need some leads on the next step? By ignoring the person who got you there, she won’t be as likely to want to help you out this time.
And really, it’s not just about using people to get jobs. It’s also about expanding your awareness of the industry and trends and having a fulfilling working relationship with someone in your field. You want to be part of conversations so you know what’s going on, and so people know that YOU know what’s going on. You want to be relevant and keep that communication line open. You want to have a long and fulfilling career, right? These are the keys to achieving that longevity.
That leads me to the last point for following The Golden Rule in networking:
3.) FOLLOW UP
After you’re cozy in your job, write an email to your contact or better yet, give her a call. Or, (bonus points!) treat her to lunch or even a quick coffee. Let her know how the job is going. And even if it’s not going swimmingly or maybe you didn’t expect the job to be a certain way, be gracious and not whiny. (No one who bent over backwards to get you a job wants to hear, “Thanks for the job, but it sucks.”) Focus on the positives and on how much you’re learning.
And, as you should’ve done LOTS of already at this point, thank her again profusely.
Assuming you’re not going to mess up this first job, you’re now on your track to a rewarding design career. You’ve got your foot in the door, and you’re doing what you went to school for, which is the most that anyone could ever ask for these days.
Just keep following these same 3 steps all throughout your career as you advance and move up the ranks, and you’ll create wonderful, rewarding relationships that can enrich your professional life. And pretty soon, someone will be sending you an email that starts with, “Hey! I need your advice and help right now!”
And you’ll know exactly what to tell him.