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Designer networking 101

"Your network is your net worth"

UX/UI Design
5 minute read

Are you in job-hunting mode? Are you struggling to land interview calls? Let’s dive into the hiring manager's mind. According to the US Department of Labor’s estimate - the average cost of hiring the wrong person costs at least 30% of the individual’s first-year expected earnings. Imagine if you face a situation where you need to hire a caretaker for your loved one. Who will you choose if you have a choice between hiring a trusted recommendation or a stranger? From a hiring managers' viewpoint, if there is a trusted person in their network for that role, they will bring that person in without second thoughts. This speaks volumes about the significance of a network.

Networking myth

There are two popular ways of getting a job:

  • The usual approach of distributing your portfolio and subsequently receiving interview calls.
  • Through someone you know, or someone's uncle's friend's dog's neighbour. Also known as networking.

Many people think that networking is meant only for seeking a job. I was guilty of such a misconception when I was new to job hunting. I recall attending the university career fair filled with hope. I ensured that my resume made its presence in every booth. However, my expectations were dashed when I heard back only from a handful of people.

I realised that playing this game would not be sustainable in the long run. I was too focused on what I would get out of the transaction without considering how I could benefit the other party. I should have gone above and beyond to earn trust points from my prospective employers. Nurturing relationships and making your presence in the community are just a couple of ways to network.

General advice for networking

“Your network is your net worth”— Porter Gale (The author of “Your Network Is Your Net Worth”)

Networking is about building trust. Building trust takes time, hence networking takes time. You might ask yourself, why put in the effort when I can follow the traditional route of applying? These strategies of networking can increase your chance of landing your dream project and could help maintain future professional relationships.

Make the first move

I recently went to a networking workshop hosted by Matt Stenquist through Memorisely. A common trepidation among students was how to approach people. Stenquist’s advice was to reflect on which values you admire from a potential connection. Once your values are at the forefront of your mind, engaging in further conversation becomes more personalised. Keeping the message clear as people have limited time to offer to strangers. My takeaway from the workshop was not to overthink the consequences of approaching people. You can overcome the fear of rejection by putting yourself in the other person's shoes. As Stenquist mentioned, if you have written a respectful message and did not hear back, do not take it to heart. There will eventually be someone who will be thrilled to lend you a helping hand in your journey.

Networking is reciprocity

You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want”— Zig Ziglar (author, salesman, motivational speaker)

Networking is give-and-take. You can join a design community where you will encounter individuals who will be happy to book coffee chats with you. From there, you can be part of each other’s growth journey. Believe in yourself. You have a lot to offer to the community. When you help someone today, the other person will remember you with gratitude. Who knows, maybe in the future, that person will recommend you for a position or might invite you to work together.

I recently became a member of Polywork, a platform for collaboration. It is common for professionals to seek participants for usability tests on their products. The co-founder of Wonderpath approached me for a usability test through this platform and we hopped into a chat, and I offered feedback on the user interactions.

After the feedback sessions on Wonderpath, the co-founder and I met a couple of times, where I shared my passion for writing and illustrating. She offered pointers on ways to improve my craft by sharing advice on where to find inspiration, practising the skills consistently, seeking feedback, joining a community and discussing with like-minded folks. Thanks to her invaluable advice, I was introduced to freelancing tools like Contra. Her suggestions helped me acquire side gigs as a UI/UX designer at SoulDoodles, a platform that inspires people to create art.


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Nurture relationships

Once you have made connections, the next step is maintenance. Consider your passions and your immediate goals. After setting the goals, jot down the names of people whose interests align with yours. Reach out to those individuals for regular meet-ups to discuss the topics. If you have a mentee, sending a check-in message will always be appreciated. I thank my stars for meeting my UX Research Bootcamp teammate. I admire her knack for details, sense of teamwork, communication and collaboration skills. Due to her dedication towards the case study, we were able to deliver the project on time. We have been in touch regularly, where we set goals on tasks beyond our Bootcamp project, discuss learnings from other projects and offer strategies for job hunting. We have developed a close friendship out of our catch-up sessions.

Make your mark on digital platforms

Take a moment to think about your passions. Do you enjoy sharing your learnings? Do you wish to contribute to an open-source project? Are you passionate about helping folks? Do you feel strongly about a cause? You may want to consider sharing your knowledge via socials. When you share your knowledge, people with similar interests will recognise you as the go-to person for the particular topic.

Suggested actions

Networking can feel overwhelming for introverts. First, take a deep breath. Acknowledge your feelings. It is normal to feel this way. To overcome the aprehension, start small. I have curated a list of actions that I have followed religiously.

  1. Reflection. Reflect on your high-level goals for the year. Think about what you did well and what you would like to improve. Consider the roadblocks in your path towards attaining your goals. Using your goal as the north star, follow designers in your socials. Craft a concise and customised message for them, which can lead to a meet-up.
  2. Search for a mentor. You can find mentors from various design communities, such as Memorisely, ADPList, and Polywork. It is understandable to feel intimidated by the hierarchical nature of mentorship. I recommend attending group mentorship sessions first. Who knows, you might gain an accountability buddy out of it. Hopefully, that will set you up with more confidence in booking 1:1's with the mentor.
  3. Pick a side-project. Seek feedback on your projects with your connections consistently. Sharing your work increases your confidence in articulating your thought process. You can then gain more comfort in demonstrating your knowledge via socials.

Wrapping up

I hope this advice can aid you in your networking journey. I urge you to involve the community as it is a fantastic source of motivation and inspiration. You can derive fruitful results from networking when done correctly.

I would love to hear about your networking experience. You can reach out to me via Linkedin. Happy networking!

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