How networking can work for you

We all network all the time, from recommending a colleague whose work or efficiency we especially admire to chatting with strangers at private views. The emotionless connotation of the word 'networking' belies the fact that it is one of the most rewarding and effective ways to get a job, as well as being fun and stimulating. Kimberly Kapner, an international recruitment consultant, explores this crucial aspect of any professional life. 

Networking is a major aspect of the art and design world. Networking expands the opportunities available to you. By seeking out the people and companies you would like to meet and, in some cases, work with, your job search is not limited to advertised vacancies. 

Why network?

Networking may not win you favours instantly, but it will put you on a person’s radar ready for when work comes around; you will learn where and what the opportunities are; you will gain valuable contacts and learn more about your field and other relevant industries.

By removing the expectation that every networking opportunity will turn into a job offer, you can open yourself up to learning more about the people and opportunities in your network. This helps to ensure that when relevant work comes up, you are in a position to go for it, or even refer someone else!

Where do I start?

You already have a huge existing network: tutors, previous employers, ex-colleagues, friends, friends of friends and your college Alumni Network. Many people who you come into contact with professionally and personally will be relevant for your career advancement. There are opportunities everywhere. Consider groups that may be appropriate to your work, or those that have interesting members. This could include trade associations or professional bodies.

The easiest way to then start expanding your network is to network with your network! At the end of every meeting, ask your contact who else they would recommend you speak to, without making it obvious you are angling for further details. And, of course, follow this up.

The best way to get in touch with someone is through a referral, so always try to get others to introduce you to, or refer you to, someone you would like to be in touch with.

Write a big wish list of people you want to meet, from an affordable van driver to the arts press officer for Time Out. Try working out the six degrees of separation between you – how can you use your existing group to get hooked up with someone outside it?

Do not leave encounters to chance. Identify the people or types of people you want to meet and come up with a plan to do so. Set goals for how many people and/or specific individuals you would like to talk to each day/week/month. That way, you will be in control of your networking and in a position to make it work for you. You will also be able to tick off successes and see the progress you are making. By keeping track of who you are contacting – and who returns the interest – you will start to get an idea of what works for you.

For the record

Whether it is a database, an address book or a rolodex – keep track of your contacts! Do not just keep a list of their names. Note several different ways to contact people (telephone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, for example), get their company name and job title and make notes about them relevant to your purposes. Keep track of the date of your conversations, what you discussed, any action steps and when you agreed to talk next.

Follow up

This is one of the most important rules for successful networking. Where appropriate, always arrange a time to speak next – it could be in a week, a month or even longer. If you meet someone you would like to stay in touch with, come up with a reason to stay in touch. This may include emailing them images of your work, attending a design lecture you know they will be at or a more formal occasion where you can discuss ideas.

One of the easiest ways to get back in touch with people is when you do something different or new – an updated website, a review in the press, being part of a group show or an edited clip of what you have been producing in the past month.

Etiquette

Be discreet. Try not to hassle people with monthly group emails or ‘fun stuff’ and remember to only target them with the work you know they will be interested in.

Show interest in the work, conversation and personal life of the person you are talking to, without being nosy. Learn to listen – being receptive is the key to making others comfortable – but also ask questions and do not be afraid to give your opinion. People remember individuals they respect.

Do not make every occasion a networking effort – just accept networking as part of everyday life and enjoy the opportunity to meet new people!