I’m a firm believer that the most important thing you can do for your career is: Talk to someone. Anyone. As designers, technologists, people who make things that (on a good day) other people will engage with and use, getting inputs from others is part of our practice. It’s how we test, iterate, and make our work better.
When it comes to your own career, the same approach applies. Talk to people. When I look back over the course of my career, every pivot, every new job was because of someone I knew, who knew someone, sometimes who then knew someone else. The job title I hold now (“UX Content Strategist”), I didn’t know even existed until talking with people, who introduced me to it, along with various podcasts and books on the topic.
So when the world (or my perception of it) shut down a year ago, I felt like one of my most valuable sources of growth and inspiration shut down with it. Suddenly thrust into isolation, I leaned into existing relationships and neglected that part of me that requires a constant intake of fresh inputs. But, how do you meet people during a panini? A panasonic? When your chance of waltzing into a designerly social gathering and stumbling upon someone new is nil?
Enter: The Internet. In a lot of ways, networking right now feels like channeling my inner 90s digital darling—at home, late at night, cracking open the web for the first time and poking around. First, start by finding the people. Where are they? What are they talking about? What can you add to the conversation? Reply guys aside, chime in on Twitter. Compliment someone’s work on Instagram. Ask about a process on Tiktok. Not on social media? Send an email. Ask a specific question, or thank someone for making. If you’re feeling extra social, ask to grab a digital coffee. A friend told me one of his ongoing studio tasks is to each reach out to three new connections. Every. Week.
Conversations go two ways. Make it part of your practice to post work, perhaps by automating it altogether. Share knowledge. Teach a class. Give more than you take. Like a boomerang, what you put out comes back. When I tweeted seeking introvert networking tips, I was introduced to Dasani Madipalli’s Networking Guide for Awkward Humans, which includes a reference to mere-exposure effect, “a psychological phenomenon that shows that people develop a preference for things that they’re exposed to more.” Think of your networking as consisting of several small gestures, rather than one large dramatic movement. They add up.
In some ways, this moment opens new doors. The patchouli means that there are no geographic expectations around where you are, or where you need to pretend to be. Not only is it understood that many have temporary, often unideal live/work setups (giving us all a pass to extend each other some much-needed grace), but also several workplaces have shifted to be fully remote—destigmatizing the idea of a designer in the suburbs. More people are online, screen time is skyrocketing, and everyone is doing their best.
For me, I’ve found solace in reaching out into the digital void and seeing what comes back. Perhaps via a tweet, resource list, online class, or digital coffee, the exercise helps me continue to expand my horizons from within the walls of my living room. I take notes on what I learn, so it doesn’t immediately escape my increasingly sieve-like brain, revisiting them later. Pancetta or not, I don’t expect to return to socialisation as before, so am looking for sustainable ways to incorporate smaller gestures into my practice. Have a tip? Let me know. My digital door is open.
Read the full feature on networking online
We spoke to founder of I Like Networking, Isabel Sachs, founder of Comuzi Lab, Alex Fefegha, Bruce Daisley host of the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, and founder of Courier Media, Jeff Taylor on how they’ve thrived at online networking during the pandemic, and how you can too.