Networking in a pandemic and post-pandemic world
They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know but that doesn’t mean that you need to send thousands of emails. Intern Founder Alec Dudson has some advice for making moves both online and offline.
The Next Generation (formerly known as The Graduates) is a new annual series highlighting the freshest talent new to the creative industry. Whether you’ve recently graduated with an undergraduate degree, or if you’re about to this year. Or, alternatively, if you didn’t go to university at all but are less than a year into your creative career, you’re eligible to apply. Applications are open until midnight BST on Monday 2 August. We want to celebrate a diverse range of talent no matter what medium you work in. From graphic design to fine art and everything in between, wherever you are in the world, please do share your work with us. We can’t wait to see what the next generation of creative stardom has in store!
In the run-up to the showcase, we’re publishing a series of advice articles dedicated to making those first steps in the industry that bit easier. A few months ago we launched a survey calling all emerging creatives to tell us what advice they need and from who. The advice series is a direct response to this survey. It aims to answer the most pressing questions, directly from the voices that wish to be heard. We hope you find the content insightful, useful and inspiring; whatever your next step ahead.
Making progress as a professional seems entirely at odds with the lives we’ve lived for the past 18 months. It’s tough to feel like you’re “going places” when you spend most of your time pottering from one room in your home to another.
That said though, the creative industry has found many ways to keep working, evolving and expanding throughout the pandemic, so opportunities are out there and as usual, the strength of your network is one thing that can have a big say in whether you can access them.
A strong network isn’t necessarily a vast one, it’s one that is perfectly tailored to you, your interests and needs. You don’t need thousands of contacts in order to land your next job, just one that can generate a good lead for you. If you carefully and consciously build a small network, you’ll get far more from it. Take the time to research and understand how each person that you reach out to aligns with your aspirations.
For years now, we’ve all used social platforms to develop our networks and source those opportunities and in light of Covid-19, that part of the game is very much in play. If much of our ongoing connection with this network remains online, it’s worth mentioning that it pays big time to be sincere and invest time and effort so that we’re giving back as well as taking. Check in with people, comment thoughtfully on their posts, read the content that they’re posting and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Getting a “behind the scenes” view of the professional life of someone whose career you look up to will really help you to understand how that part of the industry functions. Let them know that you appreciate those insights and not only will they share more, but you’ll be front and centre of their thoughts if a relevant opportunity crops up.
LinkedIn remains a seriously underrated professional networking tool, largely because it seems so stuffy and corporate compared to the Instagrams of this world. For me, it’s possibly the most effective professional networking tool, but it requires strategic use and (don’t shout at me) a little bit of patience. You need to connect with people who are genuinely interesting, useful, inspiring, influential and active within the professional fields that you’re intent on pursuing. Avoid adding those who you think you should connect with. In fact, do a bit of spring cleaning when you log back in and get rid of anyone who seems completely disconnected to what you’re all about. When you reach out to people, always add a note to your connection request (it only lets you do this on the desktop site, so don’t add from the app). It’s really important to give people some context, so briefly say why you’re interested in connecting and let them know what you’re all about. It might seem like a throwaway step, but it makes a huge difference.
As we move out of lockdown, your networking journey can become a lot more enjoyable and fruitful. Online connections are a good start to a valuable relationship, but you want to get face-to-face with people for things to reach the next level. Consider inviting someone you’re keen to learn from or get to know better for a coffee at a place near their studio. Ask for an hour of their time, pick up the tab and go there with the intentions of doing more listening than speaking. A relaxing chat over a free flat white will warm the majority of creative pros to you. It’s a different and deeper connection to a virtual one and will keep you in the forefront of their mind for much longer.
Self-promotion can feel like a never-ending battle to secure likes but whenever you’re looking to make an impression with people, think really carefully about who your ideal audience is for that piece of communication. It’s better to devise a post/project/pr stunt that’s really tailored to a tightly selected audience than to pour your energy into a really vanilla “please all” initiative. What’s your goal? Is there a specific company you want to get the attention of? How can you make or do something that’ll push their buttons?
“Experience” is something that’s always asked for, but it can feel like your experience isn’t right somehow. For me, when employers ask for experience, they’re often actually asking for you to show them that you can be trusted to do the job independently. The best way to win that trust is to put projects out there in the real world. It doesn’t have to be a big thing but putting on an event, selling a product or service, running a social initiative or completing freelance work will really help you to stand out. If it’s something that an audience have responded to in some way, the “experience” that you accrued as a result can’t be denied and is a lot more dynamic than any “fictional” portfolio project will evidence.
If landing a job is proving difficult — which it may well do in the coming months — then my best advice is to start your own thing. That might sound flippant and it’s definitely not easy, but it’s also incredibly empowering, it fundamentally changes how you frame yourself to the industry and it will help you to build your network, often without you realising. Going solo is really tough, so if you know anyone in a similar situation on the job front, see how your skills and interests could compliment one-another and team up to put something out there in the world. There are lots of great examples of grad-run initiatives from the last couple of years that have landed their founders jobs. Last time I checked Jody from Sad Grads had just joined It’s Nice That and I’d be pretty confident that it was that project that really caught INT’s attention.
Whether it’s developing your professional network or teaming up with some folk to launch a small business, the connection, conversation and camaraderie that comes through community is incredibly important on a personal level. We’ve all had the social side of our lives snatched from us and picking up those pieces will be a messy process. Many of us don’t realise just how much it’s affected us until we’re at breaking point. Socialising (especially when it feels forced) is going to be tricky, but the creative mind is at its best when it’s stimulated and inspired. Try to build more creative conversations into your days and you’ll feel energised and like there is hope after all.
The creative industry will always need new ideas and new faces, so if it feels like you’re shut out, please persevere. If the industry tells you that you’re not right or enough, keep pushing and create something that proves them wrong. Oh and please don’t get too wrapped up in the fuss around awards. Your potential, ability and ideas cannot be dictated by a handful of people who are getting increasingly impatient with one another over a 6hr Zoom call. If you win something, that’s fantastic! If you don’t, that doesn’t define you.