Networking Tips and Tricks Part 1
Wow, it’s been a long time since I've posted to AltDevBlogADay! Life has been massively crazy for the past six months or so, and I’m nearing the end of my time in school. In almost 30 days, I will be a college graduate! In the midst of our final project sprint, I was asked by a friend of mine if I ever thought about doing a blog post about networking.
Now, some of you may be wondering who I am to tell you about networking, to whit I like to reference Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by saying “I’m just this guy, you know?”.
In my three years as a student, designer, contractor, and employee, I have picked up a few tips and tricks that may or may not appear to be common sense to you. Yet I consistently get people coming to me saying how outgoing I am, or how it’s insane how much I network, and I’m here to tell you a dirty secret. Networking, to me, is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I’m actually a pretty huge introvert when left to my own devices, so the physical and mental act of getting out there and meeting people is just daunting. I share this with you because maybe you’re the same way, and feel like I’m being too casual with my advice, but the plain and simple fact is, Network and you will make friends and reap dividends. I have no advice for the introvert short of “get over it and do it”, because that’s how I pull it off. But enough about me, let’s go over some networking tips. This first part will be about your online presence, and some best practices for both online and in person, and then the next part will be about in person and online follow-ups!
Rule #1: Think Before You Post
So we all know that our online presence is a huge deal nowadays. Make one off-color comment that has the potential to be misconstrued, and you’re hosed. An actual example I saw a few months ago comes to mind.
Designer A shares a picture he thinks is funny on social media. Designer B thinks it’s tacky and wrong. Designer B loses respect for Designer A. Designer B will remember that if he is ever in a position to hire Designer A.
Over a simple laugh, Designer A is potentially out a contact, a positive relationship with an acquaintance, and a gig. Awful, yeah? Well it happens all the time.
It may be common knowledge, but I must say it. Think before you post.
Rule #2: Get Your Own Dot Com (And Maintain It!)
This is probably the hardest piece of advice I can give, because maintaining your site can be a pain in the butt. I could go on about your site for an entire post so for brevity I’ll try and boil it down into a few bullet points.
- Make the URL easy to type and relevant. Your name is always a good bet, provided it isn’t far out in how it’s spelled.
- Don’t put up your Works in progress. A recruiter may only look at your resume for 30 seconds. Do you want them to see polished content, or half finished content? Worse, do you want them to see half finished content that they don’t read as WIP, and assume that it’s your polished content? **shudder**
- Put your contact info on every page. EVERY. PAGE. That’s name, number, email address. I know that some people like to break up their address as “my name at domain dot com” to thwart spammers, but come on. Again, people looking at your site have a lot of stuff to look at. Let them click on your email address, and have it come up in outlook. The less energy they exert to contact you, the better your chances.
- Have a tab for your resume. In that tab put your resume down online in plain text, and then provide download links for your resume in both Word and PDF. Give them a choice in how they can view it.
- Update it. All the time. Think your site is good enough? It isn't. Tweak it. Tweak it again. Never stop being great.
Finally, there is an amazing keynote from GDC by Jacob Minkoff from Naughty Dog. It is hands down the best 50 minutes you will ever spend on your portfolio. Watch it, learn from it, and follow it.
Rule #3: Social Media is a Tool Chest.
A lot of people use social media in a blanket way. Maybe Programmer A uses every account they have to share lolcats. Maybe Programmer B uses every account to be political. In my opinion, that’s paying a disservice to the strengths and weaknesses of each type of social media. Below is a small list of my social accounts, and how I handle them.
Twitter is how I make new friends. I try to be interesting, share relevant and fun “geek” links, and get into thoughtful and informative discussions. I can approach anyone I want on Twitter, and be seen. When I post to Twitter, I am posting to an audience of devs I don’t know, recruiters, colleagues, and friends. I am still myself. I still curse a bit. I am still opinionated, but I mold it for a certain audience. Everyone I meet at a convention also gets followed on Twitter, provided it’s on their business card.
Facebook is my next tier of friends. In Facebook you get a glimpse into more of my private life, my photos, my politics, and my overall thoughts. In here lurk family, longtime friends since childhood, and colleagues. If I add you on Facebook it means that we have had numerous conversations, and we both seem to agree that we are rather friendly. Sometimes I will make an exception and add someone on Facebook cold, if they don’t have Twitter and I think they are an especially cool cat.
Here I keep every single thing I've ever done professionally. I keep it current, and tweak it bi-weekly. I connect with anyone that has similar interest to me, and I likewise get the same connection requests from others. I am constantly expanding my network and meeting folks. I also hook my Twitter feed up to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn has a highly underused tool for making connections. I use it all the time. If I see someone I want to be connected with that’s out of my network, I’ll find a friend that is connected, and ask for a recommendation. Here’s the thing, LinkedIn is for one thing and one thing only. Networking. Don’t feel like you’re being ruthless by pointedly networking. The only caveat I can really add is make sure you don’t try and jump too far out of your area when asking for connections. For instance, I wouldn't ask my buddies at Ubisoft for a connection with a CEO or something, because for one it’s not relevant, and for another it’s level-jumping, and I would be putting my friends in the awkward position of saying no, or feeling uncomfortable and doing it anyway. You never ever want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Ever. With that in mind, I've gotten tons of great contacts just by asking for an introduction. Likewise, I am constantly recommending contacts (but more on that in a bit).
Klout is a great site that hooks up to your various social media and tells you, in a numerical way, how influential you are within your circle on a number of topics. It’s a great site to check out if you’re interested in seeing what sort of footprint you’re leaving on the internet. If your biggest sphere of influence is Vintage French Nude Lithographs, then maybe you need to reassess. Or not. That’s actually kind of awesome.
So that’s social media. You don’t have to follow my template, but remember that each site is a tool that can and must be used differently to be effective. Finally let’s look at a rule that bridges the gap of online and real life networking.
Rule #4: Don’t Be Selfish.
I mentioned earlier in the LinkedIn section about recommending contacts, and it’s so important that I thought I’d give it its own section. This is good for both online and in real life, so take heed.
If you are to become a crazy whirling dervish of networking, you've gotta spread the love. You have to share. If you don’t pay it forward, then it stops with you and doesn't go any further. That’s no good for anyone, and is just plain selfish. When you see two people with common interests, introduce them! There is a classic method of introduction which is a bit formal, but I absolutely love. It goes like this:
*Talking with Artist A, when Artist B walks up*
Me: Oh, hey Artist B! Have you met Artist A?
Artist B: No I haven’t.
Me: Really? Well let me introduce you. This is Artist A. Artist A is an Environmental Artist at Treyarch. Artist A, this is Artist B. Artist B is a Concept Artist at Epic. Now, Artist A and I were just talking about (Blank), what do you think, Artist B?
Boom! Introduction! What you have done is repeated names at least twice, given relevant information, aligned interests, and included everyone in the conversation. Now gently steer the convo until you feel you are no longer needed, then excuse yourself. You have just connected two professionals, and potentially started a long and healthy acquaintanceship.
The thing is, you should want to get your friends gigs. Your friends should want to get you gigs. If you hear about something that isn’t up your alley, pass it on to a buddy. Furthermore, don’t be a mercenary cock. There’s an awesome studio that a few of my friends have been INTENSELY courting for the longest time. I would love to work there, but why would I try to? First off, I don’t have the relationship these guys have built. It would be a waste of my energy with so many places out there. Second, it’s just a dick move. Let them get the gig unobstructed. Getting a gig is hard enough without your friends pulling a fast one. Besides, once your friend gets in, he can try and help you out. Win/Win. Now, if that same studio comes to YOU and says they want to interview you, for the love of god don’t turn it down. All bets are off at that point.
Come back later for my next part, where I talk about networking in person, and how it folds back to the interwebs!