As the field of UX and UI design continues to evolve and grow, it is crucial for those entering into a UX/UI career to get an early start in creating the building blocks for a diverse, active, ever-expanding network. An increasing number of jobs cannot be accessed without exercising your ability to network, as job listings and application portals are seeing signs of becoming obsolete in today’s market. Recruiters and companies have superior tools at their disposal to find qualified applicants.
It does not take much clicking around online looking for professional career advice to find yourself under a behemoth pile of academic journals, market analysis, op-eds, and blog posts—and drawing the conclusion that genuine networking is key. Everyone from behind every virtual career advisory desk will tell you that you must absolutely, without question, be networking.
When building out your career as a designer, establishing a thriving network is incredibly useful for advancing yourself, understanding your industry’s landscape, developing amongst your collaborators and competition alike, and most importantly creating the relationships that lead to job security and longevity. Let’s look at 4 key tips to build a strong networking strategy.
1. Change Your Perspective
We often frame the concept of networking around the difficulties or very human uncertainty regarding talking to strangers, or the process of deciding which designer conference in a given year will be most advantageous to attend. These things matter and they definitely play a part in how you should go about beginning to build your network, but by focusing on the skill set needed to excel at networking rather than the personal and professional growth benefits involved, it is easy to lose out on the simplest and most traditional forms of career improvement.
Instead of focusing your energy on what you can gain from establishing a working connection with somebody or clawing through your mind for a subtle way to ask them to hire you—focus on what you bring to the table as a designer. Remember, these are your people—and they’re often interested in working to solve the same kinds of user pain points as you are. Have honest conversations with the people you meet about design and user experience. Listen to what they’re interested in, and ask about what they need. Then, consider the ways you can apply your skills to those needs as you search for new opportunities.
As your amount of knowledge develops gradually into a stronger web of experience over the course of your career, you will meet so many different people: clients, colleagues, peers, and superiors, with different experiences and opinions, and personalities—if you approach these experiences as genuine opportunities to learn, to advance the field, to develop and nurture interesting relationships with fellow designers who are excited to make waves just like you are, you will glean much more than just a list of good LinkedIn references or email contacts.
2. Interact, Engage, and Take It Further
The sheer size of your network is less important: instead, focus on and practice building actual engagement. How many of your colleagues are you actively in contact with? How many of your fellow designers do you meet with regularly over the course of a few months? When it comes to actually getting your network to work for you, actively using it is far more important than the raw numbers. If you are looking for a job, the people in your network might be able to send you job openings they have seen, or let you know about opportunities even before they are posted because they work at said company.
If you are already working, a good strategy is to make a list each quarter of four or five people that you want to strengthen your collaborations with and build out an action plan on how you will nurture those working relationships, especially now that many UX/UI jobs are being conducted entirely remotely. Pick topics to discuss, reach out to people, have meetings. Engage with your peers and others in the field on social media. Identify a handful of groups that you will actively participate in for the next few months, and engage with user bases.
Not all of these relationships will be reciprocal. Many of them will not be, but that is why it is important to continue to make an effort to engage, rather than burn yourself out on the practice of networking by focusing your attention on the outcome aspect of it rather than the practice.
3. Find a Mentor
As your professional network grows, you’ll start to identify particular people you want to learn from, and the relationships you form with these people can be integral to the development of your career track. The value of your personal mentor/mentee relationship is not just an increase in your technical knowledge base, it extends to communication skills, problem-solving processes, approaches to team dynamics, and eventually—your own mentorship of others.
Mentor relationships do not have to be overly formal, and your mentor doesn’t have to necessarily work in the exact same specialty of the user experience field as you, or even within the same industry at all—they just have to be people who will answer your questions and give you helpful advice. As you look to solidify a working relationship, note that the qualities we often look for in our mentors are the same qualities that we want to be perceived as exhibiting in our other networking relationships. Mentors are able to communicate effectively. They know when and how to share information, and how to make it accessible. They are people who are approachable, both in the way of their personality as well as their literal schedule. They are humble, enthusiastic, and available to collaborate.
In short, a mentor is just a person who can give you feedback, suggest resources, answer questions you didn’t know you had to ask, share stories, and identify the areas you should focus on. What help you need is mostly dependent on where you are and where you want to go.
(Psst: All Springboard courses & bootcamps include 1:1 mentorship; you will be matched with an industry veteran who will help guide and support you throughout the program.)
4. Keep Gaining New Ground
There is always room to grow and room for improvement. In the current design industry climate, networking is a must for anyone who wants to get ahead and maintain a successful trajectory in their design career. As mentioned, many new young professionals entering the field can be intimidated by the challenges of networking, and many can feel like they are up against a wall of information that they cannot penetrate through to get their foot in the door at a good project or company.
Many people looking to start building a career in UX/UI design will go through additional academic and/or job certification programs like Springboard’s UX Bootcamp. These programs will offer different approaches and are tailored for students looking to receive rigorous training in wireframing design, high fidelity mock-ups, and every part of the design process from end to end.
Springboard’s design bootcamps are structured to allow students to embrace new design learning opportunities and gain invaluable knowledge from unlimited one-on-one time with skilled design mentors. Most importantly, students get the opportunity to participate in an Industry Design Project (IDP) alongside their other active cohorts and alumni. During the IDP element of the program, student designers assist in the design and development of products for real-world employers, helping build out genuine industry connections all while getting exposure to tangible practice design work they can add to their portfolios.