Networking is the super power up every designer needs

Networking is the key to being an exceptional designer.

Why do people shy away from networking?

I know how you feel. It’s easy for anyone to have an unsavoury feeling towards networking. It’s too hard, fake, and easy to dismiss.

Traffic, social awkwardness, other priorities, and a grudge against individuals who are just plain bad at sales. Yes, those are all valid reasons to back away. In fact, there are even more reasons to stay away.

Not all designers are social butterflies. Some people even have panic attacks, not knowing what to say when faced with someone. If you’re an introverted person like me, conversing with a person takes a lot of energy. What more with a room full of them? Sounds like a disaster, right?

Networking can also feel inauthentic. It’s like a refined way of taking advantage of people. It’s as if the premise of the whole activity is to just get what we want.

In terms of cultural nuance, in Manila, I’ve noticed that most Filipinos are too shy to interact with people in any kind of meet-up. People are content with just sitting down, listening to a talk, and going home without sparking any kind or semblance of a relationship.

Assuming you’re currently in a meet-up, sitting down with a group of people can get really awkward. Sometimes you’re too shy to even say “Hi!” to the person next to you. When this happens, you know some kind of change is bound to happen.

In this article, I will try to address these concerns by building the case for networking and building relationships.

The point — you are missing out on growth, job and mentorship opportunities.

Despite how networking can have a bad rap, countless research have proven it to be an indispensable aspect of professional growth.

Let’s take a look at a 1985 study by Carnegie Mellon researchers Robert Kelley and Janet Caplan, who analyzed the characteristics of exceptional engineers at Bell Labs.

According to their research, IQ wasn’t the deciding factor between top performers and average ones. The star performers did their jobs differently. The most-productive employees proactively developed relationships with other experts — and these networks were significantly more diverse than their average-performing colleagues’.

Okay sure, now we know that networking is crucial to be a star performer. But how do you actually do it? Here’s an excerpt from How Bell Labs Creates Star Performers:

“He explained that networking was a barter system in which an engineer needed to earn his or her own way. From his perspective, that meant first becoming a technical expert in a particularly sought-after area, then letting people know of your expertise, then making yourself available to others. Once an engineer has developed his or her bargaining chips, it’s possible to gain access to the rest of this knowledge network. But once in the network, you have to maintain a balance of trade to stay in.”

Networking boosted my design career by 100x while in university.

Networking has been the focus of my university career ever since freshman year. In fact, I attribute much of my success to networking. The reality is — majority of your success in the real world just really depends on who you know, and how you make the most out of those relationships.

Because of networking, I was able to land five UX design internships at prestigious companies both in the Philippines and internationally.

I was featured at our Ateneo graduation magazine by The GUIDON as the “UX Revolutionary.”

I was also the youngest core group member of the professional organization UX Philippines only as a second year student.

When I was interviewing for Y-Combinator startup Kalibrr, everyone interviewing me already knew what I did as a student, knowing that I had a stellar background.

I believe the secret to my success is my over-reliance on the people around me. Mentors, friends, and people who I journeyed with — networking allows these relationships to start.

Most importantly, it’s your job to take care of the relationships and let it mature and grow into something amazing not just for you, but for both you and the other person involved.

Networking is about building relationships based on value.

Want to maximize your networking experience? Try focusing on providing value to people you meet.

How exactly do you provide value? Let me give you some ideas.

  • Hold great conversations with the people you meet by being an interesting person and being knowledgeable about your area.
  • Join design conferences as a volunteer.
  • Organize or start a meet-up for a specific topic or interest which is in high demand.
  • In a Q&A, ask questions that will benefit all of the audience.
  • Give more exposure to an expert by inviting them for a talk. Or a podcast episode. Or a video interview. Or a write-up.
  • Write about your experiences as a designer and share them to the community.
  • Do research on the topic before going to a meetup. Drive the discussion by asking great questions or helping others understand it.
  • Share articles relevant to people in your network.
  • Help a friend you met through networking get a job.
  • Help people level up in your area of expertise buy giving them actionable advice.
  • Mentor other designers.
  • Pursue a sideproject that will evangelize design in your company or community.
  • Continue to talk with your mentors, people in your network and be genuinely interested in their lives.

You see, there are so many things you can do to provide value to other people. If you’re doing networking to help other people, it won’t feel so unscrupulous or fake. Once you get past a certain level in the relationship, you can start asking for favours, too. Maybe even do a sales pitch.

There are many ways of getting access to people. You can try the following:

  • Attend local design meetups
  • Attend design conferences whether here or abroad
  • Find people through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and start a conversation
  • Join a design organization
  • Get to know people in your current company better

Networking online isn’t such a bad idea. It can lead to some great relationships too! The first episode I made for Roots was with a Andrew Aquino, a Filipino product designer working at Facebook. That never would have happened if I never had the guts to reach out and chat him.

Bonus: here are my top 3 tips to start brewing some great relationships.

  1. Read the timeless classic on self-development, How To Win Friends and Influence People. Everything you need to know about building great relationships is here. Remember to be authentic, to avoid flattery, and to make people feel important.
  2. Prioritize your self-improvement. You can’t provide value to other people or network that well if you don’t have anything to offer in return. It’s a harsh world, and the reality is, why would people want to meet you if you don’t have anything to give? Building yourself—in terms of skills, expertise, interests, and more is crucial. Read books. Attend conferences. Build products.
  3. Develop your self-awareness. To sharpen your networking skills, frequent reflection on why you are doing it is important. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Identify opportunities for growth. After that, define what you want to get out of networking. Have a long-term goal so all of your networking efforts are strategic and not scattered. I personally am aiming to become a design industry leader, so my networking efforts are focused around that!

Networking is the secret sauce you need in your arsenal of life skills.

Networking is an inevitable part of how we grow as people. I get a lot of happiness from meeting new people and being able to help them in areas that I am good at (Hello, oxytocin).

Because I continually provide value, I get mentorship, networks, and a lot of opportunities in return. Even relationships to last a lifetime.

No matter what people say, it is indisputable that building great relationships will catapult you towards being a first-rate designer. Take it slow. You will get the hang of it. You will eventually get there.

What are you still doing here? Go out there and start building some awesome relationships!

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