We are sure you spent hours in the studio or locked behind closed doors reformatting boards, preparing dynamic graphics and visual presentations” But have you dedicated that same energy and time to meeting important people in the design industry and local business community” While your design work is definitely important, you need to show it to someone to get your career started. In the real world, people hire people, not portfolios. Your work may clearly show that you are at the top of your class and have a great skill set, but employers are equally concerned with how you will interact with coworkers and engage clients. Your communication and people skills will make a difference in your career.
Are you feeling a little light-headed now or looking for a bag to breathe into” Relax, there are ways to get you on track. Whether you just graduated or have time left in school to prepare, consider the following:
1| Design is a sales job. You need to be comfortable selling the wonderful, incredible you, your work, your ideas and at some point your company and the products you want your client to sign off on. So, practice, practice, practice.
First you need to know what you are going to say about yourself. How are you different from your competition” This is your elevator speech. Then you need to think about how you will present your work, your passions and your ability to collaborate and work with a variety of people.
Please don’t spend your time discussing a project by saying “this carpet goes here, this paint goes here, this lounge furniture goes there…” Talk about the project story – the parameters, the challenges, the inspiration and the solution.
Practice in front of friends, family, and your mirror until you feel comfortable. Get excited about this process and the opportunity to find the right place to start you design career–let that energy and excitement shine through.
2| Introverts can do it too. Some people think only extroverts are good with people and communicating ideas. But quiet introverts can also clearly communicate and engage audiences.
Some of your co-workers and clients will be introverts too. You need to be able to connect with a diverse group of people in a variety of settings. Can you convince an employer to hire you or a CEO to approve your design one minute and then tell the contractor to move an outlet the next”
While introverts may need a little more practice and courage, focus on putting yourself in situations that make you the most comfortable and then share your story and your capabilities.
3| Network your way to success. There is only one way to meet people—start doing it! Start out online…currently we believe LinkedIn is an absolute must for building your network. In fact, stop reading this for one second and connect with us via LinkedIn right now–Aga Artka and Jenny Schrank.
While using LinkedIn and other on-line platforms to make connections is a great start, don’t just hide behind your computer. You will need to physically connect with people.
Start with industry organizations like ASID and IIDA – are you a member of the student chapter” Did you really get involved and go to events” If you did go but didn’t talk to anyone, it is time to try again. And for those of you who didn’t go, it is time to sign up. Go with a friend if you need some support, and introduce yourself to at least one new person.
Remember networking is not about quantity–collecting business cards and increasing your LinkedIn number. The quality of the connection is what you need to focus on. You want someone to remember your face, your name or both. And hopefully they will remember something important from your conversation. Then nurture this connection with a thank you note or email.
Stay in touch and begin to build a relationship. This connection will lead to others and be far more valuable than collecting 10 business cards from people you can’t even remember. If you don’t remember them, most likely they don’t remember you.
4| Be Patient. Be Persistent. People are busy and especially when you are a student connecting with professionals, you have to realize you may not be their priority. But that does not mean you do not deserve an answer.
Whether looking for information, developing a connection, or trying to follow up on a job, you will need to be professional and precise in your messages. Make sure you give them context for where you met, be appreciative of their time, clearly state what you are looking for from them, and how you can support their needs.
Use a combination of phone and email to stay connected, but give them some time to respond. Some people walk over the fine line of persistence to a level of annoying that is very hard to recover from.
So, are you ready to put yourself out there and outshine your portfolio” While there is so much more information to share on this and strategy to teach, the important thing to remember is that people hire people, so give as much time and attention to developing your communication and interpersonal skills as you do to perfecting your portfolio.
Jenny Schrank, Allied ASID, and Aga Artka, Allied ASID, LEED AP, work together to educate and motivate young design professionals to take charge of their lives and build careers of their dreams. They started a career building newsletter and are working on a career development publication, which is planned to be released in 2014.
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