Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Basics of Effective Networking

I suppose I should start off with the obvious: What is networking?

net-work-ing [net-wur-king]
noun
1.     A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.

In short -- making friends! 

Although it seems like something that should really be bred out of common sense, I know it's something far easier said than done. Thus, at the last club meeting, we dedicated a special lecture entirely to the art of networking. To get the full impact of what we discussed, everyone reading this should probably start coming to club (wink wink, nudge nudge), but for those who, for whatever reason, can't find the time to come, here are what I consider to be some basics of effective networking.


Don Your Professional Tool Belt
First things first, there's a few things you should have on-hand before heading out into a throng of future employers/co-workers at a conference: A resume, a business card, and an online presence.


Business card: For me, when I first started out, I didn't really 'get' the importance of having a business card. It seemed like something only big-shots in the movies carried around for the sole purpose of looking like a badass. Man, was I wrong. Business cards not only make for a slick, fast way of exchanging information on the fly, but they give you a chance to leave a good impression.

While I don't necessarily agree with everything the "Your Business Card is Crap" guy says, I do think he makes a good point, overall. We are artists, looking for art jobs. If I walked up to some Mr. Prestigious Art Lead on the ultimately exciting Project XYZ with my information scribbled on a piece of loose leaf paper ripped out of someone else's notebook, do you think he'd give me a call? I doubt it. As artists, we're naturally going to judge each other on the quality of our work, and a business card is simply an extension of that. A well-designed business card is the chance to leave a residual presence in someone else's brain that says, "Hey, I'm professional AND talented". Even if you don't know how to design one, find someone who does! Then, when it comes down to you and a competitor, you've a greater chance of being first on the list.

Additionally, business cards save time. There are too many times at a conference where you will come face to face with your idol, but they only have 30 seconds to talk. Do you want to waste that time, finding paper and a pen and painstakingly trying to scratch your info onto something? No. Spend that time charming the pants off them, and more likely than not, as you extend your card, you will find your idol doling one out in return.

Resume: I won't say much here, I'd like to assume that everyone has had to work at least one day in their life for a job they had to apply for. However, I will say that matching stationary is nice! With some nice typography and a cool layout, your business card and resume (with their forces combined!) can help you create an identity for yourself that people will recognize and remember.

Online Presence: One of the foremost complaints I've heard from recruiters is that the people they want to hire are often impossible to track down. Thus, make yourself easy to Google. Start a website, run a blog, join Linked In, be a part of anything that will pop up in a search as a way an employer could contact you. Obviously a portfolio website is key (especially when so many companies only accept online submissions these days), but having a blog in addition to your polished work is even better. Not only does this become a venue for future employers to contact you, but it also allows them to see what's going on  in your head when you're creating a piece. Remember Mike Makarewicz' talk? The ideas you come up with are so important, so it's probably a nice thing for an employer to take a look at.

Get Out There

This is part is sometimes the hardest, but it truly is the essence of networking, itself. Animating all day every day is great, but unless you take a minute to step away from the computer and out into some sort of limelight (or sunlight, hiss!) at some point, it will be tough to actually land that dream job.

Go to Conferences/Events: San Francisco is a particularly amazing hub for all things animation. There are events going on literally every week (probably even excluding Tea Time) that provide excellent opportunities to rub elbows with professionals. Even if you're not in San Francisco, look up what is happening in your area and find a way to score yourself an invite! On top of all the weekly events, there are amazing conferences that happen annually with big names and big opportunities for up-and-coming artists. The Creative Talent Network's Animation Expo (CTNX), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), a countless number of 'Cons' and plenty more, are all venues for you to join professional circles.

Networking at School Counts, Too: Networking doesn't always have to happen in a designated venue. Keep in mind that all your peers are going to be out there someday, too! Making good friends who keep focussed and do good work goes a long way to helping you get a job someday. Nine times out of ten, the answer to the question "How did you land your job" is "My friend referred me". Class, the labs, and Tea Time are all great ways to get involved with your community and start these relationships early. 

Be a Resource for Others: Especially at school where sometimes the directors are spread a little thin, becoming an informational hub for your peers is important. If you can become the person with all the ideas, suggestions names of other people... the guy or gal your peers always turn to for advice, you will be a name that people remember, and probably the first that comes to their lips in the event an opportunity arises.

Volunteer: Even better than just attending conferences, is volunteering at them! Not only does this generally get you conference passes for free, but it also gives you the excuse to start 'those' kinds of conversations. For those of you who were at club this week, you'll probably remember my Andrew Gordon story. Working at the conferences puts you in direct contact with the pros, and gives you a leg up in getting noticed. From experience, professionals often favor the volunteers for all the work they put in to making their speeches and things go as smoothly as possible.

Pinpoint What You're Looking For: Once you're at at conference, it can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and free swag. Try and keep in mind what it is you want out of your time there. Are you looking for a portfolio review, a modeler for your thesis, a producer for your personal project? This way you can really keep your eyes peeled for the specific events, lectures, etc that would draw in the type of crowd you'd like to be surrounded by.

Don't Be Afraid of "Big Names": At conferences, you'd be surprised how often you will have the opportunity to go up and introduce yourself to one of your idols. I'm hoping that when it happens to you, you won't neglect the opportunity to do so. Chances are, they are far more personable than you think, and I can guarantee you'll regret it if you don't. The worst they could say is "go away", and if you never make it up to them even just to say hi and pay them a compliment, then it's the same difference anyways. Might as well take your chances and have your "Elevator Pitch" ready. 

That being said, if you want that opportunity in the first place, you should probably make a point of knowing what these "Big Names" look like. We all spend so much time oggling the beautiful work professionals create without ever actually knowing the person who did it. I, personally, have missed countless opportunities to meet people I admire simply because I'd never bothered to look up the face behind the animation.

On That Note, Just Don't Be Afraid: Actually, quoting Anthony Merola, it's okay to be afraid. Everyone gets afraid from time to time, even Mufasa, but stepping up and being brave enough to overcome your fears and push yourself out of your comfort zone will take you farther than you ever would have thought.

You Are What You Pretend To Be: I first heard this just the other week from Brian Schimer, actually, and I find it to be a perfectly eloquent way to say stop saying "I'm just a student!" You're not just a student, you are an animator. You're studying, yes, but everyone else, you're an animator. Don't sell yourself short up front. 

BE GENUINE: Above and beyond anything else I've mentioned in this mammoth of a post, no matter what you're doing, no matter where you are or who you're talking to, be genuine. Be kind. Be passionate about what you do not because you think that the CEO of whatever will like it, but because you actually are! People are intuitive, they can smell you faking it a mile away. Like my favorite quote from Mr. Conan O'Brien says, "Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen to you."

Aftermath

Solidify Your Connections: Make sure you don't forget who it is you met and/or spoke to, and make sure they don't forget you! Call them, e-mail them, @ them in a tweet, follow their blog and invite them to follow yours...Don't just let the cards you receive start collecting dust in your hypothetical rolodex. If they're local, invite them for coffee, share ideas, get critique...just make sure you stay connected.

Don't Be Afraid of the Telephone: Textual media has robbed our generation of the ability to relate on a person-to-person level without a keyboard and digital interface. If someone e-mails you try and keep your connection alive after a conference, try calling them back instead of hitting reply. Talking to someone on the phone adds a much more personal level to the way someone can relate to you, and makes you more memorable in the end.

Honor Thy Referrals: If in the aftermath of a conference or other networking event, you meet someone who goes out of their way to make moves in getting you a job - i.e: gets you a contact, puts your name through to HR - make sure you follow through. You better call that person ASAP, and you definitely better make sure your resume is actually submitted so that HR rep can find it and move it to the top of the stack. If you act poorly and/or tardily, it will not only look bad on you, but the person who stuck their neck out for you in the first place. If you act accordingly, however, it will most likely result in future work for both of you! 

Wow. I know this is a quite a mammoth of a post, but making friends is almost as important as the work we put out when it comes to getting a job. 

Don't forget about Jim Brown's talk this Friday, May 4th in room 400a of 180 NM. Club is still on for 3:30 that day. Can't wait to see everyone there!

1 comment:

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