Building a Professional Network


#1

I have a networking challenge, particularly for UX Research.

I’ve been at Texas A&M for 10 years and am finishing up my PhD. I’m one of the first students in the human factors concentration from my department, and I’m the first to try and break into UX.

Normally, A&M sets a lot of store by networking, it’s part-and-parcel of their brand. However, while A&M’s history in heavy industry and military is well established, their presence in design fields is much more limited (the only “design” school is Architecture). Additionally, my positive impact policy keeps me from working in the military-focused design opportunities that do exist.

I’ve also been a student member of HFES for half a decade. They’re wonderful for professional development and I have a fantastic mentor who challenges me to improve my skills, but the simple fact is that, so far, I’m still largely applying for jobs the wrong way, through the job search portal, because I just don’t know the people to pursue the networking route.

I’ve had some reasonable success in the Bay Area, with the contacts I do have, but have made all my others through LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

Funnily enough, while I have some interest in Austin, as it lets me stay in state and leverage my student network, but the few openings I’ve found haven’t led to even a conversation.


New to UX, 26 year old, in a small country. How to get started to UX job?
#2

And here I am without a college degree. I feel extremely under-educated.

So, if I understand you correctly, your issue is that you feel like you don’t have the professional contacts to make inroads in the profession. It sounds like you’ve been at this for some time, and at a level of which I really know nothing. My suggestions that I routinely give for networking, however, are as follows:

  • Meetups. Most of the great contacts I’ve met have been through going to local Meetups, and there’s usually quite a few options in larger cities.
  • Conferences. There’s something about the conference environment that brings people out of their shells a bit. Even if you’re not particularly outgoing, which I am not, getting out to conferences is a great source of networking and professional development.
  • Online groups. I’ve met so many wonderful people here at UXM, and I’ve had some great opportunities come my way through my contact here. Even if this turns out not to be the group for you, there are quite a few out there. You’ll find one that jibes with your personality eventually.

I hope that’s helpful-- though I fear it may not be.


#3

I have relied super heavily on my professional network over the years. Living in NZ means that there aren’t a lot of jobs for people that do what I do. As a result I’ve worked 100% remotely for the last decade. I’m def not a pro at networking, but I’m lucky enough (so far) to never have had a job interview as a result.

Here is what I do:

  • I follow people on social networks (for me that’s forums, Twitter and LinkedIn) with a name that’s standard and recognised
  • I go to as many meet ups as possible
  • I have established myself as the go-to person for a specific niche (for me that’s persuasive tech/the UX of community platforms) so that whenever a question is asked I’m front of mind
  • I speak at conferences
  • I’m vocal on the internet
  • I mentor as many people as possible

I think the key is reciprocity. If you help people as much as you can, when you ask for help everyone jumps.


#4

In reality, networking is nothing more than getting to know people. It’s a way of relating, not a technique for getting what we want.

:point_up: I agree with this. Simply living your professional life and consistently including others in it can go a long way to helping the world go around. The suggestions by @dougcollins and @HAWK are good because they involve just getting out and about and doing this. It also helps avoid the ‘hit and run’ approach where some people temporarily use their network when they need them, and then disappear. No one likes that.

Some more tips:

  • Develop your professional integrity with the people immediately around you. They become allies in your quest to build trust with others.
  • Catching up for a coffee or meal with friends and contacts outside your usual circle values the relationship and helps you stay in touch when you may otherwise become distant.
  • Be a hub - other people need help networking too. By connecting people you’re helping both sides at the same time.
  • Consider working with a decent UX recruiter if you need help getting connected in new areas or gaps in your network
  • Join or start a UX bookclub or group that champions UX in your area.
  • Offer to speak at events. Sounds like you’ve got some academic experience to share!
  • Introduce yourself to a UX agency in your area just to say hello
  • Be visible online: blog your UX thoughts, use social media to let people know you’re on the hunt for a job, engage genuinely in forums like this one, keep your LinkedIn profile up to date,

Likewise, putting in a genuine effort and asking for help gives others the opportunity to participate and be useful too. When people see you working hard for something and helping others along the way, they’ll often volunteer opportunities for you. If you know where you want to head, it makes it easier for people to know how to help you.

Herein lies the reason why networks are valuable! Quality can come with time and hard work on the right things.

PS - Chapter 4 in Get Started in UX has a lot of advice on exactly this topic too.


#5

I definitely agree. In fact that was one of the things that I really liked most about the UX Mastery book. There’s frequently too little emphasis placed on the idea of professionalism and ethics, and people usually make the mistake of thinking that they don’t end up making a difference, when in reality, people primarily work with who they can trust. If you make yourself into a shark, you can only swim with the sharks.

As for my particular case, I think the thing is that I’ve been connecting in heavily academic groups. I’ve been to every HFES conference since 2012. I am really fond of them as a professional organization and have learned so much from them all; my contacts there have really made me a better researcher. I’m just finding that I’m a bit blind in specifically finding UX Research options via that route. I think, maybe, it may be due to HFES primarily being Masters-level educations, minimum, while the UX field has more variety in educational backgrounds.

Interestingly enough, I feel like part of my sense of urgency in developing contacts is partially for my classmates, as well. I helped found our local student chapter and I’m one of our first UX focused folks. I guess if I’m feeling like I don’t know anyone regionally, then everyone else in our chapter is likely feeling isolated as well.

I think, for me, my big takeaways here are:

  • Find UX focused meetups, regionally
  • Bridge the communication gaps for my local group through the meetups
  • Individually, consider a UX recruiter
  • Consider how to improve my branding, so that I have a clear focus-area for my particular interests. (Which is interesting considering that academia encourages over-specialization, so to focus more on industry, I’ve had to be more generalized than many of my colleagues)

Thank you for the advice, everyone. I’ll do my best to act on it.


#6

Well, from my perspective, Doug, I have years and years of books shoved into my head (some of them useful), but everyone else seems to be remarkable at communicating visually. I’ve not much skill for making beautiful things.

I can analyze things well, but I’m not always sure how to directly translate that into being able to make a direct difference. Academics frequently get into a hole where they write important papers that only a few people read closely enough to really understand. There’s a lot of need in transitional work, where it really finds application, and so many times we end up sitting around saying that we need more of it, but have little idea how to actually do it.


#7

Hey @treyroady! I’m late to the thread, but having worked in UX in Texas, I have some thoughts (in addition to the excellent advice you’ve received here).

As you mentioned, Meetups are great. I also recommend conferences. Some have student rates, or will let you volunteer in exchange for a free ticket. Is there an Event Apart or other conference happening nearby?

Back to meetups, how about an IXPA, or other UX professional association nearby? If not in College Station, you might find one in Houston. It’ll be a haul but potentially worth it.

Speaking of Houston, I highly recommend you follow one of my contacts there, Kelsey Ruger. Sign up for his newsletter here: http://www.kenziecreative.com. He’s very committed to teaching others and helping people enter the field of UX, so you could even try contacting him on Twitter. I bet he’d be interested to know that A&M is doing an HCI program now!

As for Austin, I worked at Razorfish there for 2 years and would recommend it. You might also look at Fjord. See if either of those places have openings. They’re usually hiring designers.

There’s also a newish meetup group in Austin called Fresh2Design that’s full of people just starting design careers: https://www.meetup.com/fresh2design/. Maybe a little field trip to attend a meetup and have coffee with one or two folks would be just the thing. :slight_smile:

Oh, and if you’re interested in relocating to beautiful Virginia, my company really needs designers!: https://willowtreeapps.com/careers/jobs/ovVTZfw2/product-designer. If you decide to apply, let me know!

HTH. Let me know if you have any questions!


#8

Great observation. Part of it is most likely the region. I’ve noticed there’s not a ton of UX opportunities in the Houston / College Station area, and I’ve been told that Houston is a “back-end” kind of town. Not that there’s NOTHING there (see my recommendation about Kelsey Ruger above), but it’s just that you won’t find networking as plentiful there as in Austin.


#9

Thank you so much, Melanie! I’ll definitely be glad to follow up on those.

(I’ve also signed up to attend the UXPA - Austin meetup on Tuesday, so here’s hoping that goes well.)

Also of note, for anyone reading, the HFES conference is in Austin this year. It’s pretty excellent if you want to see new human-centered research and connect with analysis circles. They’re not much on the design-focus, but they’re really great at measurement and experimentation.


#10

Sounds like fun! Also, Austin is one heck of a city. I think it’s impossible not to love it down there.


#11

@treyroady - I’m in Austin. I’m currently swamped with school, but if you come up, let me know and we can try to get together for a bit.

Maybe I’ll try that meet up, even though I’m not precisely a UXer.


#12

Here’re the details for the meetup, just in case you were seeing a different one.

I should be bringing at least one classmate with me, as we try to make these sort of things group affairs for our student chapter whenever we can.


#13

Hi @melanie_seibert, I’m curious about design at Razorfish. I am trying to get into the UX field after 15+ years in the visual design world. I have never worked at an agency, but I have a family and people always blanket statements about agencies, reminding me that they are not family friendly places. I have also heard that they likely wouldn’t hire me if I haven’t worked at an agency previously, and especially not for UX, which is a big leap from what I’ve been doing. I would love to get your thoughts in response.


#14

Hi @niabassett! Happy to help.

I had the same impression of agencies before I worked at Razorfish. I was convinced it would be crazy hours and not family-friendly. (I have 4 kids.) The reality was quite different: I worked very regular, predictable hours and it was a great work-life balance. Very occasionally (maybe once per year) I would work late into the evening to meet a deadline. This was definitely the exception rather than the rule.

With your experience in visual design, you should definitely apply. They have visual designers as well as UX designers. If they decide you don’t fit a UX role (yet) you could try starting in a visual design role and let them know of your interest in eventually moving over to UX. They are very encouraging of lateral moves like that.

I did not have agency experience when I interviewed at Razorfish. I let them know that I had experience presenting to internal stakeholers in my in-house role, and they hired me. They’re pretty flexible!

I say go for it.