Networking as a Designer

A stale face emoji on a yellow background
Oh no…. Not networking…

I get it.

Man holding a coffee cup feeling disgusted
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Networking is transactional. Networking seems so fake. LinkedIn is so…ew…

I get it.

I still remember my first time reaching out to a stranger on LinkedIn two years ago. It was a form of outreach I’d never done before.

It felt…foreign. It felt uncomfortable.
Disgusting anime character closing and opening door
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Fast forward 3 years - I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t even recall how many people I’ve talked to. And I know the list will only grow longer.

I’m not saying this to brag in any way. For those out there who are afraid to network, I want to help you by sharing what I learned.

So, let’s start with…

Why the hell should I network? It feels so fake!

Why networking

To answer this question, let me share how networking has helped me as a designer:

  • ✅ Landed a summer internship at Roblox & Pegasystems (referrals)
  • ✅ Invited awesome guests onto my podcast
  • ✅ Became even more passionate in design after talking to kick-a** designers
  • ✅ Learnt what design is like in different companies
  • ✅ Understand that I have a lot to learn in design

The list goes on and on.

If you like what I listed, you should consider networking as a designer.

Now, you might be wondering:

You network only to get referrals right?

Well… not really.

When I’m looking for an internship, I do have that intention in mind. But, I never mention that upfront. Instead, I focus on what I believe is more important:

Being genuinely curious about a person.

To me, networking is a great opportunity to talk to a designer/design manager I’m curious about. It’s a bridge for me as a student to understand the “real world” of design.

Most importantly, talking to these professionals grounds me. It reminds me:

Damn, I have a lot of things to learn in this field... I’m just getting started!

Also, what I realized is that the design community is incredibly supportive. And that’s what motivates me to give back as well.

Networking mindset

Now, if you’re now feeling better about networking, here are some things that are good to know.

Networking should not be transactional

As I mentioned, networking is not just for referrals. It’s a chance to talk to cool people.

Networking does not have to be “fake”

People often think that you have to become a different person when networking.

You don’t have to.

Obviously, it’s not the same as meeting your friends. But it’s just like meeting a new person.

And the more calls you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

Do not take ghosting personally

Ghosting is when you reach out but don’t get a response.

It’s very common. And it sucks.

But, it just happens - Don’t take it personally because people are busy with their life. Just continue to reach out to people and eventually someone will respond.

Notion table with the people that ghosted me
This is just a small list of people who ghosted me...

Networking Tactics

Now, I want to get practical. I want to share my way of networking. You don’t have to follow my templates/methods, but hopefully, this can get you a head start. I broke it down into

  1. How to reach out
  2. What to do after the person responds
  3. What to do in the call
  4. What to do after the call

I will provide templates for some of these sections. Note: These were also listed in my past article about landing design internships.

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How to reach out

My most common outreach method is LinkedIn, with the second being ADPList then email.

Let me share the templates I use for these:

How to reach out via LinkedIn

LinkedIn Connect

To connect with a person, you should always add a note to make it more sincere & personal. Note: LinkedIn note has a character limit of 300.

Here are a few templates I’ve used:

Hi (Name)! Hope all is well! I’m reaching out because I know (Company) opened its summer design internship! I know it's a big ask coming from a total stranger, but if you have 20 mins next week, I'd love to chat about (type of experience)!

Hi (Name), I hope you're having a great week! I’m reaching out because (Reason to reach out)! I know it's a big ask coming from a stranger, but if you ever have 20 minutes next week, I'd love to hear about (types of experience)!

For the (types of experience), try to be specific! Here are some examples:

  • What it’s like to design at Duolingo’s Growth team and your design journey
  • Your work on LinkedIn’s main feed as a design lead
  • Your experience designing at Riot & how you got into the game industry

How to reach out via email

Do this only if the person has not accepted your request for a while.

From my experience, people are much more likely to respond on LinkedIn than on email. Here are a few templates I used:

Mentioning the internship position

Subject: Virtual Coffee Chat

Hi (Name),

Hope you're having a great week!

My name is (Your Name), and (Short intro)!

As I was navigating through the internship search, I realized that XYZ Company has a design intern position open for Summer 2022!

Thus, I know it's a big ask coming from a total stranger, but I was wondering if you ever have 20 minutes next week for a call? I would greatly appreciate learning about (Types of experience)!

Please feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile and portfolio which are listed below!

I appreciate your time and thank you in advance.

LinkedIn: (LinkedIn link)
Portfolio: (Portfolio link)

Best,
(Your Name)

Not mentioning the internship position

Subject: Virtual Coffee Chat

Hi (Name),

Hope you're having a great weekend!

My name is (Your Name), and (Short intro). I was browsing through LinkedIn and came across your information. I hope you don’t mind me reaching out of the blue here.

I saw that you (list out the types of experience the person had).

As a young designer interested in (interest), I would love to learn about (specific experiences / themes)

I know that your time is extremely valuable so please don’t feel the need to respond in depth. If you do have 15 minutes to chat next week, I would really appreciate it.

Please feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile and portfolio which are listed below!

I appreciate your time and thank you in advance.

LinkedIn: (LinkedIn link)
Portfolio: (Portfolio link)

Best,
(Your Name)

What to do after the person responds

Congratulations! This is the start of your relationship with the person. Let’s quickly break down what to do afterward.

Schedule a call time

The first thing I’ll do is send over a scheduling link. This makes it easier for the person to schedule a time. The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for them to book a call. I’ve been using Cron Calendar for this.

Cron scheduling page
What I use to schedule meetings!

Prep questions

Then, once the date & time is set, I’ll start my due diligence. I’ll look over their LinkedIn profile, portfolio, and any relevant media.

Generally, my questions tend to follow their career journey in chronological order. A general format will be:

  1. Background Questions
  2. Work before XYZ Company
  3. Work at XYZ Company

Another potential format is asking about general themes. For example, for an upcoming call I have, here are some of the themes I wrote down:

  1. Becoming a design manager
  2. Designing developer tools
  3. Scale up a design team

The point here is to do your research and prepare thoughtful questions.

What to do after the call

Once you finished the call, here are a few things that you can do:

Send a thank you email

This is something that a lot of people don’t do. But it’s so, so important. To me, this is an absolute no-brainer because it not only helps the person to remember you, but also shows that you care about the details.

Always send a thank you note and learnings after the call.

Ask for a referral if needed

But not immediately after the call.

I’ll normally message the person after a week unless it’s urgent. Here is the template I use:

Hi (Name)! I hope all is well!

I know it's been a while since our last call, but I saw that LinkedIn opened up a Product Design Intern summer internship! And I was wondering if you would feel comfortable referring me for the position!

Here's the intern position: (Link)
And here's my portfolio: (Link)

If this is possible, please let me know what other information you may need from my end! If not, it's totally understandable! Regardless, I hope you have a great week! :))

Send gifts

For me, one of the biggest struggles of networking happens after the call.

How can I maintain a connection?

Thus, this advice of sending gifts came from my Tufts professor - Beth McCarthy.

A gift can be a video, article, or piece of content that relates to the person you’ve talked to. And sending a gift is what it sounds like. Every once and a while, you can send over a “gift” to the person you want to keep in touch with.

A sample message can look like this:

Hi (Name)

Hope all is well!

I know it’s been a while since we’ve chatted, but I came across this article/video that reminded me of our conversation! (Gives an overview of the article/video & how it relates + link)

I hope you enjoy this article. And if you have time next week, I’ll love to catch up via call! Let me know what time will work for you here: (scheduling link).

Thank you!

Best,
(Your Name)

But, if you want to do it a simpler way, all you need to do is ask.

For example, maybe once per two/three months, you can just ask the person:

Hi (Name)! Would you be down to catch up this Friday via call?

Or, you can ask

Hi (Name)! Would you be down to catch up sometime this week? Let me know what time will work for you here: (Link)

Sometimes, all you need to do is ask.

Remember the 20/80 OR 10/90 rule

This was also another piece of advice from my professor Beth.

Before, I had a hard time keeping in touch with everyone I talked to.

It was impossible.

Thus, when I brought this up to Beth, she recommended me the 20/80 rule.

The essence is:

Identify the 20% of your network that you truly want to keep in touch with that’ll give you 80% of the outcome.

This changed my outlook completely.

This helps you identify who are the people that you truly want to keep in touch with. It makes your life so much easier.

If you feel like 20% is too much, feel free to go with 10% of your network.

Keep a personal CRM

CRM stands for customer relationship management. In short, it’s a list of people you want to keep in touch with.

Honestly, I do have a CRM on Notion, but it’s not the best at reminding me when to reach back out. In the future, I do want to create an automated system that’ll notify me when to reach out.

For reference, here is a Notion template I created.

Notion template for a personal CRM
Snippet of the Notion template!

Conclusion

Networking can be intimidating. Talking to strangers can be daunting.

As an introvert myself, I completely understand. But, the moment you stop seeing networking as something “fake” and more as a way to meet cool people, networking will start to feel different.

And, like exercising, the more reps/calls you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

Thus, start small. Start with one call per week. Find a comfortable cadence.

I cannot imagine where I’ll be without networking and coffee chats. So I hope you'll find networking as great as I do. If you feel better about networking after reading, I have accomplished my goal.

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

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