Friday, 19 October 2012

University as a networking opportunity

How you look at your education in my honest opinion is entirely up to you. University costs a lot of money and should not be wasted. It takes three years to complete an undergraduate course or four if you have a foundation or placement year strapped onto it, which might sound like a long time but in actual fact is not. Well you know what they say, time flies when your having fun, but the thing about University is perhaps not that you are having the best time of your life all the time and thats why it goes by so fast. Its more like there was so much going on all the time that you've managed to get to the end of your degree course without actually fully realising what it is you were supposed to get out of it in the first place. This is one of the few things me and my University friends can agree on, and it can be quite a scary prospect. Don't listen to all the people that say I had to go through it, its just a natural part of the process. It really isn't at all, it doesn't have to be so painful and all it requires is a little bit of prior knowledge to get you going.

So what I am going to suggest here is probably a bit controversial but I honestly don't care! Your grades don't really mean anything if you are studying in an art or design related course. What I mean by that is that they don't really mean much in terms of your career. You will of course need to pass the units to progress through the course and onto the subsequent years but that is about it. What you should be focusing on is networking your ass off. I didn't start to do this until about half way through the summer of my second year and I did it by accident. (It was a happy accident if you will). I did an internship or two and managed to bag myself a few freelance clients off the back of them. This was brilliant news for a number of reasons being: 1.) It showed me that I could indeed nab freelance clients off contacts that my internship boss had, provided it was done transparently and tactfully: 2.) I should probably start to treat more social activities like an opportunity to network: 3.) There is an art to talking yourself up and if you do it well people will offer you various opportunities: 4.) I'm gonna need a business card and a website if I'm serious about this networking malarky.  There is a secondary underlying point here which is that arts courses don't focus on getting you a job really, they focus on getting you to think about whatever your field is in the most creative way possible in order to pave the way for the future. This is a fine notion but I find it to be entirely lacking in its application. I didn't start to get really creative until I got a bit of real life experience, and that came via work. You need to meet people and experience things, and that requires socialising, which depends on money and time, hence the getting a job thing. (We all have to start somewhere). Then you can take all that input and put it back into your course, which will allow you the opportunity to get a portfolio together, which will in turn get you more work. Now there is a symbiotic relationship between these two things and I hope that I am explaining this in a way that makes sense because if you get the balance right it can take you to some really interesting places.

coming back to networking Its all really about practice, because you will talk to all kinds of different people in various stages of their careers and levels of seniority. There are do's and don'ts to it, so I'll throw you a few examples now to help you along the way.


1.)  Do talk about your work to people, make it interesting, and sound enthusiastic.

2.)  Do have a business card and a website to show off your efforts and prove that you are serious, even if it is just a blog of your University work that is fine.

3.)  Do take an interest in other peoples work when they talk about it and make an effort to understand it if you can. It will give you new perspectives for your own work.

4.)  Do make the most of social media like Twitter and especially Linkedin groups as it will allow you the opportunity to generate contacts.

5.)  Do make sure that you are articulate when you are talking in person or over the phone, and especially make sure that your spelling is correct whilst emailing people.

6.)  Do mention your collaborations with other students and colleagues (nobody wants a lone wolf on a project).

7.)  Do seek out and go to the social events, exhibitions etc. that the influential artists and designers go to.

8.)  Do return the favour if somebody gets you an in on a project of any kind.

9.)  Do enter into debate about creative practices with people (without insulting anyone) it shows that you are keen and have an opinion of your own.

10.)  Do mention that you are looking for opportunities.


1.)  Don't go straight to the Managing Director and start pushing for a favour, they are busy people and there is a hierarchy you must get through first. (Wait till you are invited to talk openly with them and then drop it into conversation).

2.)  Don't beg or seem needy (even if you are desperate for the money) this will be just as damaging as being too pushy and make people doubt whether they want to work with you.

3.)  Don't talk like you are a professional who has ten years experience if you don't, they will see through it and automatically relegate you to sales calls and promotions. (Nobody looks at those its just spam).

4.)  Don't accept absolutely anything that comes your way sometimes people are just trying to get something for nothing and you will have to be discerning about this.

5.)  Don't over subscribe your time at the expense of your degree there will be other opportunities.

6.)  Don't talk about yourself endlessly, networking just like any other conversation is give and take so listen as well.

7.)  Don't tell people your life story they honestly don't care.

8.)  Don't namedrop unless it genuinely is relevant to the work you are discussing.

9.)  Don't give out business cards to anyone you ever talk to unless you think they might actually contact you. They do after all cost money.

10.)  Don't just turn up uninvited this defeats the purpose of what you are doing (which is trying to get an invitation).

Now coming back to using University as a networking ground I think it is worth mentioning the interdisciplinary nature of your University campus. You effectively have access to world class equipment, books, and venues and lets not forget talent, that all can be utilised to your advantage. Every different course offers you more chance of gaining an opportunity. Most universities have an open emailing system which you can post out to every student on campus. This is very handy if you are looking for an illustrator, designer, extra for a film. Aside from extra curricular activities though (you might not have the time) there is the general getting to know of your class mates. For some reason everyone seems to forget that everyone comes from completely different backgrounds and that by that virtue alone they are probably going to have all kinds of interesting insights for you to make the most of. So please I implore you to stop creating little cliques and worrying about who the in crowd is so that you can reinvent your post secondary school self. There will be plenty of time for that once you have made it big in the creative industry which is pretty cool in itself. You will have to become an expert investigator and find out who knows what and wether they can or are willing to swing you a favour and share there contacts with you. This comes form graciously and patiently getting to know the people on your course. And not just your own course but other related courses too. That is what you should really be doing at uni realistically, because, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, the world is still very much all about who rather than what you know, and the what you can always find out after you have your in.

So now that you know this information I suggest you get started as soon as possible and start fraternising with the enemy it will only help you in the end.

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