Hack Your Bootcamp III: The Networking Pyramid Scheme
This is the third in a 5-part series called “Hack your Bootcamp”, ideas to make the most of the UX/UI Bootcamp experience. If you haven’t already read the first and second pieces, check them out here.
Networking. The thing you know you should be doing, but are overwhelmed by even the prospect of starting on.
Bootcamps often use their “built-in network” as a marketing point, and walking into the industry with a cohort of your peers will likely pay off for your networking…but it won’t be paying you dividends right away. If you don’t network outside of the walls of your bootcamp, you’ll be stuck job hunting with a network of:
- Other people looking for jobs with few industry connections, all of which they’ll need to leverage for themselves
- Instructors, who know 8,000 other entry-level designers that they would share postings and connections with
- Your single mentor, and we already talked about how much better networking constellations perform.
Hopefully someday soon, bootcamps will adapt their models to better meet student needs. Until that happens, however, use these hacks to fill in the gaps your bootcamp will leave.
HACK NUMBER 3: THE EMILY CHERVONY PATENTED “PYRAMID SCHEME” FOR NETWORKING
I, like many others, have hated networking for a while now. Why?
Networking events make me really uncomfortable. I’d much rather sit down one-on-one with someone and ask them questions about their experience than feel like one of the many women on the Bachelor vying for a chance to talk to the few senior UX Designers in a room.
I hate feeling like I’m out begging someone for a job. I‘d much rather make long-term connections where I can relax and just be myself.
So when I started my bootcamp, I devised my own “pyramid scheme” for networking that keeps me closer to my comfort zone while helping me make connections.
The Big Picture: Informational Interviews
The “pyramid” here is built around getting informational interviews. Not sure what an informational interview is? Here’s a good guide.
The TL;DR: you’re going to ask someone for coffee to learn from them. There are a few things that this does for you.
- Puts you in their brains as someone who is looking for a job.
- Helps you get answers to and different perspectives on the many questions you’re pondering
- Gets you access to knowledge you might not otherwise get from your bootcamp curriculum.
As you build out this network of people you’re learning from, you’re getting yourself resources you can tap when you get more serious about the job hunt. If you stay fresh in people’s minds, they’re more likely to think of you if their company is hiring or they see an appropriate job posting. Or, they may be connected to someone who works for a company that’s hiring and be able to make an introduction for you.
There’s plenty of evidence that getting a job is more about who than what you know. With this strategy, you’re going to use informational interviews to build up your volume of “who”s.
Step One: Start Small.
This pyramid scheme is going to start like any other-with one person, one informational interview.
Here’s the bad news: Odds are, you will have to do one of those weird cold outreaches on LinkedIn or Twitter. The good news? If you play your cards right, you’ll only need to do it this one time.
There’s a few ways to approach this.
- Read UX articles on Medium. Find one you really liked that you learned something new from? Go to that author’s profile, find them on LinkedIn or Twitter.
- Pick a company you really like. Go to that company’s LinkedIn page. Look at the People tab. Pick a UX Designer that works there.
- Watch some UX videos on YouTube. Found a content creator you like? Find them on LinkedIn or Twitter
- Ask your instructor for a name! I’m particularly interested in voice and conversational design, so I asked mine if she knew anyone working in that space.
Once you’ve got that first interview, you’re ready to rock and roll.
Step Two: Close Big.
Building out the next layer of the pyramid is stupidly easy. As you near the last few minutes of your talk, thank them for their time, and then close with this line:
“Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?”
95% of the time, they’ll give you at least one name, possibly two (humans like lists).
Important to note here: however you framed this conversation in the beginning will determine what names they give you.
For example, if you told them that you wanted to talk to them because they transitioned from a different industry into UX and you’d like to learn about transitioning, then they’ll be thinking of people who transitioned, too. So frame carefully and thoughtfully.
This is where the pyramid part comes in. Your first contact put you in contact with two others. Those two can put you in touch with two more each. Those four can put you in touch with 8 more total….you see where this is going. Buckle up for some weeks full of interviews.
Step Three: Follow Up.
After your chat, you’re going to send a thank-you note to your interviewee-either that evening or the next day. Yes, you know this, it’s common courtesy. But! The crucial part of this thank you note?
“I’m also really excited to meet Johnny and Suzy! Thank you for agreeing to introduce me.”
UX Designers often have a lot going on. Understand that your introductions are likely not top of mind for them, and give them the courtesy of this little nudge to speed up the process. More often than not, they’ll read your note and say “Oh yeah! Let me do that right now while I’m thinking about it.”
Step Four: Stay Fresh.
The pyramid scheme loses a lot of its power if you don’t keep in touch with all those connections that you made. The job hunt lasts on average 3–6 months, and it’s easy to forget someone you had a 30-minute conversation with once 4 months ago. If you don’t stay fresh in your new connection’s minds, your pyramid will start to crumble.
Here’s where the final piece in the puzzle comes in, and it is the ever-wonderful Google Alerts. After, or even before, you chatted with your new connection, add the name of their company to your Google Alerts. You’ll get a lovely little email every time their company is written up or mentioned somewhere on the internet, and you will use that to your advantage.
Whenever an article of note pops up on their company, ping them! Send them a quick message like “Ooh, I heard your company is doing xyz. Are you involved in that? Sounds interesting!” It might not merit another 30-minute chat, but it certainly will engage them in conversation with you, keep you top of mind for them, and probably teach you something.
Go Out and Network
Alright. I’ve given you the keys to the kingdom. You now have the plan in all its glory:
- Pick a person to informationally interview
- Ask them to introduce you to other people to interview
- Thank them (and remind them to introduce you)
- Pop into their inbox every so often to stay fresh
Now it’s up to you. Go forth and network! And report back to me if the pyramid scheme worked for you.
If you liked what you read, stay tuned for Hack Your Bootcamp IV next week, where I cover how to beef up your portfolio…because your cookie-cutter bootcamp projects won’t cut it.