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Networking is Your Pathway to a Career

Let’s start this exploration of job hunting networking with some good news for coding and design students: If you are entering the job market with coding or communication design skills (or both), you are entering at the right time with the right skills. 

At the end of 2021, the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics reported:

Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are projected to add about 667,600 new jobs. Demand for these workers will stem from greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security.

And LinkedIn, the dominant job-networking app, lists digital design and development in the top five hard skills employers are looking for. 

All these jobs demand coding skills as well as “soft skills” you have developed in your courses: communication, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, flexibility, and responsibility.

Why Network?

First, even though the odds are very much in your favor entering the world of professional design and coding, there are no guarantees. And it is going to take a lot of work.

The job market for your talents and skills might be booming, or tight. Your first interview might be a slam dunk or a disaster. Your skill set might be a perfect fit for your dream job, or missing key skills. Your transition from design or development student to working professional is relatively quick or excruciatingly long.

But most likely, to be honest, it is going to be challenging and stressful. Sure, you can find articles online with titles like “How I got hired at Google with no resume, no portfolio, no references, and no certificate from any school.” It happens… to one in a million. And if it happens to you, that’s nice. But unlikely to say the least.

Your lifeline through the whole process can be summed up in one word: networking.

Networking is how you will:

  • Present yourself and your skills on the job market.
  • Connect with potential employers.
  • Learn about companies you might work for including company culture and pay.
  • Learn what employers are looking for in your field to best present your assets.
  • Get emotional support from peers (yes, you will likely need that).
  • And develop connections that will become helpful in unexpected ways.

Job Boards and Networking Resources

Most, if not all of the process of finding a job will take place through job boards, and job networking sites. Let’s distinguish the two:

Job boards list jobs, and use algorithms to connect your skills and assets with matching jobs. Job boards tend to be skill specific. So, for example, the same set of job boards that are a good fit for designers will not be helpful to coders. 

If you are a developer, you’ll want to survey the terrain of popular job posting sites. Many are listed at 25 Best Job Sites For Finding Your FIRST Developer Job. If you are a designer, the post The 20 best online jobs boards for graphic designers is a good place to get the lay of the land.

You may well find it useful to set up an account with a job aggregator like Indeed, which provides access to job postings from a wide range of sites. These aggregator services work like websites that sweep data from airline and travel sites, and make it accessible.

In addition to these and other job boards and job networking resources, your school, your community, your local institutions ranging from your public library to your state department of labor will likely have job-finding resources. 

The Role of Dynamic Networking 

You might land a job using a job board alone. It happens. But there are many reasons to take a more dynamic approach to job hunting with active, aggressive networking.

Why is that?

  • Networking allows you to learn more about potential employers, average salaries, and secure a job closer to your strengths, needs, and aspirations.
  • Networking allows you to connect with others seeking similar jobs and learn from their experiences.
  • Networking allows you to strengthen your skill set, resume, and portfolio while you look for work.
  • Networking can open doors to jobs that are not listed on job boards.
  • And last but not least, networking is a positive outlet for the stress in job hunting, allowing you to connect with others going through the same process, and making the waiting for an offer process more active. 

Two Key Networking Resources

There are many valuable networking resources for designers and developers, but a good place to start is by joining LinkedIn and Glassdoor. 

It’s an oversimplification, but you might think of LinkedIn as “Facebook for professionals” because it provides such a wide range of networking tools; and Glassdoor as the Yelp of job hunting with candid insider reviews.

LinkedIn is the largest professional network with hundreds of millions of members in more than 200 countries and territories. Joining is free (although there are additional valuable tools in the Premium edition which has a free trial period). LinkedIn functions as a social networking platform in addition to simply connecting job and job seekers.

Glassdoor is unique in providing insider reviews of what it’s like to work at different companies. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are a nice tandem to find and learn about jobs.

What You Need to Network

How soon after you insert yourself into the world of job networking will you be invited to share your resume or come for an interview? To borrow a cliche from the folks who sell you lotto tickets, “Ya never know.” So, you need to be ready even before you start listing yourself on job posting sites.

What do you need to be ready?

  1. A solid portfolio.
  2. A professional resume.
  3. A website (if appropriate) with an appropriate domain name.
  4. References and recommendations.
  5. An account at LinkedIn (plus a couple of other professional networking sites).
  6. A developing network of “organic” connections (connections you have through work, school, friends, groups forced in the needs of people from different backgrounds and communities).
  7. A plan to build up your skill set and portfolio as you job hunt.
  8. Preparation for a successful interview.

While the path from student to working coder or designer is unpredictable, and the list here is not all-inclusive, it more or less maps out how that path will unfold.

And key pieces of the puzzle can and should be assembled before you step into the job hunt. Your one-two punch as you enter the job hunting ring is your portfolio and your resume. To get your foot in the door with any potential employer, you will need both. 

Develop Your Portfolio

You’ll find a substantial set of resources for building your portfolio at Noble Desktop’s series on that topic, beginning with Collecting Content for Your Design Portfolio from Day One. That article walks through why, and how to:

  • Collect projects to add to your portfolio
  • Document the skills you display
  • Learn from the portfolios of design professionals

What if your portfolio, frankly, isn’t quite what it needs to be? That is not only an important issue, it is a common one. After all, your class projects will have the limitation of being … class projects, not real-world ones. And they might emphasize specific skillsets (valuable) but not other assets like communication skills, ability to meet deadlines, creative problem solving, or ability to work in a team.

The short answer to that is: iteration. That is, start with what you’ve got but build on it..

Keep Your Resume Current, and Flexible

Your portfolio and your resume are the key tools to break into professional work. They should work together. And you should assemble them together.

You can find nice templates for design resumes online, including from Google Docs:

Microsoft Word:

And Adobe (available through Adobe Stock Images):

Originality in design is not an issue in creating a resume. You want your resume to stand out for its content, not its design.

Here are some basic rules for assembling a design resume.

  • Start with your name and contact information including:
    • A professional email address. A @gmail address is OK to start, but use your first and last names if possible, like jane-smith@gmail.com. If you have your own website, use an email address from that domain, like you@yourwebsite.com.
    • A phone number where you can reliably be reached. Consider a Google Voice number
    • A mailing address.
    • The URL for your website (essential).
    • The URL for your LinkedIn profile (helpful).
  • List your professional experience if you have any in your field. If you do not have work experience in your field, list your work history after your education.
  • List your educational achievements. As your work portfolio grows, your education section can shrink.
  • Other accomplishments that shed light on your soft skills like:
    • Team sports that demonstrate teamwork.
    • Music and acting experience that demonstrates presentation skills.
    • Experiences that demonstrate technical skills like creating an app related to a hobby or passion.

Chances are, as you make the leap from design student to working professional, your resume will be thin at first. Do not pad your resume with irrelevant work experience from high school or part-time or summer jobs. Instead, present what you have done in the best possible light. 

In addition, you might enhance your resume, including by:

  • Volunteering for positions that will enhance your resume. Search out non-profits, friends in need of a website or design, or small businesses that need assistance. 
  • Working on a DIY project like reworking an existing website or creating an app prototype.
  • Taking additional classes to update or strengthen your skills.
  • Applying for internships.

Keep Your Resume Flexible

Be prepared to customize your resume for different job requirements. Your resume might not emphasize a skill that is specifically mentioned in a job posting, for example. In that case, you can move that skill or experience up higher (or to the top of) your resume.

To be in a position to do that, keep a complete list of all your classes and work experience in a file so you can quickly copy and paste relevant training or experience into a resume to match job requirements.

And keep a set of skills handy in a database for the same reason.

Collect References and Recommendations

Many if not most job postings ask for references and recommendations. Begin to collect these as soon as you read this.

How do you do that? Ask.

Who do you ask?

  • Instructors.
  • People for whom you’ve done volunteer projects.
  • Classmates who can testify to your skills.

There are different levels of recommendation and references. A classmate’s recommendation isn’t as powerful as an instructor’s. An instructor’s recommendation isn’t as high-impact as one from a recognized expert in your field. But all references and recommendations are good, especially if they have substance. A letter from a classmate detailing your leadership and teamwork skills, your ability to solve problems and apply critical thinking, and your attitude and energy can’t hurt and might well make a good impression on an employer.

4 Takeaways

  1. Most job hunting takes place through job boards that match your posted skills with potential jobs.
  2. Networking, as opposed to simply waiting for an offer from a job board, is a more active way to job hunt.
  3. Networking, including through LinkedIn and Glassdoor, allows you to learn about the market for your skills, compare salaries and work environments at different companies, and enhance your skills while you hunt for a job.
  4. Networking takes preparation, including a resume that is easy to update with new skills or customize for specific positions. 
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