Networking is critical regardless of what your career is. That said, by definition user experience is centered on understanding people: the people we design for, the people that participate in our research studies, and the people that ultimately use our end products. Give your UX peers the opportunity to get to know you and, at the same time, take the opportunity to get to know your peers. How do you do this? By networking both electronically and in person. A wider network means more job opportunities, support from those in your profession, and the ability to help more people further their careers as well.
I like to visualize information and admit to keeping a “serendipity chart” in Visio. I chart how attending a conference or an event, or running into someone and having a business-oriented or personal conversation, has led to interesting new paid and voluntary projects.
Who Should You Be Networking With?
As a UX professional, you should focus on networking with other UX professionals, as well as those who understand the value of UX. For example, a project manager may or may not be a UX professional per se, but when the next project shows up and there is an urgent need for an interaction designer or an information architect or some user research, guess who may be calling.
Twitter for UX Professionals
I keep my Twitter posts almost exclusively within a UX framework. Here are recommendations, based on my own experiences:
Who to Follow
Professionals in your specific UX discipline. I’m clearly centered as a usability professional and follow other usability professionals who I know personally or who tweet about usability-related topics.
Related UX professionals. There are a number of different types of user experience professions, and again, I follow those who I either know personally or who tweet about things generally related to user experience.
Following back. When I get follows from people in various UX professions, I often follow them back. I’m also very likely to follow back people who are geographically close to me. Since I plan to stay in my area, having a network that is more densely made up of people who are nearby has good networking value for me.
What to Tweet
Consider a mix of tweets that will intrigue those who are in your field professionally. In terms of UX, my tweets center around events, places, professional items, and personal items.
- Talks that I’m giving.
- Talks that my local UXPA-DC chapter is hosting and events related to UXPA International.
- Other interesting talks and events that I learn about.
- Conferences I’m attending and interesting ideas that I’ve picked up at these events.
- When I’ll be in a city on business travel, particularly when I have some spare time to have spontaneous coffee or drinks with colleagues.
- My blog posts.
- Others’ blog posts that I find interesting (Whenever possible, I like to add a personal note about what I find most interesting).
- Useful content on Twitter that someone else has tweeted, ideally as a modified tweet where I can add value with a comment or endorsement of an idea.
- Broadcasting professional needs (I haven’t leveraged Twitter in this way much yet, but it’s important to remain relevant so that when you do broadcast a need, people will listen).
- I occasionally Tweet something that shows my human side so that others can get to know me as a person in addition to the UX professional I am.
In all, I enjoy sharing information and seeing information from others. And I love when I get to meet people in real life that I recognize from Twitter—it’s always a conversation starter!
LinkedIn for UX Professionals
If you build your LinkedIn network, not only will you learn more about your primary connections, but you can also quickly see UX professionals at any given company.
Here are my recommendations on how UX professionals should use LinkedIn:
- Make your LinkedIn profile usable. Everything that you might include in the design or recommendation for a website is also true for your LinkedIn profile. Make it easy to skim, and make sure that key information pops out.
- Structure your profile so that the UX experience stands out. If you’ve done work outside of UX, make sure you de-emphasize it. Someone who wants to hire you may appreciate your diverse background, but will still look for your core user experience focus first.
- Think like an SEO expert, and remember findability is critical. Use keywords in your profile that people are going to be using to look you up. Doing this in the “Skills & Expertise” section is vital, but carefully sprinkling the right words throughout your profile is also important.
- Create an accurate profile. Your profile should reflect who you are professionally but focus on your UX skills and experiences. This doesn’t have to be a resume and doesn’t have to be all inclusive.
- Get recommendations. Don’t be embarrassed to explain to your recommenders how you think their recommendation can best align with your profile. While a generic “great to work with” recommendation is fine to sprinkle in, for the most part these recommendations should highlight your UX skills and experiences. Be ready to give a recommendation back for anyone who you requested a recommendation from.
- Give unsolicited recommendations. When you think someone has done a great job, let them know. It feels really good to get these.
- Connect to anyone you meet in a UX context. My experience has been that UX people are very apt to connect to other UX people. But of course, don’t just consider UX. You never know how others are connected.
- Consider that many weak ties are often more valuable than a few strong ties. Your network is just that much stronger for it. If you are looking for a UX job and the hiring manager is also a UX person, having a large network of other UX professionals will often mean that you are connected to the hiring manager several times over as a second-degree connection.
- Look up other UX professionals. Use the web or LinkedIn mobile app to learn about others in your world. Don’t be afraid to let them know—you’re not spying. This is information they are putting out there to let you know who they are. Referencing something you saw on LinkedIn can also potentially be a good conversation starter.
- Be helpful. Even if not for yourself, don’t hesitate to leverage your connections to help others that may need it. Make sure your network is visible to your connections. If someone sends you a request for an introduction to one of your connections, by all means make the connection. Perhaps it’s a “pay it forward” strategy, but at a minimum, it just feels good to help colleagues in this way.
What about Facebook?
While Twitter and LinkedIn provide the best opportunity for professional social networking, I’d be remiss to suggest that Facebook has no value in business. Facebook posts tend to be focused more on personal than professional, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I will connect with other UX professionals on Facebook as long as I know them, am pretty sure they know me, and I’m interested in getting to know them better.
A number of my Facebook posts are personal in nature, but I would like other UX professionals to know me just as I would like to know them through their personal posts. I do post business items as well, including locations, activities, and UX ideas. I noticed that a much greater portion of my connections actually read and respond to those posts than with other social networks. That’s the nature of Facebook. If you are one of those people who say that “Facebook is just for personal connections,” please reconsider.
How Do You Network in Person?
Networking electronically is important and will give you national and international reach. That said, the greater the effort you put into networking, the more you will get out of it. Get out there and talk with people. Go to conferences and events both locally and nationally, and if you are up for it, internationally as well.
Just like a good social media profile, your elevator pitch is your real-world profile. In less than a minute, tell people what you do and why you are awesome, but don’t forget to come up with a nugget or two that will give them something to make you more memorable. I do quite a bit of user research for commercial, non-profit, and government agencies. But what I find piques people’s curiosity the most is the disaster survivor studies that I do. In a few words, after my elevator pitch, I tell people that a recent user research study had me going to a natural disaster to do usability testing with survivors.
Networking and UX Leadership
Are you a UX leader? If not, why not? If you want to take the networking express train, consider volunteering as a UX leader. Run for the board of a UXPA chapter, or consider running for UXPA International. In some communities, UXPA does not have a presence, so consider being a leader in whatever UX organizations are big where you live. If there are none, UXPA International would certainly be happy to work with you and see if it is possible to help you create a chapter. Not only will you get to know a large number of other professionals, but you will also get to help others further their own careers and UX networks.
We on the board of UXPA-DC have adopted a philosophy of integrated networking. It’s an approach where every event, regardless if it’s explicitly a networking event, offers the ability to meet and network with others. Our general philosophy is that when people know people and are comfortable with those around them, they are more apt to come to events. In order to let people see the backgrounds of others at the events, upon registration, we ask attendees to optionally include their LinkedIn, blog, website, Twitter, and Facebook information.
We have dedicated networking events, too. One of my favorites is our speed networking event. Speed networking is essentially like speed dating. Everyone sits in circles of some form and each person has a finite period of time to talk with someone else. In addition to speed networking, we’ve allotted time for networking right before, or immediately following, our speaker events.
Ready to Network Now?
Hopefully now you feel inspired to get out there—both virtually and in-person through UXPA and whatever other UX-oriented organizations are around you. Your UX career growth will be all the stronger for it. I look forward to connecting with you virtually and seeing you at a future UXPA event!
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