Your Career Is a Network Of Random Opportunities

You will be presented with many doors in your career. You don’t always have to walk through them, but I’d advise you to at least consider each one. Maybe poke your head through and see what’s there. If someone from an agency you don’t think you want to work at wants to chat, why not at least chat?

Thinking back over my career, I can think of several opportunities that I completely passed on without a second thought. Some were offers made by people that I didn’t really take seriously. When I think of these passed opportunities, I’d like to go back and kick my younger self.

Here’s an excellent example of how this can work, by Jason Friedman at 37signals. 

The Importance of Networking

Networking.

When I was in school, I believed that I would get jobs through the simple purity of my ideas. The word “networking” was on a list in my mind with other words like “selling” and “schmoozing”–words that I’d heard were part of our business but that I had no interest in. It was all about the ideas.

Well, here’s a secret. I have never sat in an interview and shown anyone my portfolio. Not once. I got an internship through my school, I got a job through my internship, and I got a second job through connections I made at my first job. I hope you think no less of me.

The math is simple (actually, it’s probably complex, but the idea of it is simple). In advertising, the usual stint at an agency is probably 2-3 years. So take however many people you know from school, or the agency you interned at, and imagine them all bouncing from agency to agency every couple years, and all the people they come in contact with at those agencies. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of contacts.

I’m not that old, but when I left school there was no Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter. We had email address books and phone numbers. It’s easy to keep in touch with people these days, or at least keep track of where they are and what they’re up to. If you’re not using at least one of these sites, you’re missing an opportunity that you may regret if you find yourself in the market for a new job. Because when we need to hire someone at my agency, the first thing we do isn’t look through the stack of portfolios in the corner. It’s not call a headhunter. It’s ask everyone in the creative department: “Hey, you know any talented people looking for a job?”

Here’s a good post on how to use social networks to find a job.

I got this link from a very talented writer I know, Tony. How do I know Tony? He is a former student of mine. We’ve stayed in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

…But networks aren’t everything.

Fast Company recently published a small piece on UpMo, a career tracking path. I took it for a test-drive and was told I need to spend more time building my network. Sage advice.

Maybe.

Creative advertising is too unique an industry for this thinking to really apply. As we wrote yesterday, networking’s a good thing. But you can’t network your way into an agency if your book is just so-so.

You can’t get promoted to ACD or CD or ECD purely based on your network. At least not at an agency that values creativity.

And there are no categories in the One Show or Cannes for most connections on LinkedIn.

Once you’re in the business, your network grows because of your reputation. And your reputation grows because of your work.

If you’re a student or a junior, feel free to network. Join LinkedIn. Plot your career on UpMo. But realize that none of that matters if your book isn’t absolutely amazing.

Your real asset

I left portfolio school with what I think was a pretty solid book. But the real asset I left with was the network of my peers.

People I used to go to movies with and make waffles with and go to karaoke bars with and laugh really hard with and stay up really late trying to do better ads while downing a box of Krispy Kremes with now work in almost every major market in America at places like Goodby, GSD&M, DDB, Fallon, Publics, david&goliath, Burnett, BBDO, Chiat/Day, Crispin and Vitro/Robertson. Most hold leadership positions, and I’m pretty sure collectively, we’ve won every major award out there. It’s good company.

If you haven’t decided whether or not portfolio school is for you, consider the fact that I haven’t needed my student book in almost a decade. But I keep in touch with these people very frequently.

Network

A lot of people will be willing to sit down and look at your book even though the agency isn’t hiring. That shouldn’t discourage you from meeting with them. You get feedback, facetime, and a connection. That could make a huge difference down the road.

When you go to an agency to meet with someone (unless you’ve been brought in by their invitation) don’t refrain from asking for additional contacts – even outside the agency. This isn’t insulting. We all understand how difficult landing a job can be and most of us are eager to help. Simply ask, “Is there anyone else in town you can recommend I meet with?” I’ve never turned anyone down on this and would be surprised if anyone else did.