Creating a Professional Network from Scratch

Brooke Cagle

On November 18th 2020, PCA and ArtBound Initiative hosted a virtual workshop to help students with cultivating a professional network and leveraging industry connections to find work opportunities. The workshop was presented by Laura Bennegadi, CEO & Co-Founder of ArtBound Initiative.

Today, Boss Blog will recap the key takeaways from the event for those who missed it and are looking for some ideas about building their network.

It is no secret that the pandemic has had a direct impact on how companies are currently recruiting. However, the situation is not entirely grim and there are still opportunities out there. Getting into the creative fields has always been notoriously about who you know, and it is becoming increasingly more competitive. This is why building strategic connections and seeking professional mentors can be a positive gateway in a changing market.

1. Network Building

During the workshop, Laura outlined three key strategies for building a network by finding others to connect within the same field. These strategies involving using school and personal networks as well as events and online groups to make mutual connections or to find a mentor.

School Networks
The best place to start is by looking to professors and alumni from your school. It can be helpful to do a little research to find current or past professors and students with similar interests. This can be done by doing a LinkedIn search that filters based on your university or areas of interest. This research will allow you to see those that you already share a commonality with to develop a new connection to start building your network.

Personal Networks
An area that we often overlook in terms of professional network building is our own family and friends. You might not have anyone directly in your family that works in the same field, but you may know someone who can act as a helpful bridge to finding a possible mentor. Start by reaching out to those closest to you to get in touch with professional contacts that they might know. In addition, you can look to your current or past employers to get some hints about who they know or positions they know about to help you.

2. Network Cultivation

One of the most important but often forgotten steps when building a network is cultivation. It is not only important to make connections but to also follow-up and maintain these connections. During the event, Laura was adamant about the importance of making sure to show your appreciation for any help that you receive.

Even if an exchange did not lead to a job opportunity, it is important to follow-up with each contact after your initial meeting or message to thank them for their time and any contribution they might have made. This is important for solidifying long-term connections especially ones that you can reach out to again later for other reasons.

Cultivating a connection involves thanking them, keeping in touch with them by catching up at major holidays, or offering your help to them when needed.

A helpful perspective shift that Laura encouraged was to demystify the connection between professionals in different stages of their career. While you might be seeking a job opportunity now and are in need of a mentor, your same mentors might reach out to you for your help and expertise in a few years as well. Remember that, “people need you as much as you need them”.