Quite a few months ago I was interviewed for the inaugural issue of the Canadian magazine Unlimited. In the article I talk about networking, blogs and how I ended up in New York. You can read the entire article here: No Schmooze, You Lose – Getting to know the right people is crucial to land that out-of-province dream job. Below in an excerpt.
Michael Surtees still can’t believe it some mornings. When he walks out of the apartment block where he’s been living for more than a year, one of New York City’s iconic landmarks, the Flatiron building, stands sentinel kitty-corner. Surtees, 29, was a graphic designer at Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology until July 2006, when he and his wife, Tamara, loaded up a U-Haul and drove five long days to Manhattan. Surtees had landed a coveted website design job with the Renegade Marketing Group, a firm with clients such as Panasonic and DoubleClick (the company behind all those streaming internet adds that pop up when you’re Googling).
He’d been eyeing a move to New York for some time, but it wasn’t luck, or even skill, that nailed Surtees the chance. It was networking, with a decidedly modern twist. Surtees had been laying the foundation for career advancement pretty much since he graduated from the University of Alberta with a bachelor of design six years ago. First, he got involved with the design community in Edmonton through the Graphic Designers of Canada, eventually taking over as the association’s president. In that role, he often invited prominent members of the graphic design and advertising communities to come and speak to members in Alberta. Many of the speakers were from cities such as New York and Vancouver, where there are more opportunities for designers. “That sort of built me a small network of people,” says Surtees.
Networking, like other forms of communication, has undergone a major evolution in the past decade alongside the explosion in communication technologies. Surtees made a point of frequenting online design forums to get his name out into the design world beyond the confines of Edmonton. Blogging on a professional subject, he says, “gives people a sense of who you are and what you stand for. It’s a lot easier to get in the door if someone has read your blog.”
It helps, of course, that advertising, design and marketing companies habitually rake through profession-oriented blogs looking for talent. Surtees set up DesignNotes at designnotes.info, where he posts his thoughts on everything from design to book reviews to his search for a pet weimaraner. Last January, he recalled his feelings prior to getting the gig in New York: “Everyday as I walked near the river valley in Edmonton I really wondered if I was ever going to have the chance to find a better place to design, or had I basically hit a really low ceiling where I was working at the time.’
Surtees has a tracker on his blog, which allows him to see the ISPs of people reading and posting. Only about 20% of visitors find him randomly through Google. Most are looking specifically for graphic designer blogs – the very people he wants to reach and get to know. In June 2006, set to take a holiday trip, Surtees posted a message on his blog asking for tips on New York sights. One reader, Noah Brier, recommended a useful guidebook. That led to further e-mails between the two men. Eventually, Brier, who works for Renegade, offered to set up a meeting for Surtees with Renegade’s creative director. Surtees had lined up a few other job interviews on that New York trip, but things clicked with Renegade and he was hired.
Surtees had hoped that blogging would lead to connections exactly like his conversation with Brier. But that wasn’t his main aim. Networking strictly to mine people for better job opportunities will eventually reveal your true colours, he advises. “If you go in with the idea that you’re just going to be friends or talk with a person to get a job, you won’t really meet very many people,” he says. “If you are really genuinely interested in them, and there is a connection over shared interests, then people are more than willing to help you as much as possible.”