Networking Tips

Networking at Industry Events, Reviews, and Showcases

Goal: Make creative industry connections that will continue beyond the event. 

Talk to strangers

People come to these events specifically to meet students and other professionals. Nerves are natural but don't be afraid to approach professionals and introduce yourself. And pay attention to names. Few of us are inherently good with names, so do your best to remember at least for the duration of the conversation.


It's your job to introduce yourself to visiting professionals. They are, in essence, your guests. So stick your hand out, look 'em in the eye and tell them your name, the media you work in and what your short-term goal (job, internship, etc) is. If you know something about them or their company, say so. If you don't, ask what they do.

Make good small talk

You've made the introduction, now what? It's natural to start off with light topics – you can ask if they have attended an Industry Event before, or what they think so far. When you get stuck remember that people love talking about what they do, and being curious is a great way to gather information and build support.

Introduce your portfolio samples

If you've got some work to show, ask if they would like to see it. If yes, fire up your book/laptop/iPad and give a brief intro to your projects. (Professionals will see 90% of what's going on in your work right away but always appreciate some insight as to why you chose to do particular projects or what you learned from them.) If you have some pieces that you're not confident in, don't make the mistake of bad-mouthing them.  It draws attention to the shortcomings of your portfolio- instead of its strengths. So shut it.

Portfolios-in-progress are always welcome.

Be good to everyone

Some conversations will feel like a dead end, or perhaps you will realize you don't have an interest in one particular company. That's ok. Plus, you never know when a seeming dead end could lead to a career-changing introduction. At minimum, ask if you can direct the professional to a particular kind of student or portfolio at the event. And it wouldn't kill you to say “Hey thanks for coming. We all appreciate it.”

Making it stick

If your short conversation with a professional has gone well, ask to contact them with more questions about getting started/their company/portfolio revisions. Get their business card or jot down their info. (Some of the professionals will run out of business cards. They're creative people- so have pen/paper at the ready.) And thank them for coming.

After the party…

You have a stack of business cards. Bravo. Now you need to solidify the contacts by following up. In this, you will be more successful sending targeted messages instead of sending a generic message to everyone- within a week of the event.

Follow up with: 

  • Additional questions about a person's job/company/industry. (Setting up an
    informational interview after the event is a good way to deepen the connection.)
  • Copies of your resume or portfolio samples- if requested. Follow up within 24 hours in this case.
  • Changes to your resume or portfolio and would like additional feedback from them. (“…made those changes we talked about. Would you be kind enough to take another look?”)
  • A gesture of support to them. Did they mention a need for design assistance, and you know a great designer? 

Nothing personal but if you don't follow up within a few days of meeting someone at a networking event, they will forget you. Networking is absolutely essential to finding opportunities in creative fields so don't waste the chances you create at networking events.

But don't take our word for what the pros say about networking:

"I'd say the most important thing a student looking to break into the industry in Chicago can do is to get out there and start making friends. Not "connections", but honest to goodness friends. We're all people after all, not some sort of resume builder or a name to impress your friends with. And it doesn't need to be some big whig with a fancy job title. The students around you right now are the people who will have the jobs in the coming years, so get to know each other now, and go through the process together."

-- Sarah Mudler, Grammys

"I think it is really important to do the thing, or things, that you love the best. Find out who else is doing those things, talk to them, interact with them, show them your thing. In the creative arts there are a lot of people who are open minded, and most have a genuine interest in what they are working on - so sharing is often more welcome than you might think."

- Zach Dodson, Featherproof Books

"I feel very strongly that the students of Columbia are so incredibly fortunate to have such exposure to industry realisms through the Portfolio Center. Meetings with industry professionals, portfolio critiques, and professors in their field are amazing opportunities for current students and hopeful graduates. Not every college offers students these benefits which is what makes Columbia and the Portfolio Center such an amazing experience for students. Everyone knows we live in a visual world--but not every graduating copywriter has the opportunity to have a website developed AND designed for them by their college--what an opportunity! I just think it's amazing and really prepares students to enter a very competitive job market."

-- Sharon Potsch, Artisan Talent

"In our current economic climate, Columbia students have two choices:
wait until graduation when they're unemployed or take advantage of their situation NOW.  After all, Columbia students have a distinct advantage -- while they're taking classes, they can lay the foundation for relationships and potential  job opportunities.  The rest of us don't have a choice -- we're either employed or out of a job.  If students wait to job search until after they graduate, they've lost their advantage -- they're just like the rest of us."

-- Josh Gershenson, Towers Productions