networking in strange places

In many fields, it’s not just what you know but who you know that helps you land a job…or at least get your foot in the door. When I moved back to Virginia after spending four years building ties to all the design industry hot-spots in Atlanta, it was a struggle even to land an interview. It seemed most firms were hiring internally; if you didn’t have a connection, you’d better have everything on the list of requirements and then some…and even that wasn’t a guarantee you’d find employment. How was I going to get my foot in the door and start meeting the people that would help me build my career?

It was a struggle until I chanced to speak with the wife of a friend of a relative. As it happened, she was a bookkeeper for a small construction company, and friends with the owner’s wife; I walked away from that meeting with my first contract. Just having that single reference began to open doors for me that had previously been closed, and allowed me to begin building a client base I could use for references. Things were going great…until the entire construction market crashed and even my fledgling network wasn’t enough to keep the contracts rolling in.

What everyone thought would be a brief lull turned into a ten-year drought; without regular contracts coming in, I took a job in retail to help pay the bills. During this time I struck up a friendship with a woman who shopped in our store who seemed to have an excellent eye for design. I hadn’t consciously thought of her as a prospective career contact, but as it turned out she was herself a designer, and I had made a good impression. Last night she emailed me to offer me a job.

The moral of the story, boys and girls? Just because someone doesn’t immediately stand out to you as a potential networking contact, don’t dismiss them. They just might know something (or someone) who can help you out. And you never can tell from which direction your next job offer might come…

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