You catch the design bug. You announce to your friends and family your intention of becoming a designer. You even spend $10 to buy a design course on Udemy. You finally attend a design event. You badger everyone there to hook you up with an entry-level design job. You send them emails the very next day reminding them of their obligation to help you out.
Six months pass by. No one has responded to your emails. People start to ignore you at design events. And you still haven't landed your first design job.
If you only knew the benefits of volunteering for the design community...
How to network effectively at a design event?
In 2013 I caught the design bug. I attended a design event organized by the Dallas UX meetup group. I grabbed a cheese pizza and began observing others around me. (It's shocking how much you can learn by just observing the body language of people.)
I noticed an attendee going from person to person repeating the same set of lines: "Hey! My name is Needy Attendee!! Super excited to be here. Where do you work? Oh cool. Is your company hiring designers? Can you recommend me to your company?..."
Designers would smile and then politely ignore the attendee. I didn't want to be that attendee. So, I decided to provide value before asking for favors. (That's how you network effectively at design events.) I noticed that no one was recording the event. If you didn't attend an event, you missed out on a wealth of knowledge shared by the speakers.
I approached the meetup organizer Brian Sullivan and offered to film the next event. He agreed. Excited, I went to Best Buy the next day and maxed out my credit card buying fancy video recording gear. I taught myself Final Cut Pro over the weekend. I even created a YouTube channel for the meetup group.
For the next six months, I filmed every single design event. Then I spent hours editing the recording in Final Cut Pro and uploading it on YouTube. People started to notice the value I was providing. They took an interest in me. I got tons of book recommendations and career advice. Soon I became a familiar face at these events. Maybe it had something to do with the business cards I was handing out.
Brian was also organizing the Big Design Conference, which is the premier design conference in Texas. At the time I was unfortunately broke and couldn't afford the conference tickets. So, I sent him an email requesting to be a volunteer for the conference in exchange for a free pass.
Brian agreed and, I became his personal assistant at the conference. I stayed up 48 hours straight without sleep, running errands for Brian. I went above and beyond because I didn't want Brian to regret taking a chance on me.
Why you need a UX Career Coach?
By the end of the conference, Brian became my UX career coach! My old engineering resume was three pages long. So he tore it apart and made a new design resume for me. Next up, he spent weeks helping me create my first ever portfolio website.
But I still had a huge obstacle to overcome - lack of experience. I had zero experience working in the design field. It's a chicken and egg problem. How can I get experience if no one is willing to hire me? How can I get a job if I don't have any experience?
Nothing is impossible when you have Brian backing you. I will be forever in debt to his man. He recommended me to recruiters, hiring managers, executives at Citibank, AT&T, Capital One, etc.
These folks wouldn't even look at my resume, let alone set up an interview. But because Brian put his name on the line, I got a few design interviews lined up!
Landing my first design job
I didn't do well in my first few design interviews. Each rejection felt like a major heartbreak. Brian would call me after each interview and cheer me up. Just when I had lost hope, Brian recommended me to a local design agency. I had an in-person interview with the creative director. What happened next blew my mind away! The creative director offered me the job within five minutes of the meeting!! Because I came highly recommended by Brian.
I danced for an hour by myself when I got the offer letter. It was half of what I was making previously. But I didn't care. I just wanted to put my foot in the door.
I was able to break into the design field without a degree or experience! Just because I volunteered for a design community and built long-term relationships. Go ahead and volunteer for a design group/event in your area this month. Who knows where it might lead!
So what's stopping you from volunteering at a design event/community? Email me, tell me. I want to help you break into the field of design!