How to build relationships for your future in UX

Recently I reached out on LinkedIn to several people who are looking for or have just landed, their first role in UX. The intentionally ambiguous question I asked was based around what help they feel they need to be more effective in reaching their goals and to progress their career.

I was essentially carrying out market research to understand what I could do or make that would help people in a similar situation to move forward. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were willing to have an open conversation with me around this subject.

The vast majority of respondents would talk about their need to pull together a portfolio to put them in a good position to land their first or next UX role, which is something I believe is always something that can be worked on and improved throughout your career, but is paramount to breaking into the industry.

But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about one of the more interesting responses that I received asking about how to break into the industry...

"What kind of things I should be prioritising, and what kind of people I should be speaking to?"

Whilst a portfolio is one of the key assets you'll need to prove to your potential employers that you can do the job that they are recruiting for, there are a number of things you'll need to do before anyone even gets to lay eyes on your portfolio.

In my experience, the one thing that can have the most impact on your career in UX is the relationships you forge in and around the industry. With social media as it is and platforms such as LinkedIn being devoted to the professional networking space, it's easier now than it ever has been to reach out to those that you find interesting or hold in high regard. If you don't know the names of people who work on the UX of a platform or service you admire, you can do your research and discover the people who are the driving force behind those experiences.

When you find those people that are worth connecting to, you need to start a conversation.

This was something I have found difficult in the past until I realised one thing; they are all people. No matter who it is that you're looking to connect to, whether it's the head of a design team, a world-famous designer, or a someone with a huge following on social media, they are still a person, and you should treat them as such.

The moment of truth is that first time you reach out to someone who you've never interacted with before. Always keep in mind that they are another human being with feelings, emotions, and perhaps a different perspective on things. You may get an answer from them, or you may never get anything back. One thing you must realise that either of these outcomes is fine.

To reiterate, you're looking to build relationships within the industry, and not receiving a response does not mean that you haven't been noticed. The fact that you have reached out in the first place means that they will be aware of you.

As an example, one of the people I reached out to replied asking me if I knew of any open positions that he could apply for. At the time I had nothing, but just a couple of days later, something popped up in my feed and I immediately thought of them and pointed them in the direction of the opportunity.

This is how networking works when you aim to build relationships and you aren't in it just for the short term benefit to yourself. Relationships are reciprocal, and it is possible to cultivate and maintain them in a purely online manner, especially whilst we are experiencing a global pandemic that restricts the possibilities that existed at events such as industry conferences and meet-ups.

The key things you need to remember when building new relationships for your career are:

Be respectful

If you are dropping a message to someone you've never spoken to before, be sure to convey your reasons for getting in touch, that you respect their time and focus may be elsewhere, and that you are appreciative of any guidance.

Ask for insight

Why are you making contact with an individual? What is it that they might know so that they can impart that knowledge unto you? You're not asking for trade secrets here, just helpful advice on what it is you should be doing or working towards in order to reach your own goals.

Don't go begging

Straight-up asking for handouts is not the way to go. If you come across as needy, desperate, or simply out for yourself, what is there in the relationship for the other person? If they engage with you if you're only asking for things, they know that this will happen over and over again, and so will avoid making that kind of connection.

Don't expect anything in return

Whatever it is you ask for, from the smallest piece of advice to something larger like a recommendation or a review of your work, do not expect anything to come back. There are so many reasons why people don't get back in touch with you after you ask something of them, and you should not take offence. Everyone is dealing with things in their own life, and you may have no idea at all what is happening, so lower your expectations for your first attempt at engaging with someone to start that relationship.

Be thankful

Whatever a new connection may come back with from your initial contact, be thankful that they took the time to personally reply to you. Not only that but make sure that they know that you are also available if they should require any insight from you. Yes, even successful and well-known people will ask for advice and help from people in their networks, and that could easily include you.

The relationships that you forge through your online connections – through all types of platform – will be a fount that can provide endless career and learning opportunities throughout your career.

Be sure to plant the seeds effectively, and nurture those relationships to benefit from them when they flourish.