Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Respectful Networking

First, an addition to yesterday's post, from Matthew:

I am a senior about to graduate from Notre Dame and I'm heading out to LA soon to be a sitcom writer. I was wondering if you, as a college-grad-turned-aspiring-writer, had any advice about the best time to get out to Cali. I am currently planning on heading out about a week after graduation, so around the 25th of May. Do you think I should try to get out there earlier? Later? Does it matter?

Yes. Don't come when one of the guilds is on strike.

Otherwise, nah, it doesn't matter. There will always be jobs - and I don't even think it matters that so many people graduate in May, because lots of people (myself included) put off the move to save money, backpack across Europe, try practical careers in investment banking, etc. People bring their dreams to Hollywood year-round. You can try to wait for staffing season if you want to work on a TV production in some capacity, but I wouldn't even do that...cable shows are on different schedules anyway, and there are plenty of other jobs to be had. Watch out for August, though - It was over 100 degrees for the first three weeks I lived here. (Damn that 100% silk, dry-clean-only, sexy-yet-professional, perfect-for-job-interviews BCBG shirt.)

A note from reader who's been in LA a few years longer than I have:
November-December is a terrible time to move out here (or, for your future, look for the next job). The UTA Joblist shrinks that time of year every year and the amount of people hiring declines because everyone wraps up for the following year.

And onto my main topic for today: Networking. It's a delicate art. Basically, you want to try to get to know as many people as you can. Everybody in Hollywood understands that this is how it works, and we think nothing of having drinks with complete strangers to talk about our careers. People do it in other industries too, but it is still foreign to some people, like my friend who's presently wondering what to do with his film degree in Wisconsin:

LoganEcholls4eva (ok, I made this one up): I'm having drinks with a guy tonight.
MadisonsBicycleThief (this one too): It's Monday.
LoganEcholls4eva : No, I'm not getting wasted or anything, it's networking.
MadisonsBicycleThief: Networking?
LoganEcholls4eva: Yeah, like, meeting people for career stuff.
MadisonsBicycleThief: So you're meeting a guy. For a drink. At a bar. And it's not about sex?
LoganEcholls4eva: Nope.

Well...I depends...

In all seriousness, I think the most important thing to remember about networking is that it's not asking for favors - it's cultivating relationships. A big mistake I see newbies make is that they ask for favors right off the bat, like, will you read my script? can you get me a job? can you get me an agent? etc. Don't do this - it's tacky, and it makes the other person feel like they're being used (because that's pretty much what you're doing). It shouldn't be all about you; you should give them reason to want to cultivate a relationship with you also.

Don't ask for a date either! It's creepy. My friend actually had this happen to her after a networking event: she got an email from a guy asking her to set up meetings with agents for him (!!)...and THEN had the nerve to ask her out on a date. Yeesh. It's one thing if you really hit it off, but they had like a 5-minute conversation. Be professional, and be patient. Networking has to be an even-sided relationship. After a while, helping each other out will come naturally and it won't seem like you're just asking for favors.

But - what if you're networking with people at a much higher level? You probably don't have any way to help them out. That's okay, they will understand. Start with asking for advice. Ask about how they got to where they are, what they think would be beneficial for you to do, etc. It's okay for you to be the one initiating the contact (in fact, you will probably have to be the one to initiate with former internship supervisors, execs, older alumni from your school, etc.) - just be brief and friendly.

So let's recap:
Don't be shy. Meet as many people as possible.
Don't ask for favors right off the bat. Cultivate a relationship first.
Don't let it be all about you.
Don't be a creep.
Do keep up with former colleagues and supervisors every few months.
Do ask for advice.


sandofsky said...

I perform at a theatre where celebrity alumni drop in. I've watched from afar as kids-fresh-off-the-bus try to network, only to broadcast "please make me famous." I feel awkward for them.

My best friend doesn't name drop his celebrity friends. Ironically, one such celebrity name dropped him in an interview. A mutual acquaintance, who has never shown my friend an ounce of respect, suddenly acted like best buds. A sentence later, he's trying to use his connection.

My friend's secret (to this, and dating supermodels) is to say hi to everyone. Everyone. I've watched him have conversations with the homeless and treated them with the same friendliness and respect as a celebrity.

Matt said...

It sounds so easy...

Emily Blake said...

So true. I can't even do that much for people, but every time I give a new writer advice they immediately ask me to recommend them for a job. Look, buddy, if I do know of a job opening I'll pass that information to my friends first. I don't know you.

Debbie Downer said...

I don't really understand what's wrong with someone asking for a date if you had a good time at networking drinks. I wouldn't be offended or bothered by it unless it turned stalker-y. I couldn't really date outside of the industry anyway because my job (sadly) defines me and the guy I'm with has to have familiarity & interest in all that.

Amanda said...

if you hit it off, sure, ask for a date. but people shouldn't have to feel like they're sex objects when they walk into a meeting expecting to network. this guy had met my friend for three minutes and then emailed her, basically saying: "hi. here is my film. here is my website. can you get me an agent? if not, can we date?" it was weird.

Stephen said...

Another tip on networking... everything Amanda said is pretty much dead on, but once you do get a meeting with someone (after the initial meeting at the bar or networking event or whatever), do your homework. That is, find out what you can about them so you can have a meaningful conversation and not just seem like you're there to network. Know what they've done, know what they're working on now, if possible.

If the person has a website, check it out. Or look them up on imdb, or youtube, or wherever. I know when I meet with someone, if they ask me specific questions about my work, I immediately feel more comfortable with them and am more willing to open up. It shows that they're generally interested in meeting ME, and not just meeting SOMEONE.

GetOnMyMap Media said...

I don't know so much. I've found some networking to be incredibly tedious and entirely about career fluffery. I interned during college at a pretty big production company and all the former interns (both older and younger than me) meet up for drinks regularly. Basically it's like a frat mixer and usually the uglier dudes try and impress the often more attractive girls with their "big important jobs." I've also found that I tend to talk with the same five or six people every time I go, and that's almost entirely because they're the only people whose company I can stomach for longer than a "Hi, how are you? Where you working now?" level conversation. I'll never forget the girl who wouldn't speak to me, ever, until somebody mentioned I'd landed a new job with a big action-movie producer. All of a sudden she could see me as a real person and not below her class. If you desperately need to hear somebody who thinks they are so much better than you in every way tell you how great they think you're doing, then go ahead and Network. If you're a writer, you might want to spend a little more time figuring out your third act and a little less time pretending to give a shit about some d-girl or d-boy's opinion about how great some terrible idea for a movie is or why they're thrilled their boss's boss got "Shia" to sign on for a sequel.