Networking – The Future is (literally) in Your Hands

illustrations Sheku Nafisi

After staring at the GPS and looking into my text messages for the address multiple times, I realized that I was parked in front of the right house. I was about half an hour early for the meeting, so I decided to just stay locked in my car. Everything tends to look a bit more sinister in the dark, but this East Vancouver neighbourhood seemed to be particularly run down. I started thinking about how well I actually knew this guy. The Google search I’d done on him had checked out, but at least three of the houses on this street looked abandoned.

Was this how I was going to die? Lured into an independent film production meeting by a Shapr match? I sent a location pin to several of my WhatsApp contacts. In all the crime shows I’ve seen, investigators hunt for the missing person’s last known whereabouts. After giving my friends a heads up that I might go missing, I took a deep breath and finally got out of my car.

It all started a few months ago. We were discussing article ideas at a Link editorial meeting, trying to figure out what the BCIT student body really wanted to read. I was scrolling Facebook on my phone when I came across an ad for Shapr. I’d seen these ads everywhere, but the tagline really caught my eye. It said, “Imagine if Linkedin and Tinder had a baby”. It got me thinking. What can networking do for you while you’re still a student?

The whole curriculum at BCIT is about becoming job ready. BCIT has job fairs, networking events, internships, and co-ops. I’ve done my fair share of job hunting and networking, but not many of these employers want to hire part-time. Asking potential employers to wait till you graduate isn’t an option, so what do you do if you can’t take a job right away? Many students, including myself, are just looking for advice and information from people that have five- or ten-years of experience in the field we are trying to enter.

This January, I attended Schmoozapalooza, a marketing and communications networking event that BCIT has been hosting for 13 years. The appetizers were amazing and there were a ton of companies in attendance, many of which brought along BCIT grads that they had hired from previous Schmoozapaloozas. I finished the event with a purse full of business cards and a belly full of hors d’oeuvres. Could I confidently say I found a good job lead? Probably not. Schmoozapalooza only gives students about five minutes with employers in the speed-dating round. The mingling portion after the speed-dating gives you more time, but the process can be intimidating; Students were circling employers like sharks. Before the event, I made a list of the top five companies that I would love to work for, but I was only able to meet three out of the five. The representatives from bigger companies like Cosette were constantly surrounded by students. I was interested in learning more about companies involved in experiential advertising, but I found myself instead talking to marketing companies specializing in email and text message campaigns. There was barely enough time to introduce myself to employers, let alone ask them about additional one-on-one meetings.

After the event, I thought even more about the Shapr ad. If our generation could find romantic relationships online, why not try to build professional relationships? I decided to spend a month connecting with people on three mobile apps (Bumble Business, Linkedin, and Shapr) to see what was out there. 

LinkedIn was the first app that I downloaded. It’s the world’s largest professional networking platform. The site was founded in 2002, way before Facebook or Twitter got on the scene. It’s one of those networking sites where you will find a wide array of age groups. Everyone from my ten-year-old cousin to my retired biology teacher seems to be on it. On LinkedIn, you add “connections” similar to how you’d make a friend request on Facebook. You converse via private message, and you have all of your professional experience and achievements laid out in a neatly organized profile to show off to other users. It’s supposed to be the virtual version of going to a networking event and handing out business cards to people.

I’ve been on the desktop version of LinkedIn for several years, but I’ve never used it for networking with strangers and have only sent out “connection” requests to people I’ve met in real life. The only messages I’ve ever received have been from “sales executive” headhunters or obscure European graduate school coordinators. On occasion, I’ve used the job search engine, but that’s the extent of my use of this platform.

When I found out about the LinkedIn app, I had high hopes. Maybe the interface would be different, maybe there would be more opportunities to talk to new people. Turns out, mobile LinkedIn isn’t all that different from the desktop version. I pushed myself to send out at least four new connection requests every week to strangers; each request was accompanied with a message introducing myself. I was hoping to spark a conversation with people in the journalism and copywriting industry in Vancouver. I sent out over twenty requests over four weeks, but had little success. Half of the requests weren’t accepted, and only three people acknowledged the written note attached. Maybe, like myself, many of them expected to only get junk mail. LinkedIn’s app was also frustrating because finding strangers to connect with was a complicated process. The “recommended for you” section was full of contacts that were already part of my network. These contacts were called “second connections” people with whom you share at least one mutual friend. To find people completely out of my network was difficult; it required me to individually look up the names of a media company’s employees in the search engine, and comb through the results to find a match. The other downside was that many people would block users outside their network from sending messages. Only after you were accepted as a connection could you actually talk to them. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with LinkedIn.

The co-creater of Tinder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, left the company in 2011 and sued the executive team for sexual harassment. After winning her lawsuit, she gathered funds for Bumble, a self-proclaimed “feminist Tinder.” As CEO, Herd has taken Bumble far beyond Tinder’s dating interface. She created vertical platforms, such as Bumble Bizz and Bumble Besties. The latter is for forming platonic friendships. Bumble Bizz is far more impressive than LinkedIn as a networking app. The interface is very similar to traditional Tinder with swiping right and left, but with some added profile sections like work and education, years of experience, industry, and networking objectives (ie an internship, a mentorship, basic networking, freelance work, hiring employees, or searching for a part-time job). Bumble matches last for only seven days, so the app really pushes people to initiate conversation. For same-sex matches, either party can initiate the conversation but in matches with the opposite sex only the woman can initiate contact. While this makes sense for Bumble dating, I believe that for men on Bumble Biz this limitation can deter activity or interest from using the app often.

While I did keep my search age range open to anyone from the age of 18-88, I found that there weren’t many experienced industry professionals, people looking to hire, or even experienced freelancers on Bumble Bizz. Most users were college students or recent graduates. This did make my pursuit to find a mentor more difficult, but I realized that any kind of networking could be useful.

I was able to meet up with one match off of Bumble Biz. She was a recent graduate and had a job working as a publishing associate at an online media company. We bonded a lot over work woes. Lamenting about tough competition in the marketing world and the small budgets we were given for digital strategy. It was nice to find someone in the same field that could relate to work problems, and could also offer ways to enhance certain skillsets. We hit it off so well that we actually met up a few more times to study courses in Advanced Google Analytics together. Other than that contact, I matched with a lot of creatives looking to collaborate. I talked to a Parq Vancouver chef with an interest in videography, and we’ve made plans to film videos for his new baking channel. I also ended up collaborating with another girl on a photoshoot at a studio in New Westminster. Overall, the app provided a lot of collaborative opportunities that I wasn’t expecting.

Shapr was hands-down my favourite app, although it too had some limitations. It’s the newest app to the networking market, but the user base is far more diverse. The profile on Shapr isn’t as flashy as the Bumble profile but it seems to be more effective. On Bumble, your picture is the biggest component of your profile, with your work experience and your interests placed below. Swiping on faces in a networking app forces user to analyze people just based off of their appearance, which detracts attention from the purpose of networking: professional communication. On Shapr, the profile picture is small and the section that stands out is the “current goals” section. In that section you can see whether the user is trying to hire employees, seek mentors, or grow their business. Unlike Bumble Bizz which makes you pick one objective, Shapr allows you to pick multiple. There were way more mid-career professionals on Shapr, including users looking to hire employees and mentor others. The only real downside of Shapr is that only a certain number of profiles are available for browsing each session. After you’ve hit your allotted number you have to wait seven hours to continue swiping. This can get annoying, but I still think it’s a great app.

It was on Shapr that I matched with a film writer. He is a Toronto native, and he has over ten years of professional writing experience. We matched because, in his profile, he stated he was looking to mentor others. I initiated the conversation saying I’d always been interested in films, but I had no experience on film sets. He responded with a lot of enthusiasm saying that he had got his start through networking and hadn’t gone to film school. He was working pro-bono as an assistant-director for a short film. He explained he was between contracts and was only spending a few months in Vancouver before moving to Saskatchewan to work on a TV series. He asked if I wanted to help out on set as the second assistant director. Within three days of matching, I got a letter from the film’s producer that outlined a contract. The next week I was attending my first production meeting in East Vancouver. The whirlwind nature of this interaction made me incredibly nervous. Never before had someone been so willing to act as a guide. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that someone could be so nice. Then, pessimism started to set in. I wondered if things were too good to be true. My imagination got the best of me and I was hyperventilating before the first production meeting.

My fears were completely unfounded.

The neighbourhood that looked eerie in the dark was actually quite charming in day-light. The house was incredibly beautiful. It was a massive World War Two era home owned by the screenplay writer’s family. There were floor to ceiling bookshelves and restored antique furniture. Green tea was poured for each new arrival and everyone nibbled on an array of charcuterie boards as the first table reading took place. The whole meeting was a bit surreal . After that first meeting I spoke to my Shapr match, and he said that even if I didn’t end up in the film industry, at least I’d walk out of this experience with some good friends in the business.

People will do business with people they know, like and trust, so be proactive and take the time to build meaningful relationships with those in your professional network. When the time comes to search for work, you can tap into those valuable connections for referrals, job leads, and more. At the end of the day, employers want to trust the people they hire. BCIT students in the same program will become applicants with the exact same credentials on paper. The student that will get hired will likely be the one that was able to form a trust-based relationship. I’m going to set next week to shoot, and I’m so happy that I met this great crew. I’ve learned so much about the production process, and I’m confident that this could lead to further collaboration.

Rajita is Link Magazine's Associate Editor. She likes writing about tech, culture and politics.

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