How to Start Networking in NYC When You’re Out-of-State

“I bleed orange.” If you’ve never heard this saying before, you probably a.) think I need to see a doctor or b.) are located pretty far from the Lone Star State. I am in my fourth year at the University of Texas at Austin, studying advertising with a focus on the creative side (namely art direction) and business.

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 Courtesy of Thinkstock

So how did a Longhorn end up at Find & Follow Your Passion in New York? It’s actually a pretty quirky little story. Back when FindSpark was still NY Creative Interns, I stumbled across them because a few of my friends (also creatives) “liked” their Facebook page. Then one day, I pulled up my newsfeed to see a post about something called the #FindPassion conference. I scanned through the list of past speakers and was incredibly impressed. But of course, it was in NYC. “Impossible,” I thought.

The following day I got an email from my college’s career services center. Every semester they give out grants to select students to support activities that will further their careers. The students must be enrolled in UT’s College of Communication, affiliated with a student organization on campus, and endorsed by a member of the faculty. Students have to write an essay highlighting what they want to accomplish with their proposed activity, why it is important for them to learn/accomplish this, and how much money they’re requesting (along with a detailed budget report).

It was, dare I say it, fate. As many other creatives before me, I’ve always had a set of curious eyes looking towards New York. So I sat down and hammered out an essay at 3AM, during a hellish week rife with deadlines and projects. I’m usually much less proactive, but I recognized the opportunity and wanted it so bad.

On September 26, I got an email saying “Congratulations! Your application was reviewed and you have been selected to receive a CCS Career Development Grant in the amount of $500.00.” This meant my flight to New York, as well as a whole weekend’s expense and my registration for the conference would all be taken care of! I’m a college student who can barely afford shampoo so I don’t think there are words to accurately express the gratitude I felt to be granted the budget I proposed.

I booked my flight immediately and with the remainder of the grant, I bought a padfolio and some classes on Skillshare. And luckily, I was able to cut a lot of costs by staying with my cousin and his girlfriend in the city.

As a precursor to the conference, I got to visit with a couple of UT grads the advertising program. In addition, I had a reunion with an old high school friend who attends NYU, and I got to tour the DDB New York office. The day of the actual conference was brutally cold; well, for New Yorkers it was probably normal but for a Texan… I was really nervous about not knowing anyone, but right off the bat, I met two other girls who were also assigned to blog about panels and we really hit it off.

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Not only was I able to meet some amazing creatives at the conference but I also received invaluable career guidance from the panelists. It was wonderful to network, and the way the conference was run, it didn’t feel forced for a minute and I honestly felt at home. The Opportunity Mixer provided us with the opportunity to get some one-on-one advice from representatives from several companies and I even managed to fit in a few portfolio critiques. The after-party was held at The Crooked Knife, where I got to meet a lot of attendees, bond with them over drinks, and have the best potato wedges of my life.

Thank you FindSpark for allowing me to be a part of this awesome experience. I truly believe that the conference has fostered some lifelong friendships and will open many doors for us as well as for future attendees. And for anyone reading this, my best piece of advice is to take advantage of the resources you have as a student. Your university spends a lot of money on career services, and even if they don’t, go out and make those opportunities for yourself. Those resources are there to help you, and once you’re out of school, it will be much harder to take advantage of them. Ultimately, because I decided to take a chance and apply, I got to spend a weekend in a beautiful city that I can see myself living in post graduation; and had the opportunity to network with a ton of talented and impactful people. So apply for those grants, schedule informational interviews, follow up, do your research and polish up your resume.

Above all else, be confident in yourself and your abilities. If you are interested in a specific agency, reach out to their HR person and see if you can get a tour. Maybe they’re too busy, but they will still have time to answer your questions or shoot you an email. Most colleges and universities have giant alumni networks; reach out to alums from your alma mater to show you around when you go to visit different cities. The worst thing they can do is say no! Most people are really eager to help others; the rest is up to you.

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