Thoughts on NetworkingApril 30, 2023
I’m returning to blog writing, and I’d like to preface this post by saying that I am not offering advice or suggesting anything that follows this sentence is fact. I am just stating my own observations and feelings.
Concert photography has been a big part of my life for a long while now. In that time, I’ve photographed a lot of shows, I’ve had some opportunities that I am truly grateful for, and I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve also always heard the mantra “it’s who you know,” and it’s something that I’ve always personally struggled with. It isn’t that I don’t think relationship building is significant—it absolutely is. My issue is that I think it is overemphasized to the point where people are more interested in brown-nosing than skill building and genuine rapport. It has been a point of frustration for me, and it’s nearly impossible to thoroughly and effectively share my thoughts on the topic over social media, so I’ve decided to revive my blog.
To start, I want to reiterate that I am fine with the idea of networking. I believe it is necessary, and I think that one should leverage their connections to get new opportunities. I have done this myself: when I first started taking photos for Live Nation, it was in part because I had a long-time friend who worked there, and I asked him if there was someone I could show my portfolio to. My friend facilitated the introduction and they took a chance on me. Even if I knew who to reach out to, I don’t think they would have been as receptive to me without an introduction from one of their trusted colleagues. Not only that, but it was incredibly important to me to have someone who believes in me and wants to see me succeed.
I have also had fellow photographers recommend me for things, and I’ve done the same for others. These kinds of things are healthy and I think it’s an important part of helping each other grow, especially in an industry where many opportunities are walled off, and getting access to the ones doing the hiring is a deliberately opaque process. It would be dishonest of me to suggest that I’ve never benefited from the referrals of others, but the conversations around it have been really disappointing lately. I’ll try to explain.
I think that things have started to turn upside-down. A heavy emphasis has been placed on “being nice” and “being a good hang,” but it seems like the best intentions of that advice have been lost, and some of the people reinforcing the idea are more interested in being manipulative. It’s less about being a professional and more about being in the room all the time. It feels like it is less about genuine rapport and more about reciprocating pleasantries. Obviously, I am not suggesting that this is how all opportunities are gained. I am also aware that there are opportunities where having a good personal relationship is a requirement—tours, for example. It just doesn’t seem very logical to me to only ever be able to get gigs from friends, and I’ve yet to come across an explanation that has made sense.
If I work with a colleague, they don’t need to be my friend for me to work with them. If they’re good at the job, knowledgeable, and pleasant, that’s more than good enough. When I interview for a job, I’m not trying to befriend the hiring manager, I’m just trying to show what I’m capable of, and be a good representation of how I work. I feel like my years of experience, my portfolio, and my general kindness and reliability as a person should afford me some good opportunities—and in some cases, they have. Those fellow photographers wouldn’t have recommended me if they didn’t think I was a good fit for the job. The handful of opportunities I’ve had with brands may have started from nothing, but things grew because they enjoyed working with me. I just feel like there should be more. Maybe there is and I’m just not seeing it.
I’ve seen an increase in people practicing very hollow “engagement” under the guise of being nice, but it really feels like a game that a lot of people are in on. When you don’t engage in the way people expect, that ends up being considered the inauthentic thing, somehow. When I think back to a lot of the walls I’ve run into, I can’t pinpoint a reason. It wasn’t a matter of not being good enough, and it wasn’t a matter of not knowing the right people or being unkind, so maybe it’s that last bit I mentioned near the start of this write-up: someone who believes in me. I should clarify that I know there are people who believe in me, and sometimes those people renew me when I’m feeling stuck. It’s specifically having people who believe in me, and are in a position to do something about it. I think this is what makes me feel unseen the most often. When I look for advice, much of it is for newcomers or full-timers, but I don’t really feel like it resonates with me. I have struggled for years with finding a place to belong and I’m not quite sure I’ll find it. So what can I do?
I’m not entirely sure. I cheer on my peers, I try to be a kind presence in the community (including moderating a lovely Discord server), and I still pitch things whenever I can. I think that getting back into writing and sharing stories and knowledge here can help me get a clearer picture. We will see.