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As part of my day job, I organised a day of industry talks by local creatives for our incoming first year freshers. The talks would be an inspirational introduction to the art and design area and a way for students to engage with industry, right from the beginning of their studies. We had a range of people talking from very different backgrounds and disciplines; everyone from a graphic designer turned film director, to a music PR professional, to a social media architect. I wanted students to understand, right from the start, that having a degree is not enough, you have to do more than just complete your coursework and turn up to lectures. I wish when I was at University, or even before University, someone had told me that the key to success, is not necessarily what you know, or even who you know, it’s how you shout about what you know, to those people. In other words, the art of self promotion.

A consistent theme running throughout the talks today, was that none of them would have got where they are today without some form of self promotion. Matt Booth, a freelance designer well known on the Manchester creative scene for setting up the Northern Digitals networking meet-up, stressed in his talk the importance of putting yourself on as many different networks as possible and connecting with like-minded people. He told us how many of his first freelance projects came about from simply writing a list of people he wanted to work with, and actively emailing them to introduce himself.

He also reiterated the importance of just getting out there, and doing something. He detailed many side projects he’d done which weren’t paid or commissioned by anybody, but were simply something he wished to do. Some of them were tools to help him design more effectively, others were personal websites just for him and his close friends and family. The interesting thing about it, was that Matt achieved a lot of recognition and coverage in magazines for some of the projects he never even got paid for. A great example of how, particularly at a student level, producing your own personal projects alongside your required course projects, can be a great way to build up your portfolio and get noticed.

In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion around the general topic of social media and how creative students could and should be utilising these platforms for things like self promotion and networking. I was extremely keen to find out the panel’s thoughts on how they thought students should be using these platforms, which platforms in particular they thought were worth being on, and how they felt social media could help students get noticed and ultimately, get work. The general consensus was that Twitter is an extremely good way of student’s being able to engage with industry, in a very noninvasive, informal kind of way. The panel encouraged students to search for ‘key’ players in their chosen field and start following and interacting with them. They stressed this was a great way to contact those people in the industry, at the top of their game, that otherwise student’s would not necessarily get access to.

Another great point that came out of the panel discussion, was the need for following up online presence and engagement with face to face contact. All of the panel actively attended networking events and explained to students that Twitter was a great way to find out about people before meeting them in person. They advised that attending and participating in industry events was a great way to make friends and contacts and set up potential employment opportunities in the future. I cannot agree with this more. Having actively attended industry events for around 18 months now, I can’t stress enough how important it’s been for not only my professional life, but personal development too. I’ve made numerous friends, gained contacts and got familiar with how to promote myself based on who I am and what makes me tick, as much as what I can do.

I think that was one of the main points to come out of all of the talks today; it’s all very well being amazing at your particular area of speciality, but when you’re going for a job, and you’re up against someone with an equally impressive skill set, what’s going to tip it for the interviewer, is if they know you. Or are at least acquainted with you, whether that be from meeting you at an industry event, following your tweets, or reading your blog. A phrase used several times today was ‘people buy people’ and it’s true. I think one of the key things educators need to incorporate into their teaching is showing students how to sell themselves, and reiterating the importance of doing so. It’s not an easy skill to acquire and I still have a lot of trouble with it myself. How do you sell yourself without sounding like a arrogant prat? I’m not sure I really know the answer to that yet, but it’s certainly something I think should be addressed as a core skill to learn within an education setting.

What I wanted students to get from the day, was that yes, their studies are important, but I think (and it seems the industry also thinks) that what is equally, if not more important, is learning that you have to go that extra mile. Don’t be complacent. Be motivated, get out and meet people, engage on and offline with like-minded individuals, share content you think they’ll like and be interested in, be yourself, go to events, do projects for free, be the first one in and the last to leave and finally but by no means least, talk to people. Find out what they like, who they admire, where they draw inspiration from, what they’d like to achieve in the future and see where you think you could help them along the way.

I really enjoyed the event today and it seems the students did too. Considering they haven’t even had any proper lectures yet, I think it was a pretty good way for them to kick off their creative education in style and will definitely be looking to put on more events like this in the future.

For more info on the Industry Speakers event or to find out about other projects happening at Salford School of Art and Design, please follow us on Twitter @createatsalford or visit our blog at http://createatsalford.tumblr.com.

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