Networking for interns

For a career in the arts, be it working as a practitioner or within an organisation, the relationships you build with co-workers and peers can have a massive impact of future employment and opportunities.

For an artist a peer network is vital support for critical reflection; sharing equipment, materials and space; and opportunities to collaborate to help make things happen. As an intern, when you begin to work in a professional context, you will be developing professional networks which are vital for your career.

Networking can seem daunting and something you will feel pressure to gain a ‘foot hold’ during your internship. However professional networking is a process that to some extent happens organically as you build your working relationships. It will be your professionalism, enthusiasm and reliability in your role that will allow you to forge these positive relationships in the workplace.  And it will be your openness to ‘joining in’ or contributing to activities inside and outside the workplace that will enable your networks to grow. Try not to just think about being strategic when developing a network as you might miss one that is forming naturally around you already. For example, as institutions are highly structured, trying to approach a Director might not be appropriate unless the institution is very small and there is a culture of shared dialogue between co-workers working at different levels. All people you work with may, in getting to know them and making connections with their aims and interests, be useful people to know professionally over time.

A professional network can be made up of friends, co-workers (inter institutional), acquaintances and strangers. Mutual benefit and interests is the tie, where there is pooling resources, sharing contacts, openness, supporting, talking, keeping up to date, attending talks and events. All of these network transactions are potential for initiating opportunities. Social media supports you to link with ever wider overlapping networks. To help this flow of networking it is important to find real connections with people beyond connections and the confines of the work you are mutually involved in. Trying not to close the door on a potential connection is also important. Networking is about support, but also about learning and exchange, and about difference, bringing new people into your life and beginning career.

Often when working as an intern, your co-workers will be generous about giving advice and tips about working in the arts. Listen to the suggestions they are making, as they will be making connections between what they perceive to be your skills and attributes and what they know could be useful or interesting for you. When another organisation is suggested to you it will be because they have considered a connection. If this connection is unclear you could ask why they have made the suggestion. Ask if you can use their name as an introduction as you would really like to follow up. Find out as much as possible about the organisation or contact before you approach them, one of these connections might be the next step in your career.

During your internship you will need to respect confidentiality about what has been discussed, particularly the names of artists and arts professionals, and how and why decisions are made, if you have been part of these conversations. Occasionally there may be a more explicit request to keep something secret (e.g. the process of acquiring an artwork into a public art collection); however often this level of discretion is not explicit but expected so it is better to avoid gossip. That sometimes friends are co-workers, where your social and professional networks overlap, can be difficult to negotiate.Being discrete is about taking care of your future self, as the arts sector can often feel small.

If you have worked enthusiastically and professionally during your internship, your co-workers are likely to remember your positive contribution. They will want to be of use and will be professional about this so will support you to approach them at sector events (private views, conferences etc.). You can feel confident about letting them know what projects you are involved in and keeping in touch. Keeping touch is particularly important because opportunities may come up and you want people to keep you in mind for them. A good way to do this is via social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Another way is to send the occasional email update about projects, events etc. that you are involved in. It helps people to keep up to date with what you are doing and your developing experience. Lastly you may, as you develop your own practice and experience in the sector, create a blog or website. These are useful platforms to keep people informed about what you are involved in, and can be added as a link in any email exchange you make. When leaving an internship ask your co-workers and mentor what the best or most appropriate way of keeping in touch might be. Adding your mentor on Facebook might not be it, but following the organisation on twitter, or asking staff members you’ve worked with if it is ok to add them to your email list, might be better.

Article by Leanne Turvey


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