I Used A Networking App To Try On Three Different Careers For A Day, And This Is What I Learned

I shadowed a photographer, a pastry chef, and a standup comedian.

If you've ever gone to a conference, attended an industry meet-up, or just sent a LinkedIn invitation, you know how awkward, networking can be. Finding the right person to help take your career to the next level can often feel like a job in and of itself. That may explain why, despite knowing how much a strong network can benefit your career, many of us don't want to put in the work required to do it well. 

So when I heard about Shapr, a new networking app, I thought it could help me take the "work" out of networking. Similar to a dating app — but created strictly for professional purposes — Shapr allows users to swipe on 10 potential professional connections per day. If you and a contact both swipe right on each other, then it's a networking match and you can chat, set up a time to meet, and even share career opportunities

I decided to try Shapr, but with a twist. Instead of networking with people in my industry, I wondered what I could learn from professionals in totally different fields. 

With my swiping hand at the ready, I used Shapr to connect with a photographer, a pastry chef, and a standup comedian. But I didn't just want to meet them, I asked them if I could spend a day shadowing them. After all, I figured if we use dating apps to try on different people for a date, why not use a networking app to try on different careers for a day? 

Even as I was conducting my own personal career aptitude test, I was still a writer, first and foremost. So it should come as no surprise that I couldn't help but chronicle my experience.

Day 1: Following a photographer for a day.

On an ordinary Monday afternoon in Harlem, I met freelance photographer Gaby Deimeke. After receiving her Masters in fashion photography in London, she moved to New York City in March. "I came to the city not knowing anybody [and] I knew networking was going to be really important," she told me. "So Shapr was great. I met a bunch of people. They weren't all necessarily in my field, but I just made a general network and even made a bunch of friends out of it." 

One of those new friends, Kamon, connected Deimeke with some of his model friends for a photo shoot. That connected her to a model who was doing a separate collaboration with a fitness brand, and who asked Deimeke to photograph the campaign. "We shot it on the rooftop with the Empire State Building in the background for these cool clothes, so it was super fun," she recalled. 

Today, however, she was directing a solo photo shoot with a menswear fashion design student and model, Tristan Holt. Within seconds of watching their introduction, I could see how Deimeke had made so many cool connections in such a short amount of time. She was a natural. "I'm a super outgoing person. I'll just start up a conversation with anyone, so my goal with networking is kind of similar to just, like, making friends," she said.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

"In photography, [networking] is super important, especially if you're a freelancer because who you talk to and network with is your whole basis for your business," she explained. "So if you're not getting out there — making connections, meeting new people in the city — you're not gonna grow and expand your business … it's gonna go very slowly." 

Besides making friends and finding clients, Shapr has also helped Deimeke connect with a mentor as well. She swiped right on an established photography teacher who'd had his own gallery shows, and though she didn't expect anything in return, he reached out to her, complimenting her portfolio and setting up a coffee meeting. "That was really cool to me because I thought it would only be me messaging people like, 'Hi, can you help me? I'm just starting out in my career,'" she said. "... I didn't even think they'd want to talk to me, but everyone wants to connect." 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

As I followed Deimeke on her two-hour shoot, taking hundreds of pictures in five locations, I realized how important time is in her career field. When Deimeke isn't out on photography shoots, she's usually at home on her computer editing photos, corresponding with clients, setting up shoots, and networking.

Because Deimeke's work takes up so much of her time, she can't waste a second of it. That's also why when she networks, she does it on her schedule. "I think Shapr is really innovative because yeah, you can go to a conference or meet someone from LinkedIn ... but more and more, my generation, we're not doing traditional jobs, and we're not networking in traditional ways," she said. "So Shapr's a great way [to network] where it connects tech-wise with something we're used to, we're used to swiping and being on our phone all the time [but] you're not just playing a game or on social media, you're helping to further your business."

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

Day 2: Shadowing a pastry chef for a day.

Tuesday morning, I headed to the Bronx for a day of cake making with Jesebel Gumogda, a pastry chef I'd met on Shapr. She'd recently started her own custom cakes and treats company, Pure Confections, after years of working in New York City restaurants. While Gumodga certainly knows her way around the confectionary kitchen (she even shared with me some of her best baking tips and tricks), she uses Shapr to make genuine connections with people who can offer help in her first entrepreneurial adventure.

Her business is based on her baking philosophy: putting contemporary flavor twists on beloved classics. Rather than creating a traditional carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, Gumogda added orange zest to the cake batter and created a mascarpone mousse filling.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

Gumogda graduated from culinary school in the Phillippines before taking on the fast-paced NYC restaurant scene, but she always knew she wanted to start her own business. A coworker was the first to encourage her to do so by ordering a custom first birthday cake for their child. After that, another coworker asked her to make his wedding cake. From there, more orders kept coming up in, due to all the positive word of mouth her creations received. 

"When I had the turning point of 'You know what, I want to do my cake business full-time,' I wanted to expand my network first and gain connections and gain more knowledge on the business side," she told me. Gumogda saw an ad for Shapr on the subway in January 2017 and decided to give it a try. She soon connected with legal consultants, event planners, and marketing specialists.

"I was able to meet people in person and have coffee with them and exchange ideas. It was really nice because I learned a lot," she said. One woman Gumogda met worked for a company that provided legal assistance for businesses, offering help with licensing, insurance, and legal consultation for contracts. She even connected Gumogda to an insurance contact who helped her get a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in record time for a client's wedding. "With connections like that, it's really helpful," she added. "That's why [networking] was the first step I took."

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

Though the nature of work differed from Deimeke's, I realized they shared a similar understanding of and approach to networking as an essential way to grow their small businesses. "Shapr is a really good platform to meet people. It's very convenient, especially if you have a busy schedule," she explained. "You cannot really attend networking events as much as you want to because sometimes they fall on the days that you're working, especially with my kind of job." 

As Gumogda shared her story with me, I watched her turn ordinary ingredients into a pretty extraordinary cake. When all three layers were assembled, she covered the cake with Italian buttercream. When it was finished with a simple and elegant frosting design, she took pictures for the company's Instagram and website, another tool Gumogda uses to connect with people and grow her business. "If you have social media, it doesn't end with creating an account. You have to keep it active and engaging because if not, your profile is just gonna be way behind," she noted. "It's really important that you have social media networking platforms because it helps with the lifestyle that we have in New York where everybody's always on the go. So if you're on the train, you can just look at your phone and swipe and meet people... it's just convenient." Not to mention smart business sense for a budding entrepreneur.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

Day 3: Observing a stand-up comedian for a night.

Late Tuesday night, I met Andre McSween, a stand-up comedian I'd connected with on Shapr. He was doing a set at the Broadway Comedy Club in Hell's Kitchen, so with my sense of humor in tow, I went to observe him on- and off-stage. Comedians are known for the specific ways they interact with each other, as well as the necessity of networking to get stage time. Similar to other parts of the entertainment industry, it's all about who you know. "Comedy is very hands-on and all-in. You go, and you do shows, and you go to shows even if you're not on 'em," McSween told me. "... And you go where the movers and shakers are in that industry, like you always try to be inside the bubble. You always try to be where the action is, and that's the only way it happens. If you're not doing that then it's going to be extremely hard for you." 

When he first got into comedy 14 years ago, that was easy for him because he had fewer responsibilities and more time to spend in the comedy scene. "I didn't need as much rest. Now, I'm 40 ... I've accumulated more attachments to being an adult," he explained. "... I've got all these side ventures and things I'm involved in that kind of keep me from being out in the scene the way I used to be." Now, he still goes out and performs at shows, but he doesn't stay out all night socializing with other comics, like many others do. 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

"My time is more valuable in the way that I need that time to do other things that I'm invested in, too, so I don't get to network as much as I should," McSween said. "So being able to use an app like Shapr where you can just reach out to somebody without being in the same physical vicinity as them ... is actually more intentional than being out in the scene and networking because I might go out and do a show and meet people that I already know ... But on these apps, people are there to socialize, but they're there to socialize with a purpose." 

Though relatively new to Shapr, McSween had already used it to meet and exchanged ideas with a documentary filmmaker over coffee. When she and McSween first connected on Shapr, they talked about how different their interests and industries were, and both were a bit resistant to an in-person meeting. Even so, they took a chance on their chance encounter. 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

"When we grabbed coffee, as we sat and spoke, we almost made like a 180," McSween said. "And she actually inspired a project that I was working on at the time that I felt like I needed to hear… her point of view and her perspective, just as a person — and as a filmmaker — but mostly as a person." Before they met, McSween was experiencing a "creative block" with his project, but she helped break that down. "And then I actually inspired her to start working on a new project just with stuff that we were talking about," he continued. "... I think that's also something that comes from just being in that kind of community of people, because we're all here to inspire each other." 

McSween opened my mind to a side of the comedian lifestyle I'd never had the opportunity to see up close before we met. His Shapr interactions had done the same for him. "It's put me in a position to open my mind a little bit more," he said. "… I've gotten some pretty cool ideas just from talking to people."

Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 
Photo Credit: Lindsay Geller; Photo Editing Credit: Katie Ward 

After spending a day with a fashion photographer, a pastry chef, and a stand-up comedian, I realized that while our industries may differ, we all share similar professional needs and goals. Perhaps it's because we all work in creative fields, but it seems like everyone stands to benefit from expanding their network, exchanging ideas, and ultimately being open to new opportunities. When we look for certain career opportunities, we may accidentally blind ourselves to the power of the ones unexpected connections can bring. 

That was the most important lesson I learned from this experience. Making genuine connections with Gaby, Jesebel, and Andre outside the media world (and my comfort zone) changed the way I think about and approach networking — and gave me three reasons to swipe right on every new opportunity life may present.

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