Networking. It’s an anxiety-filled word to some.
But networking doesn’t have to mean showing up to numerous events where you don’t know a single soul, shelling out business cards to anyone who will take them. Of course that sounds awful.
Keep in mind that you already have a network. It may be small, but it’s a starting point. The students who suffered through grad school with you, your former professors, the guys and gals on your kickball team, the woman on the bike next to you at Spin class on Tuesdays, the guy who you see all the time at your volunteer gig… even your family and friends – they’re all part of your network. And each one of them shares something in common with you already. Learn what they do for a living. Not everyone in your network has to be a scientist. In fact, they shouldn’t all be scientists, especially if you’re entertaining other career paths.
Every member of your network has a network of his or her own. If you started to map it out, what you would have is “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” for N number of contacts, resulting in overlapping Venn Diagrams on what pretty much looks like a celestial map. So again, you already have a network. Now you have to grow it, and learn how to tap it.
Here are a few suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Go out. Do stuff. Get involved. Your network will evolve organically, based on the relationships you establish, the events you attend, the jobs you take, and your extracurricular activities.
2. Make sure you have professional business cards on you all the time. You never know when you’ll need one. When someone hands you his or her card, write the date and where you met your new contact on the back of it. Then when you follow up down the line, you can note where and when you met, leaving your new contact with the idea that he or she made an impression on you, or impressed with your social memory. It also helps your new contact to remember who you are.
3. Put together an impressive LinkedIn profile, and include a link to your profile in your email signature. If your profile doesn’t scream “I’m awesome,” then either beef it up, or don’t let people know you have one.
4. Set up “informational interviews” with people in fields you’re interested in. Engage these new professionals in conversation, and then add them to your LinkedIn network.
5. Have an “elevator speech.” You should be able to tell someone what you do and what you aspire to, in English (not science jargon), and in less than five minutes. The professionals you meet are unlikely to be experts in whatever it is you did for your doctoral or post-doctoral research. They don’t want to stand there while you give your dissertation defense again.
6. Don’t burn bridges. You would be amazed at how often people you’ve dealt with in the past come in handy down the line.
When it comes down to it, networking requires a little effort. But you can take advantage of your own personal interests to grow your network. Thanks for reading, and good networking!