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5 Insider Rapport Building Tips (or, How To Make In Person Networking Non-Dreadful)

Like many PhDs, I’m an introvert. That means my tendency is to avoid face-to-face interactions at all costs.

But when it came time to search for a job in industry, my introverted tactics weren’t working. I was reaching out to people online, even getting a few responses, but in the end, all my efforts fell flat.

After months of this, I was right where I started – unemployed.

Then, I started noticing what my colleagues were doing; the ones that were getting job referrals and interviews at least.

They weren’t just reaching out to people online, they were also attending local networking events.

At first, I tried to deny that these in-person interactions were the key to their success. But after a while, I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room – I had to start meeting people face-to-face.

And at first it was scary. I was nervous and it showed, so there weren’t too many people that approached me during an event.

But after some time, I started to feel more at ease. My shoulders dropped, I stopped crossing my arms, and I even began to smile.

That’s when the magic happened. People started approaching me!

And I met a lot of interesting people – people that I remain in contact with today. These relationships would have never developed had I remained at my computer simply clicking the “connect” button online.

To build meaningful and long-lasting connections, you have to build a rapport. And this starts with face-to-face interactions.

As one Cheeky Scientist member recalls:

I spent months networking online, and yet, I still had no job. I didn’t even have any prospects. Then, one night, my friend convinced me to go to a networking event with her.

She was an MBA and the event catered to MBAs like her. I didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t think I would get anything out of it. This concept actually lowered the pressure which made it easier to talk to people.

What I didn’t realize was that I would meet someone at the event that eventually put me in contact with someone in my field.

This contact didn’t end up getting me a job, but it did help me to realize that I needed to branch out and meet people face-to-face if I wanted a job in industry.

Now, I am a project manager and love my job! All thanks to the network I built through in-person events”

In Person Networking Doesn’t Have To Feel Like Slow Motion Death

In today’s technological world, we have a plethora of ways to communicate with each other.

Social media platforms now allow people to connect with others from across the globe – something that was never previously possible.

Job recruitment efforts are also largely carried out online, particularly on LinkedIn. In fact, 87% of recruiters report regularly using LinkedIn to find new talent.   

There are definite advantages to online recruitment; employers can choose from a broader pool of candidates while job seekers can select from a wider range of job opportunities.

But what platforms like LinkedIn provide in terms of breadth, they lack in depth.  

They allow you to connect with a broad range of people, but they fall short when it comes to fostering strong professional relationships.  

That’s because, despite all our technological advances, humans are still inherently social creatures. We need in-person interactions to build rapport and form meaningful connections.

In a recent study by Forbes, nearly 100% of professionals still believe that face-to-face meetings are critical for maintaining professional relationships.

Of those surveyed, 75% felt they were able bond more closely with coworkers, and 77% said they were better able to read body language and facial expressions in person.

And when it comes to communication, at least 70% of it is nonverbal. That means that body language speaks louder than words.

So, when building a network, it’s important to step away from the computer and meet people face-to-face.

It will help build a personal rapport with your connections and create a network that will ultimately help you in your job search.

5 Ways To Instantly Establish Rapport Without Being Creepy

If you’re used to networking online, you may assume that the same rules apply to in-person networking events.

And while the verbal communication may be similar, when speaking with someone face-to-face, you rely more heavily on the other 70% of communication: the nonverbal communication.

Networking in person may feel overwhelming, but ultimately, face-to-face communication will serve you well in the long run.

It not only creates a more natural conversation, but it also helps make the interaction more genuine and meaningful.

So today, I will discuss 5 important things you should know about building a strong rapport with your connections.

1. Build an in-person network to make yourself more likeable.

If you’re much more at ease networking from the safety of your computer chair, you may have already convinced yourself that you’re doing all you can do to build a strong professional network.

But the harsh truth of the matter is: if you’re not connecting with people face-to-face, then you’re at a serious disadvantage.

That’s because online networking limits your ability to establish a personal rapport with your connections.

Harvard Business Review conducted a study where participants were asked to rank how persuasive they thought they’d be in person versus email. The survey results revealed that most participants thought they were more persuasive over email.

However, the real-life results revealed that the people on the receiving end were far more compliant during face-to-face interactions while those connecting over email were far less compliant than the participants had predicted.

In fact, people that connected in person were 34 times more persuasive than their email counterparts.

This just goes to show that an in-person interaction is the most surefire way to establish a personal rapport with someone.

2. Get out of your own way and build a diverse network that works for you.

Many PhDs do their best to ease the pain of in-person networking by sticking with events and people that they’re already familiar with.

But this tactic won’t get you anywhere.

If you continue to associate with people that have the same background as you or are at the same stage of their career, you’re not going to meet the people that can help you get a job in industry.

You have to get out of your comfort zone.

Attend events that are outside your area of expertise or outside of science altogether. This not only helps you build a more diverse network, but it also helps establish a more personal and memorable rapport with people.

At a business event, who is someone more likely to remember – the tenth MBA student they met that night, or the scientist interested in gaining business acumen?

Constraining your network also constrains your success. You never know who will be able to help you in your job search.

3. Educate yourself on body language.

When attending an event where you don’t know anyone, what is the first thing you do?

Chances are, you scan the room – perhaps to find where the buffet is, but also to see who in the crowd of strangers is the most approachable.

Say you see someone standing alone with their arms folded. What does this body language convey to you? Most likely, you’re thinking “This person doesn’t seem interested in talking with anyone.”

Next, you spot someone speaking with a few other people – they’re smiling and gesturing with open palms.

If you had to choose, which person would you prefer to approach?

Unless you enjoy the awkwardness of talking with someone that doesn’t want to engage, my bet is that you’d prefer to speak with the second person.

Body language – your gestures, your tone, and your stance – speak louder than words. It’s the first thing people notice about you, and it’s the thing that will decide the success of the interaction.

So, when at a networking event, be conscious of your own body language. By making yourself more approachable, you’re increasing your chances of making a genuine connection.  

4. Don’t just listen to what people have to say. Read their eye movement.

Like many, PhDs tend to focus on what they say. They want to make sure they say the right things.  

But studies show that people are more likeable at in-person events. That’s because in face-to-face conversations, people have a better chance of speaking about themselves.

And believe it or not, when people get to talk about themselves – their interests and hobbies – it makes you, the person they’re speaking to, more memorable.

So, when you meet someone at an event, ask about them – ask about what excites them, what gets them out of bed in the morning.

If the person is passionate about what they’re talking about, you will see this in their body language. You may see their face brighten, they may turn more towards you while speaking, or they may become more animated.

Their eye movements can even tell you how they feel about a topic.

Behavioral psychologists have shown that when people look up and to the left, they’re remembering something; and when they look up and to the right, they’re constructing something.

In other words, they’re thinking about something that doesn’t exist (yet) or isn’t true.  

Moreover, when people look directly to the right or left, they’re recalling or constructing something auditory, while looking down and to the right or left means they’re recalling or constructing something kinesthetic.

You may be thinking, “That’s very interesting, but how does this help me?

By understanding the meaning behind certain eye movements, it allows you to assess how a person feels about a particular topic or the interaction/conversation in general.

It’s also good to keep in mind for when you’re speaking. Humans intrinsically pick up on these kinds of signals, whether they realize it or not.

5. Learn what your own body language is saying to other people.

When attending a networking event, you should be well-aware of your own body language.

Just as you would avoid the person that is standing alone with their arms crossed, other people will avoid you if you adopt a similar stance.

Another stance to avoid is putting your hands in your pockets.

This communicates to people that you’re impatiently waiting to leave or that you’re feeling defensive. It can also indicate that you feel powerless or shy.

Other gestures and stances that communicate powerlessness or shyness include touching your face or neck, touching or wringing your hands, and biting your lip.

While you may be feeling all these things – powerlessness, shyness, discomfort – you don’t want to convey this to people that you’re trying to build a rapport with.

Another thing to avoid is to make gestures that are not natural to you.

Many people do this to fit into the group they’re with. But when you adopt something that doesn’t come naturally, it ends up looking very robotic and mechanical.

People respond positively to genuine engagement. When someone is speaking, square your shoulders to them; nod and smile. When you’re responding to them, use positive gestures, such as open palms.

Space is also important. When speaking with someone one-on-one, you want to maintain a close but comfortable distance. People feel most at ease when the person they’re speaking to is anywhere from 1.5 to 4 feet away.

These seemingly menial things all amount to a positive interaction that helps build rapport.

Also, to put your best foot forward during an event, practice with someone you know. Have them critique your body language and how you carry yourself.

During the event shouldn’t be the first time you realize what your body language is signaling to those around you.

Concluding Remarks

Building a rapport is crucial for establishing meaningful and long-lasting connections that can help you in your industry job search. While networking online is a useful tool, it should remain just that: a tool. It shouldn’t be the only way you interact with your network. That’s because online formats limit the primary way that we communicate: nonverbally. To make meaningful connections, get up from the comfort of your computer chair and start meeting people in person. Face-to-face interactions make people more likeable and more memorable. They also build a stronger rapport. So, next time you’re given the opportunity to attend an in-person networking event, grab it. It may be your next steppingstone towards your ideal job in industry.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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