Written by Todd Nolan, Ph.D.
I had nearly done it.
It had been five years since I started my PhD, and I had successfully avoided all networking events.
Then a wave of worry hit me…
I was facing a dead-end in academia and need to start learning about other career tracks.
I knew getting an industry job was possible but I also knew that the only way to get a job was to network.
Ugh, I hated networking.
Like many PhDs, I was a quiet introvert and just the idea of networking made me cringe.
But I started (meekly) asking around about local networking events anyway.
I spoke with a colleague and heard there was a job fair being held at our institute.
I’ll be fine.
I’ll just walk into the room, hand out my resume to a few strangers, and wait for my phone to start ringing with offers.
This is what I told myself as I got dressed for the event.
But then something happened.
As I drove up to the networking event, I became paralyzed with fear.
I’m a grown man and I’m scared to introduce myself to strangers.
That afternoon, I spent half my time in the washroom trying to psyche myself up and half my time cradling a now ice-cold cup of coffee.
After enough time had passed, I left feeling dejected.
I let a perfect opportunity to network slip through my fingers.
How will I ever get a job if I can’t make a single connection?
Why PhDs Need To Network To Get An Industry Job
The importance of networking cannot be overstated.
A report by the New York Times showed that big companies are becoming increasingly dependent on referrals when hiring.
Job hires by referral have increased at these top companies from 28% in 2010 to 45% in 2013 to over 50% today.
A report by U.S. News showed that 40% of job seekers now find their best or favorite job through personal connections and 64% of recruiters rate referred candidates as their “highest quality” candidates.
Employment websites have become a black hole for resumes and a constant source of frustration for job seekers.
There are literally thousands of people who will respond to any given job posting.
As a result, the majority of resumes uploaded online now go through a computerized screening process.
This means that if your resume fits the job posting, it may still be rejected.
If you really want an industry job, you need to avoid the computerized resume screening altogether.
In other words, you need to start getting referrals.
The only way to get referrals is to start networking with industry professionals and building relationships with biotech and biopharmaceutical recruiters.
5 People NOT To Be At Your Next Networking Event
Networking correctly is not easy.
If you’re networking correctly, you’re investing your time and energy into developing long-term professional relationships.
Networking takes work. It takes effort and engagement.
You can’t merely show up to an event, throw a few business cards at people, and expect to get a strong job referral.
Instead, you have to show up, build rapport, and offer value even when you feel like you have nothing to offer.
The worst thing you can do is show up to an event and beg for connections, cling onto one person the whole night, or check your phone repeatedly.
You should not only avoid these people at your next networking event, you should also ensure that you don’t become one of them.
Here are five people NOT to turn into at your next networking event.
1. The Lightweight.
Don’t get drunk at a networking event.
There, it’s been said.
Depending on your tolerance, it might be acceptable to have one or two beverages.
But don’t let alcohol be your crutch.
You certainly don’t want to be remembered as the lightweight who couldn’t handle their drinks.
Alcohol is not a healthy way to deal with fear, anxiety, or depression.
There are better ways to calm yourself and build up your confidence before entering a room.
Try slow, methodical breathing followed by thinking positive thoughts.
Try getting prepared by researching who will be at the event.
Try reaching out to the host before the event and asking them to introduce you to a few people when you arrive (hosts love doing this!).
If you feel the negative thoughts creeping up at any time during the event, don’t get sloshed to numb the pain.
Instead, step outside, breathe and regroup.
2. The Drive-By Connector.
Giving someone a business card is not connecting.
Real networking requires adding value.
Too many people think they can show up to a networking event, shove their business card in someone’s hand, and then leave.
You know these types.
They float around the room like humming birds, giving their cards to everyone but never stopping long enough to engage and ask questions.
They never invest in other people and as a result, are never remembered.
It’s better to make one high-quality connection at a networking event than it is to drop-off a hundred business cards to people who will never remember you.
Besides, your goal should be to get business cards, not hand them out.
Real networking occurs after the networking event by following up over and over.
Don’t assume other people will follow up with you just because you gave them your business card.
It’s up to you to build and maintain your networking relationships and this cannot be done in a drive-by fashion.
3. The Clinger.
You’ve made a connection—congratulations!
Now it’s time to exchange contact information and move along.
It’s NOT time to cling to them like a remora on a shark.
It can be difficult to judge when and how to conclude a conversation with someone, but there are clues…
First, pay attention to their body language and use your body language to indicate a farewell.
If their eyes have begun to wander around the room, if they’ve positioned their body at an angle so their shoulders are no longer square with your shoulders, if they’ve put their hands in their pockets (a strong sign they’re struggling to stay patient), or if they’ve started to fidget—it’s time to move on.
Second, pay attention to subtle verbal hints they give you.
If they excuse themselves to the bathroom or bar, don’t follow them and don’t seek them out after they get back unless they ask you to.
Third, if they keep checking their watch or phone—move on.
This behavior is not only a sign that they’re disengaged, it’s a sign that they are rude and don’t deserve your time.
Overall, don’t let a successful conversation turn into an awkward goodbye. Simply thank the other person for their time and communicate that you’re looking forward to staying in touch.
Then excuse yourself politely and catch up with someone else in the room.
4. The Cradler.
It’s easy to cradle your phone or a drink when you’re uncomfortable.
These objects can provide an odd sense of comfort.
They seem to have a protective quality.
The problem is that these crutches will keep you from creating meaningful connections.
The first thing you should do when you show up to a networking event is turn your phone off and commit to being present.
Otherwise, you risk looking pretentious or worse, scared.
These are not qualities that hiring managers and recruiters look for in job candidates.
Yet, we’ve all seen these people at networking events.
They’re the ones who will interrupt a seemingly pleasant conversation as soon as they hear a text message beep on their phone.
These cradlers will spend more time in the corner of the room flipping through the news feed than talking to the real live human beings around them.
Don’t be one of these people.
If you decide to attend a networking event, commit to it fully.
Show people you’re genuinely interested in them.
Make eye contact, shake hands, and be an open, active listener (without cradling your phone or any other crutch).
5. The Beggar.
Never go to an event with the intention of asking for a favor.
Don’t be a beggar.
No one is going to give you a referral after meeting you for five minutes.
Instead, you have to invest deeply in other people.
You have to give.
Have a more abundant mentality—the more you give, the more you’ll get.
Your investments might not yield dividends right away, but over time, they will pay off handsomely.
Networking is not something you do until you get a job.
It’s not a one and done activity. Instead, it’s a process.
Networking is an important part of every single industry job.
There’s no escape from needing to network to advance your career.
In fact, a report in the Academy of Management Journal showed that successful industry professionals spend 70% more time networking than their less successful counterparts.
Every time you meet someone, think about who from your current network might be a positive connection for them.
Think about how to add value to them.
Approach networking as a long-term strategy for helping others achieve their goals, not a tactic for manipulating people into helping you achieve your goals.
If you help enough other people get what they want in their careers, you will get what you want in your career.
Successful networking involves being authentic and being unique. Portray a personal brand that will allow you to get noticed and be remembered. Every PhD has value to offer. The more events you attend, the more at ease you will be with speaking to strangers and making connections. Remember, once the event is over, following up is the next pivotal step. Without following up after attending a networking event, your time will have been wasted and you will have been forgotten.
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Latest posts by Todd Nolan Ph.D. (see all)
- 5 Personality Types To Avoid At Your Next PhD Networking Event - December 1, 2015
- 6 Networking Event Tips For Quiet Introvert PhDs (Like Me) - June 30, 2015