Are You Using These 3 Simple Virtual Networking Tactics? You Should Be

I knew that networking and virtual networking were important to my career but it seemed impossible. I got my PhD at a small university, hours away from the closest city. My industry network was smaller than my academic one; which I felt I could count on one hand. 

I was invisible to industry and had no job prospects.  

I knew I wanted to leave academia after my PhD instead of doing a postdoc, but I was so uncertain around what I wanted to do. I felt I had no opportunities. 

On top of this, my significant other was looking for jobs on the other side of the country. 

I needed to learn how to be visible, to know what my options were, and how to dive into the world of industry.

I will admit the prospect of talking to strangers was daunting. Why would they talk to me? What would I ask them? And I just knew that awkward silence would linger far too long in any conversation I started. I truly felt defeated before I even tried. 

So, I put virtual networking off until I received my PhD, had no job offers, and my situation was dire. My email was full of rejection letters. I was researching networking and referrals to the point I felt I had read everything, but nothing seemed to be clicking. 

But then I had a mind-shift –  I was thinking about the job search in the wrong manner. I was suffering from analysis paralysis. I was on a loop, doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different outcome.

I was spending too much time editing my LinkedIn profile and resume in hopes someone would find me. I was researching, but I wasn’t practicing. What I needed to do was spend time reaching out and talking to people, to get more information. The thought terrified me; I was never much of a ‘people person’. 

But, I had to put my emotions aside. The best way I knew how to do this as a results-driven introvert was to make a plan with a strict deadline and goal. I promised myself I would set up and talk to at least two people per week. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that with all the resources we have today, this was not that challenging. There were fewer obstacles to overcome than I had originally thought. 

My location was never an issue and geographical limitations washed away. Virtual communication made it easier to connect with people from anywhere in the world. 

Eventually, I connected with someone and had instant chemistry. It was so natural to talk to him, in fact, the informational interview lasted twice as long as scheduled and no one even minded. I stayed in contact with him and continued to network. In a few months, he referred me to the company and I received an offer.

The best part was it was done entirely from my living room; I never had to talk to anyone in person with virtual networking. 

Why You Should Consider Virtual Networking

Job boards are a waste of time. Very few people actually get a job by uploading dozens of resumes to them. They are nothing more than a resume landfill. A big reason for this is that 80%  of job openings are not advertised. 

Most people today get hired through referrals, this is especially true when you have a PhD. Hiring through referrals is great for companies, they don’t have to advertise, they can save on resources, and if they are getting their employees to refer someone, the person they refer likely already knows about the company and the expectations.

Employees also love referrals, most companies offer an incentive program for those who refer candidates who are ultimately hired. 

You should also love referrals; they are the fastest way to get hired. While traditional hiring means can take months from job application to hiring, hiring through referrals takes less than a month to go through the entire process. People who get referred are happier and generally stay at a company longer. 

But to get a referral you need to be networking properly. Virtual networking is not just connecting with someone on LinkedIn, that’s not how you get noticed. It’s also not just emailing or messaging people. This may be a good first step but you need to be seen, to be heard. 

Data from Harvard Business Review states that you are 34 times more effective face-to-face than emailing or blank messaging. Think about that, what percentage of the emails you receive do you ignore or send to spam? When there is no face, there is no connection and it’s easier to push someone aside or to save it for later.

This is the power of face-to-face communication. It is so much harder to ignore someone who is there. Plus, it forces your connections to see you as a person, instead of just a name. This will differentiate you from the thousands of people who never go beyond the email step. 

But this is not enough. Networking happens after the connection is established. Networking is not just a one and done scenario, it’s long lasting, it’s consistent and strategic. Here are my top 3 virtual ways to continue to network after the first conversation. 

The Top Three Virtual Networking Hacks 

1. Set logical goals and forget about your emotions

Most PhDs dread networking. It requires communicating with people, usually not about science, and most PhDs are only comfortable talking about their project. After 5+ years of not networking, anyone would be rusty. 

PhDs are great at researching but sometimes we forget to put that research to practice. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just read one more article on this” or “maybe tomorrow I’ll try to connect with someone” but these are lies and excuses we tell ourselves so we don’t have to face painful situations.

To overcome this blockage,  speak to your logical self not the emotional one. Speak to your results-driven side that pushed you into the PhD program. The side that always makes the deadline and always has a plan.

Develop some goals that seem attainable such as: “I will schedule 1 informational interview a week”. This is results oriented. 

The concept of virtual networking is daunting, overwhelming, there’s no specific starting point or delimited path. You might never get to the point where you feel fully comfortable networking, but you’ll learn to deal with these situations better the more you practice and focus on them.  

One of the best things about virtual networking is you can connect with anyone in the world without ever leaving your living room. This may seem like a bigger excuse to talk yourself out of going but it’s actually great for accountability. If you email someone for a meeting or to connect with for a virtual event they will be expecting you. 

By breaking virtual networking down into smaller result oriented goals, everything is more attainable and less daunting. You have less excuses to make to yourself and you can stay focused. So, set a goal every week, but remember to make it a little more challenging every time so you continue to strengthen your skills. 

2. Ask “how” and “what” questions

If you don’t like talking, are a nervous talker, or can’t stand awkward silences, then “how” and “what” questions should always be on your list. These questions encourage the person to engage, discuss, and expand. A “how/ what” question can not be answered in one word. 

Furthermore, these kinds of questions are simple on their surface but you can gain some deep insights on the person you are talking to and the company they work at.

For instance, a simple question like “What do you enjoy most about your work?” can provide you insights on what the person is passionate about and give you an idea about the company culture and ideals.

These questions really allow the other person to talk, and in doing so, they will feel valued. Everyone loves to be listened to, to feel like they are contributing and helping others.

How” and “what” questions often lead to asking the other person for their advice or opinion. When you ask for someone’s opinion they feel valued, trusted, and helpful. All you have to do is ask, listen, and engage. 

Here are 5 best “how” and “what” questions that will improve your virtual networking relationships:

  1. How did you know this was the right career path for you?
  2. What is your typical work day like?
  3. How much flexibility do you have in your day?
  4. What skills do you think make a good candidate for this role?
  5. What did you think of this article?

3. Congratulate, compliment, contribute 

Social media and LinkedIn make follow up and connecting very easy. LinkedIn broadcasts to your network every time you get a promotion or change positions. This is a great way to continue ongoing networking and promote your relationships. 

You don’t want to simply click the “congratulate” button or send a generic message on LinkedIn. This is an easy way to be forgotten or remain invisible. To really connect with people you want to send them a direct message. This direct message should contain three things.

The first is obviously to congratulate and show them how excited you are for them. But you want to go deeper than this. You also want to compliment them. Everyone needs a compliment every once in a while. It’s a great way to add value. But don’t be generic. Don’t say something like “You’re perfect for that position congrats.” 

Dig deeper. What qualifications do they have that you know that makes them perfect? What previous conversations have you had with them that exemplifies they are worthy of this transition or promotion. 

Finally, you want to contribute and this can be done in a number of ways. You can ask them a question to get their opinion on something. You can offer to put them in contact with someone you know at the company. You can show them some appreciation or make a recommendation. Basically, anything that adds value and continues the professional conversation is a great thing to add. 

So, even if you are not a fan of networking or you are unable to meet people in person, there are plenty of ways to leverage online and social media to continuously grow your network. Always remember to add value first. Come up with and stick to a result driven plan. Ask “How” and “What” questions to engage with your connection and to deepen your relationship. Finally, whenever possible try to congratulate, compliment, and contribute to their achievements.

To learn more about networking at the PhD level, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Sarah Smith, PhD
Sarah Smith, PhD

Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

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