The Best Way To Network With Industry Professionals And Get Job Referrals (Most PhDs Forget #3)

Perform experiments, read manuscripts, analyze data.

And repeat.

This was my usual day as a PhD.

And it was my top priority.

It was all I thought about.

I wanted to finish my PhD and did not look beyond graduation day.

Even at conferences, I would sneak in my laptop and analyze data during talks, at breaks, and as I sat crouched next to my poster.

I spent a lot of time hunched over in the same posture as so many other PhDs stuck in tunnel vision to finish their thesis, next paper, or grant.

I had heard about the power of networking.

I dismissed it as uninspiring and unimportant, or at least something I’d consider after I submitted my thesis.

Networking wasn’t going to ensure I published my manuscript before graduation.

And that’s all I could think about.

I didn’t have the headspace for the added stress of anything new, let alone anything out of my comfort zone — like networking.

Staying hunched over my data was far more comfortable.

My short-sightedness came back in the form of added stress when graduation came and went and I realized I had missed out on valuable opportunities because I had avoided networking.

Now, I was unemployed.

That’s right — like thousands of other PhDs, I was unemployed at graduation.

I wasn’t just unemployed; I was lost.

I was lost without any leads or any clue on what to do next.

I had no connections in industry and no job prospects.

Wait — it gets even worse.

I was an international PhD and would need my future employer to sponsor a work visa for me.

As a result, recruiters simply ran in the opposite direction when they found this out.

I needed to network with hiring managers and industry professionals to show them I was worth their time.

But I had put this off and realized the importance of it too late.

My disillusioned priorities had left me panicking.

I had to stop making excuses and start taking action.

So networking became a priority in my job search strategy.

First, I joined the Cheeky Scientist Association and started networking with other industry professionals and PhDs in the private group.

Second, I started going to live networking events.

But I was scared to go alone to networking events and make conversation with strangers.

What questions should I ask?

How should I approach someone?

I learned by trial and error.

I found that the more I spoke — which was more like rambling — the less I engaged others.

But the more curious I was, asking questions, actively listening and letting others lead the conversation, the more meaningful connections I made.

Soon, I built professional relationships with hiring managers and maintained these relationships throughout my job search.

Then positions opened and hiring managers and recruiters started contacting ME for a change.

I couldn’t believe it.

Eventually, I networked my way into industry, securing a visa and successfully leaving academia behind forever.

Why PhDs Need To Network With Industry Professionals

Networking is a skill, not a talent.

As PhDs, we know how to apply ourselves; how to practice a skill until it is second nature.

Think about networking in the same way.

The more you practice networking at networking events, the better a networker you will become.

60% of professionals that are hired are done so through referrals with 69% of organizations saying they have a formal referral program in place.

Referrals save the company money during the recruitment process, they are available to start sooner, and their staff retention times are longer than candidates hired by traditional means.

From a company standpoint, employees hired through referrals bring in more money for the company.

That’s right, a report by the Alexander Group found that employee referrals produce approximately 25% more profit than hires from other sources.

But here’s the thing…

You can’t just attend one networking event, meet one industry professional, ask for referral and wait for the industry job of your dreams to fall into your lap.

You need to build trust, establish a relationship and continue to provide value for that person over time.

If you ask for a job referral immediately, you will be seen as desperate and unprofessional.

Start networking early and start investing in building relationships early.

Re-prioritize your life while you are still in academia.

Most importantly, start adding value to the people you connect with.

Add value over and over again.

Every time you connect with someone, you should immediately start looking for ways to add value over the course of the next few weeks, or even the next few months.

5 Strategies For Adding Value To Industry Professionals

You must give value before asking for value.

If you want a job in industry, the time to start giving value to hiring managers, recruiters, and industry professionals is now.

The reason most PhDs refuse to network with industry professionals is because they don’t think they have any value to offer these professionals.

Either they feel like they’re asking for a handout, which makes them uncomfortable, or they feel like they shouldn’t have to ask for help because help should be given to them automatically.

You have value to offer industry professionals, especially if you have a PhD.

As a PhD, you’re capable of appreciating other people’s scientific work.

You’re capable of solving other people’s complex problems.

Most importantly, you’re capable of connecting high-level professionals to each other.

Whether you know it or not, you have value to offer.

Here are 5 ways to add value to industry professionals…

1. Listen first, speak last.

People like to talk about themselves and their own interests.

The best way to build rapport is by asking open-ended questions and actively listening.

Be curious and genuinely interested in what they have to say.

You get more insight and deeper communication with open-ended questions.

Start your questions with “WHAT”, “HOW”, “WHEN” and “WHO”.

Questions such as, “Did you enjoy the conference?” will only receive a “yes” or “no” answer and will leave you fumbling for additional points of discussion.

Instead ask, “What did you think about the guest speaker?”

In this way, you will learn about their interests and point of view.

Pay attention to their responses so you can use them to personalize future communications with them.

Make a point to take notes after you part so you can follow up in meaningful ways with relevant information later.

2. Value their advice.

A room full of industry professionals can feel very intimidating.

To make up for their lack of industry experience, PhDs may feel the need to show off their own intellect.

It’s a good way to have your efforts backfire.

By pretending you know everything, you will come off as pretentious and will fail to build a strong relationship.

Instead, be interesting by being interested.

Acknowledge their experience and expertise by asking industry professionals for their advice.

Choose a topic that you know is near and dear to them and will bring them pride to discuss.

What is their opinion on the future of drug discovery?

What is the hottest trend in biotech at the moment?

What was their secret to success?

What advice would they give to young industry professionals who are looking to follow in their shoes?

Taking their opinion in high regards adds value to them while allowing you to gain from their experience.

This can be done at a networking event or you can set up an informational interview for a more personal approach.

3. Be authentically thankful.

“Thank you” is a magical word in networking.

It seems so simple, yet it is a huge differentiator.

Be appreciative of the time the person has made for you.

Be genuine.

Not only does it show respect, it shows you acknowledge their busy schedule and the effort they took to chat with you.

Go that extra step further and write a handwritten thank you note (very few people do this, yet it’s commonly listed as the number one reason why a networking connection decided to refer a particular person for a job and the number one reason why an employer hired a particular job candidate).

Personalize it by mentioning a topic you discussed.

Thank them for any advice they gave you and tell them the outcome of their support.

If they mentioned they are travelling somewhere, Google a good coffee spot, local restaurant, or tourist attraction and advise them to check it out.

Be sincere in your thanks and never ask for any favors in return.

4. Introduce them to people in your network.

By listening to your contact, you will get to know their interests and what professional challenges they are facing.

From there, you can introduce them to people with common interests and goals, or simply expand their network in a new city or company.

In turn, you will strengthen your own network by making an introduction between two people who would benefit from knowing each other.

You are putting their needs ahead of their own.

Introduce them over email and be specific about who your contact is and how they will benefit from meeting one another. 

Trumpet their achievements so they both feel like winners.

Show that you have a personal connection with your contact, making it more likely they will trust the other person and respond positively.

Demonstrate commonality and proactively suggest what the next steps should be: for example, to follow up over email.

The more you give to your network, the more you will receive back.

5. Share content and value their contributions.

Once the networking event is over and gratitude has been exchanged, you may struggle with how best to keep in contact without pestering.

You should send an email once every 1 or 2 months to maintain your relationship.

Add value in these emails by sending them a piece of content that could be of interest to them, either personally or professionally, based on your past discussions.

If they are working in a particular biotech sector and you see an article or breaking news story that is relevant to them, pass it along, stating you immediately thought this would be of interest.

FierceBiotech is one excellent resource for this strategy.

If they are on Twitter, you can easily share content with them and re-share content.

LinkedIn groups are also a valuable source of content and discussion forums where you can engage in conversation with industry professionals without filling their inbox with emails.

Endorse their skills and share their own content such as blogs or news items related to their company to show you value their contributions.

This all relates to building a rapport and staying within their radar for future job opportunities.

Referrals are the number one choice for job hires but obtaining these referrals takes time, and requires networking and adding value to industry professionals. Don’t wait until after graduation to take this on. Make the investment in networking and building industry relationships early and tend to them often. Offering value to your industry connections will help build meaningful connections and increase your chances of getting a referral. Adding value can be as simple as asking for advice, sharing interesting content online or creating a beneficial connection with someone else in your network. PhDs are valuable industry commodities, so prove your worth by reaching out and adding value.

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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Sarah Rodrigues, PhD
Sarah Rodrigues, PhD

Sarah Rodrigues is a medical laboratory scientist with a PhD in Hematology, Oncology & Biotherapies. She has 5+ years of experience in business development and consulting. She works at the intersection of research, science, and innovation, helping institutions make evidenced-based decisions to advance science & technology

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