7 Deadly Mistakes PhDs Make When Networking For A Job

7 common mistakes when networking for a job

Written By: Sean Mac Fhearraigh, Ph.D.

Networking has a bad reputation amongst most academics.

It is synonymous with being pushy, overbearing, and being an overall pest.

PhDs are independent thinkers who like to believe that technical skills and good publications alone will lead them to success.

Yet, when it comes to getting an industry job, networking is crucial.

The good news is, you’ve probably done a lot of networking in academia without realizing it.

For example, have you ever sourced reagents from other labs or got advice on a tough protocol?

That’s networking.

Networking is easier than it sounds — if you do it right.

And that’s a big “if.”

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been making a lot of networking mistakes in academia over the years too.

I remember one incident following my PhD when I targeted a lab that I knew I wanted to do research in.

I didn’t have the publications to get me through the door, so I knew I had to meet the professor and make a great impression to make sure I landed the position.

So I emailed him my resume (just like the 300+ other weekly applicants did).

I also stuffed my email with a monologue all about me.

Of course, I didn’t get a response.

That’s when I decided to make a few calls instead.

First, I picked up the phone and called the professor and introduced myself.

While I was on the phone I emailed him my resume, to make sure he knew it was me, then followed up with a date I would be over to visit.

I also contacted other people who worked in the lab.

Importantly, I asked them about their work and added any value I could.

I did NOT talk about myself at this point.

This strategy got me the position and has helped me get into other academic and industry positions every since.

What was the difference?

I stopped making critical networking mistakes, or deadly networking sins.

Once I did this, everything turned around.

Unemployed job candidates can find work

Why PhDs Must Stop Making Critical Job Networking Mistakes

Do you hope to get hired into an industry position?

Do you hope to have a c-suite job one day?

Do you hope to take on management responsibilities in the future?

Then you’d better start networking.

A recent survey published on LinkedIn showed that while 47% of unemployed candidates get a job through networking, this increases to 62% in employed people who are passively looking for jobs.

In fact, in passive candidates, the ratio of networking to directly applying for a job is 7:1.

Overall, 85% of jobs are filled through networking efforts, according to this survey.

Research cited in Forbes out of Harvard University showed further that 85% of jobs are not only achieved through networking, but also retained with opportunity for advancement through ongoing networking.

The best job candidates are those with a personal connection to the company.

This personal connection helps assure the hiring manager that the candidate will do the job and do it well.

Network with industry professionals when looking for a job

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Networking For A Non-Academic Job

The hidden job market is the only job market.

The only way to access this job market is to start networking.

Stop pretending that you can get hired in industry by keeping your head down and working hard.

Working hard is admirable, yes, but it’s not enough to get you hired.

Opportunities will only present themselves once you start networking with industry professionals.

Not only do you need to start networking, you need to stop networking poorly and start networking properly.

There’s a big difference between networking poorly and networking properly.

The key is avoiding the critical mistakes that many PhDs make when they start networking.

Droning on and on about yourself.

Entering a networking event poorly.

Forgetting to add value.

These crucial mistakes will keep you unemployed.

If you want to get into your first or next industry position, you must avoid these mistakes.

In particular, you must avoid the following 7 deadly sins of networking….

1. Entering a networking event foolishly.

Being comfortable with networking takes time.

Maybe everyone in the room is a complete stranger.

Maybe the room is filled with industry professionals and you feel intimidated and small.

We have all been there.

If you can get past the opening introductions, you may notice yourself relaxing and becoming more at ease with the conversation.

If you’ve done some prep work, you’ll feel more equipped to navigate the room and get things started.

Always have an opening line or an elevator pitch on hand that is tailored to the audience you will be meeting.

Keep it concise and creative.

By throwing in a unique trait about yourself, you will open the door to questions and get the conversation rolling.

Look for connecting points.

The key is to know your audience.

If you are introducing yourself to a potential employer, highlight how your skills would benefit them and what your future goals are after you’ve connected on one mutual interest.

Besides your opening line, your body language plays a large role in determining how you will be perceived and the tone of the subsequent conversation.

A limp handshake and slouched shoulders make you appear unconfident and insecure.

Fidgeting with your hands and not making eye contact make you appear disengaged and unsettled.

Practice standing confidently in front of a mirror before heading to an event.

Listen to uplifting music, take a few long, deep breaths or whatever else will get you in a relaxed and confident mood before the event.

Act “as if” you have all the confidence in the world, and you will have a better chance of coming across as self-assured and relaxed.

People talking about job opportunities

2. Talking nonstop about yourself and your work.

The key to being interesting to others is being interested in others.

Don’t just be interested, be fascinated.

Show the same enthusiasm for others that you show for your lab work or for your career.

This means asking questions and being an active listener.

If you struggle thinking of questions ad hoc, do some research before the networking event on the people you are expecting to see.

Then ask tailored questions regarding their current job title, their company, or their hobbies.

If you cannot find out the attendee list beforehand, think of some general questions that will spark conversation.

You can speak about the event itself — what are their opinions on the venue, the guest speaker, the art exhibit?

You can speak on industry trends and advancements.

You can ask about current news (tread carefully on bringing up potentially confrontational views like politics), local events, or even the weather.

One of the best questions you can ask is, “what are you excited about right now?”

Remember, the goal is to get them talking passionately about themselves and their lives.

The more you get them to talk about themselves in a positive emotional state, the more (and better) they will remember you.

All these topics provide an opportunity to build rapport without suggesting you want something in return.

In general, people love to talk about themselves — come up with a few standard open-ended questions that will get people to open up about themselves, their interests, and their future plans.

Pay attention, make eye contact, be engaged and respond with genuine interest so you appear engaged and authentic.

3. Refusing to set job networking goals.

Showing up to a networking event randomly during the week is a waste of time.

Networking is not a random venture.

Networking is a strategic venture.

If you want to walk away from a networking event with the start of some new professional relationships, then you need to plan ahead.

First, map out a list of events to attend in the next three months.

Next, call the organizers and hosts of those events and tell them why you’re coming and ask them for help in preparing for the event.

Ask them how you can get the most out of the event.

Ask them to introduce you to a few people when you arrive.

Remember, hosts are extroverts who want the networking event to be successful, which means they want you (and everyone) else to network.

Finally, set a measurable goal for each event.

A good starting goal is to connect with three people (yes, just three) by getting their contact information and following up with them within 24 hours after the event.

Don’t just show up, walk out with 50 business cards, and then not be able to remember anything about the people on those cards.

Set a simple goal and attain it.

This will give you momentum for your next event.

4. Monopolizing other people’s time.

The best way to ruin a good conversation is to let it run on inexcusably long.

At most networking events, people want the chance to mingle.

By hogging their time, you are forcing them to create an awkward excuse to leave.

Any signs, such as long stares at their watch, restless movements, or peering over your shoulder towards the exit sign, mean you have overstayed you welcome.

A better way to leave the conversation is to thank the other person for their time after 5 minutes, ask for their contact information, and then gracefully excuse yourself.

This kind of professional exit shows you are respectful of other people’s time.

It also shows that you are self-aware and unselfish.

It also creates an opportunity to continue the conversation at a later date.

Business cards can be a great tool to quickly exchange information and create a lasting impression.

Make notes from your conversation on their cards so you have relevant content to follow up with and personalize.

Leave your own professional card with your current and professional contact information as well.

If you want a real WOW factor, create a professional business card using online resources such as moo.com and leave the generic university emblem aside.

Finally, make sure your business card has your LinkedIn address on it, which will provide the other person with an alternative means of connecting with you and learning more about you.

5. Only networking with other PhDs.

If you’re a PhD and you’re only networking with other PhDs, you’re in trouble.

These people are your competition.

Most of these people want the same PhD jobs and PhD careers as you.

If a great opportunity comes along, someone you just met at a networking event is not going to give it to you.

They’re going to give it to their friend or colleague.

Or they’re going to give it to themselves.

Most importantly, you’ll never be memorable at PhD-only events because everyone else there has a PhD too.

It’s hard to stand out in a room full of clones.

A better strategy is to start going to “Blue Ocean Networking” events without other PhDs.

At Blue Ocean Networking events, you’re the only PhD. You’re the only doctor.

This fact is very impressive to people outside of science.

Remember, less than 2% of the population has a doctorate.

It’s time you start leveraging this 2%.

You’ll never be remembered for your STEM PhD in a room full of scientists but you’ll always be remembered for it in a room full of entrepreneurs, investors, painters, authors, architects, or a thousand other professions where having a doctorate is exceptionally rare.

6. Following up without adding value.

Studies show that only 2% of business deals come after a first meeting.

Networking is a deal.

Your job search is a deal.

You’re not going to close these deals after one networking event.

For any networking to be successful, it must be maintained over time.

When you get home from a networking event, jot down notes about the people you spoke with.

This will be critical for personalising a follow-up email.

That night, or the following morning, send a thank-you note.

Mention something specific from your conversation and then build on it.

If you spoke about a current event, send them a link to an interesting editorial.

If you spoke about local restaurants, send them the address of your favorite lunch spot.

This is how simple adding value can be.

Suggest a future meeting to continue the discussion.

Keep track of all of your contacts and follow up with them once or twice a month.

And again, when you follow up, add value.

Do not beg for a job or ask for anything at all.

Just add value over and over again until it’s finally time to request a referral.

Failing to follow up by adding value will make the time you spent a complete waste.

Failing to follow up by adding value will make you completely forgettable to industry contacts.

7. Forgetting to network laterally.

The worst networking sin you can make is to forget to network laterally.

Let’s say you’ve connected with 10 people.

You probably feel pretty good about yourself.

You’ll probably think, “I did my job” and stop networking.

Here’s the problem — your new network of 10 people each know 10 people.

You just missed out on easily connecting with 100 other people.

If you want to be a successful networker, never forget to network with your network’s network (got that?).

You also have to network with people who are in different positions to the one you want, and in different stages of their career.

For example, the goal of each networking event should NOT be restricted to meeting with the director of a certain biotech or biopharma company.

Networking with people at the same stage of their career as you or in positions that are of immediate interest to you are equally as beneficial.

This will create a broader network that will be valuable in years to come.

These peers may end up climbing the career ladder themselves and become beneficial to your own career advancement.

You can set up informational interviews with them and find out more about their role and their own transition out of academia.

They may provide collaborative opportunities for you to improve team-building skills, gain you access to other second and third connections, and keep you abreast of upcoming employment opportunities.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb — one third of your network should be starting out in their careers, one third should be on your level, and the final one third should have years of experience in order to provide you with direction and mentorship.

Networking at all stages of your career can open up opportunities for advancement that you would otherwise miss.

Make this kind of lateral networking a priority and stay consistent in your efforts to do it.

Overall, keep your mind and your options open.

Each member of your network will have a vital role to play at each stage of your career.

Having a great network can be one of the most valuable resources that you have.

Like all good networkers, you need to stick your head out and try and meet people that make decisions, run companies, and can support your career and goals.

PhDs know the value of networking to gain access to industry jobs. Yet, many network ineffectively or refuse to network altogether. Those who do network get caught in common networking traps that result in loss of rapport, opportunity, and even reputation. By avoiding the 7 deadly sins of networking outlined in this article, PhDs can increase their odds of making a good impression to industry professionals and unlocking the hidden market of industry jobs.

Seán was a PhD student at University College Dublin a postdoc at Cambridge University where he studied mechanisms of cell division. Recently Seán got the entrepreneurial bug and has set up an ELISA kit and cell reagents company where you can find some great information on ELISA assay protocols and cell death assays. You can find Seán on twitter @Macfhearraigh

To learn more about the 7 deadly mistakes when networking for a job, 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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Seán Mac Fhearraigh, Ph.D.

Seán Mac Fhearraigh, Ph.D.

Seán has his PhD from the University College Dublin and did his did his post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge. Currently, Seán is a technical specialist at the Medical Supply Company in Dublin, Ireland. He is responsible for account management and digital support for a range of molecular, cell biology and equipment products.
Seán Mac Fhearraigh, Ph.D.

Latest posts by Seán Mac Fhearraigh, Ph.D. (see all)

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    Right on, Sean. I couldn’t agree more. I remember being back there in academia, struggling to find a new position, finish my PhD, and juggle a move all at the same time. It was pretty grueling. But now, my colleagues and I are always open to new positions and network regularly. Yes, you might say it’s a relatively passive way of looking, but it gets the job done without the stress. It’s the best way to find a position that’s a good fit all around.

  • Julian Holst

    I’ve never heard of networking with your network’s network, but yeah, I’ll give it a try. And here I thought I was doing so well!

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    Oh, yeah. I think I can do a better job of following up to add value. That’s a great idea about just giving the address of a favorite cafe or something simple like that. There are a lot of times we’re talking about a favorite bar or movie, and just sending the title so they didn’t have to remember it would be a nice gesture.

  • Kathy Azalea

    Hey, I never thought about this idea of a personal relationship with the company. In fact, I’m always a little careful not to get too personal – I don’t want to look like I’m sucking up. I’m going to take this to heart.

  • Sonja Luther

    I really like your rule of thumb – or rule of 3’s, as I would call it. Divide your attention to those just starting, those on your level, and those you can emulate.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I really like the idea of the Blue Ocean events! That is a great lead for someone in my position. Thanks!

  • Shawn Lyons

    You’re right about being careful not to monopolize other people’s time. It’s pretty easy to get attached to one person at an event and not want to let go and go back into limbo-land wondering who you’re going to talk to next.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    It’s pretty amazing that over 80% of positions are a result of networking. I had no idea it was that high. I guess it pays to dust off your networking attire and get out to some events!

  • Harvey Delano

    It’s amazing how important it is to show up properly for an event. You described it perfectly, and I have to add that even if you are lucky enough to read this article before your first event, you’re still going to have the jitters and feel intimidated. At least that’s what I experienced. But an even worse sin is not to show up at all! Because you can only get comfortable with the process once you’ve taken the time to show up.

  • Theo

    Hey, I like the idea of having an elevator pitch ready — or introductory sentence, or whatever you want to call it.