7 Deadly Mistakes PhDs Make When Networking For A Job

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.

Business people discussion advisor concept

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.

Mature businessman talking to large group of people on a business presentation in a board room. Some of them are raising their hands.

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.

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.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

The 7 Point Plan That Took Me From Networking Novice To The Center Of Connectivity

The 7 Point Plan That Took Me From Networking Novice To The Center Of Connectivity

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

Networking was one of those things I was always doing “tomorrow.”  It was so much easier to sit down and work on my resume, or change some word choices on my LinkedIn. They were easy and they made me feel like I accomplished something. But really it was like treading water.  I tread this water for months, thinking I was moving somewhere but I was only moving with a gentle current. My actions weren’t actually propelling me in any direction. I wasn’t getting any hits on my LinkedIn, I wasn’t getting any call backs on my resume.  Was I not…

Intelligent, Powerful Salary Negotiations For PhDs In 5 Simple Steps

Intelligent, Powerful Salary Negotiations For PhDs In 5 Simple Steps

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

Contributing Author: Marios Tsatsos, PhD After my interview, I got a call from the HR department. This was the big phone call – the one about money. I had interviewed well, and the person from HR was calling to let me know he was about to meet with the hiring manager. Hopefully, he said, there would be an offer for me after they met. It was time for the negotiation.  Then he asked about salary…  I didn’t want to give the first number, so I deflected his question with a joke. It worked, and the representative mentioned the first salary…

Recessions Are Tough - 3 Ways PhDs Can Be Tougher

Recessions Are Tough - 3 Ways PhDs Can Be Tougher

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Let’s talk about frustration.  I’m talking about the frustration of a rejection in your job search.  Many PhDs are experiencing this kind of frustration in their post-pandemic job search. It’s important for you to understand that Cheeky Scientist has been through this before.  Cheeky Scientist actually came out of the financial crash of 2008 when we were in a recession.  I can tell you firsthand that the mood of the public changes during a recession.  There are fewer jobs.  There’s a greater sense of urgency.  This causes people to get more rejections. And rejection leads to frustration.  So, how can…

5 Smart Moves PhDs Can Make At A Networking Event

5 Smart Moves PhDs Can Make At A Networking Event

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

LinkedIn is an excellent resource for networking, and it makes the whole process easier than ever before. But LinkedIn should not be the only place you are meeting industry professionals. You need to attend in-person networking events too. Meeting in person allows someone to get to know you at a far more significant level than the internet alone will allow. The amount of rapport and relationship-building that can occur during a 10-minute, in-person interaction could take months if attempted over the internet. There is no substitute for face-to-face networking – it’s what we as a species have evolved to do.…

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

Are you submitting your resume to online job postings? You might be surprised to learn that your resume is never even seen by a human being. 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software, according to Jobscan. Large-size firms (those that employ more than 500 individuals) receive many thousands of resumes every week. The only way their hiring departments can be functional is by using tracking software to weed out unqualified candidates. This puts applicants in kind of a tough spot - optimize your resume to get through the tracking software or get used to rejection. Even highly qualified…

3 Secrets To Networking That Don’t Involve Meeting People

3 Secrets To Networking That Don’t Involve Meeting People

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

If you underestimate the power of networking, you’re going to make things really hard for yourself. Are you exclusively relying on applications and resumes? If you are, that’s called putting all your eggs in one basket. Don’t do that. Lou Adler, CEO of Performance-Based Hiring Learning Systems, reports that 85% of jobs are filled by networking. This isn’t surprising when you consider that networking is the only way to get referrals. According to Undercover Recruiter, only 7% of job applicants get referrals — but those who do get referrals account for 40% of those who get hired. By the time…

5 Common Phrases PhDs Say That Will Ruin Informational Interviews

5 Common Phrases PhDs Say That Will Ruin Informational Interviews

By: Jeanette McConnell, PhD

You know that you need to network. You’ve heard of informational interviews and want to try them out. But what if you say the wrong thing? What if you put in all this time meeting someone, talking to them, following up with them and the connection leads to nothing? Here are 5 things that you should not say while networking at an informational interview.

Get Hired Without Submitting a Resume - 5 Networking Strategies For PhDs

Get Hired Without Submitting a Resume - 5 Networking Strategies For PhDs

By: Surayya Taranum

Networking is the only foolproof method for PhDs wanting to transition into an industry career. Learn the 5 effective networking strategies that give you an edge in the job market.

How I Got Hired Right After I Had A Baby - Tips For PhDs Job Search Strategy As A New Parent

How I Got Hired Right After I Had A Baby - Tips For PhDs Job Search Strategy As A New Parent

By: Mansi Khanna, PhD

The ideal time to start focusing on your job search is now. No matter if you have just started your PhD or if you are unemployed and want a job ASAP, the best thing you can do it start now. Balance Careers reported that roughly it takes one month to find a job for every $10,000 of the paycheck you would like to earn. So, as a PhD if you want to earn $90,000 per year, your job search could take about 9 months. BUT this is an estimate. Depending on the effort your put in and any networking efforts…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.