5-Step Guide To Successful Networking At In-Person Events
Written by: Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.
People kept telling me to network.
I was nearing the end of my PhD and didn’t have a job lined up yet.
And, all I kept hearing was that I should network.
I did not have time for that.
I was working super long days in the lab, and writing up my data late into the night — I hardly had time to eat.
And, when I did have a few minutes to spare for my job search, I spent it submitting my resume to job openings that I found online, hoping that someone would just see my resume and hire me.
Needless to say, this approach did not work.
When I finished my PhD, I was unemployed.
I was frustrated and disappointed.
Maybe it was time that I listened to the job search advice I was hearing from the experts.
It was time to try networking.
Not having enough time to network was no longer an excuse for me, but networking still seemed so hard.
But one day, when I was talking about my job search frustrations and not wanting to network, someone said to me, “You earned a PhD, and you think networking is too hard?”
That was the turning point.
They were right.
I am a PhD.
Certainly, I can learn to network.
And, as soon as I began networking, I wished I had started sooner.
I met amazing people, PhDs and non-PhDs, working in various industry roles who took the time to chat with me.
I felt energized about the possibilities for me in industry.
And, it wasn’t long until one of these new connections referred me for an industry position and I got hired.
Networking was the biggest factor in the success of my job search.
Why PhDs Must Attend In-Person Networking Events
The vast reach of LinkedIn makes it a major place for professional networking.
But, it should not be the only place you are meeting industry professionals.
You need to attend in-person networking events.
The amount of rapport and relationship-building that can occur in a 10-minute in-person interaction may take months to develop in an online setting.
This is because meeting in person allows someone to get to know you much better than merely messaging online.
To get hired as fast as possible, in-person networking should be a high priority in your job search.
As reported by Psychology Today, the words we choose when communicating make up only 7% of how we actually communicate.
But, when networking online through emails and messaging, word choice is the only part of your communication that is coming across.
The most important components of how we communicate — such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice — are left out of online networking.
That means the only way to fully communicate with someone is in person.
As PhDs, many of us are introverted, and we tend to avoid in-person networking events.
Instead, we tend to choose to network online, where we can just write — something PhDs are experts at.
But, merely networking online is not enough.
As reported by Forbes, 80% of job openings are never advertised.
You have to network and meet new people to learn about the majority of job openings.
And, if you meet someone in person, they are much more likely to tell you about an opportunity than if you just message them online.
Bottom line, there is no way to avoid going to in-person networking events, so you might as well embrace them.
5 Steps To Successfully Enter And Leave A Networking Circle
It will be hard at first, but you can embrace in-person networking by focusing on the benefits.
Focus on how expanding your network will increase your chances of getting a referral.
And, how getting a referral means you are 3-4 times more likely to be hired, as reported by CareerXroads.
All you have to do is get out there and network.
So, here is a 5-step guide that will make in-person networking a breeze…
1. Remember you are at an event where people expect you to network.
So many PhDs go to networking events and don’t talk to anyone new.
That defeats the entire purpose of the event.
If you are an introverted PhD, you are just going to have to put in the work and make this happen.
Networking at an event becomes much easier if you remind yourself that you are at a networking event where people expect you to talk to them.
This is not the train where everyone just wants to be left alone.
The other people there are excited to meet new people too.
And, other people are probably having the same worried thoughts about standing awkwardly alone as you are.
They will be excited to have a conversation with you.
Yes, networking is hard and for many it is an uncomfortable experience, but you have to do it.
It is an essential part of job searching and will continue to be a part of your industry career.
And, the more you do it, the easier it will become.
2. Approach a group of people, say excuse me, and then introduce yourself to everyone in the group.
People tend to congregate into groups of 2-6 people at networking events.
And, if you are not in one of these groups, it can seem impossible to join one.
How many times have you stood alone, awkwardly near the wall, instead of actually networking at a networking event?
Standing alone is not going to help you make connections and get referrals.
You have to approach these groups and make an effort to join in.
The strategy you can use to join one of these groups is actually pretty simple and easy to execute — you just have to do it.
First, find a group you want to join.
A group of 4 or fewer people is a good size to join.
Second, approach the group, look the person who is currently talking in the eyes and say, “Excuse me, I’d like to join in and introduce myself”.
Then, introduce yourself, shake hands with everyone in the circle and say, “Excuse me, thank you, please continue.”
You have successfully entered a networking circle.
You are going to have to interrupt when someone is talking — there will never be a pause.
But, if you follow the steps above, it will be fine.
3. Be genuine and engage in conversation.
Once in the conversation, put on your listening ears.
Good networking involves mostly listening.
Listening and asking good questions.
Great questions are ones that keep people talking.
Instead of asking what someone does for a living, ask them what they are passionate about or what they love spending time doing.
These questions give people a chance to talk about what they enjoy, rather than boxing them into only speaking about what they do for work.
Be ready with relevant follow-up questions to show that you are interested and listening.
And, when it’s your turn to talk, be succinct and interesting.
Be prepared with your elevator pitch that speaks to your passions, and where your industry career is headed.
But most of all, be genuine with the people you interact with because this is how you will be able to make real connections that can lead to referrals.
4. Make sure you get contact details and then “ghost”.
During the conversations that you have at the networking event, always make sure that you get the contact details for people you are interested in making a more in-depth connection with.
Don’t just hand out your business cards.
You cannot rely on other people to reconnect with you after the event.
That is your responsibility.
You must get their information so that you can follow up.
And, once you have had a good conversation and gotten some contact information, you need a way to leave the circle.
The best way to do this is to just excuse yourself without making a scene.
You don’t need to wait for the conversation to end, or for there to be a pause in the conversation.
You can just excuse yourself to get another drink, to go to the bathroom, or to find your friend, etc. and then leave.
There is no need for a goodbye production, just leave quickly and quietly “ghost”.
Even if you don’t say goodbye at all, no one is going to care or remember the next day.
5. Follow up as soon as possible.
How many people have you met at events, had great conversations with, and then never heard from again?
How many lost opportunities?
Lost, because you did not follow up.
The real power of networking happens after the event.
As a PhD, you know how to set up a system, you know how to follow through, you know how to be determined.
To follow up, you will need to call upon these strengths.
You should send a quick email to the people you met right after the event, but make sure you send an email or LinkedIn message no later than 24 hours after the event.
Your note should remind them about the conversation that you had, and express your gratitude for meeting them.
Then, you should set up a plan to follow up every few weeks with your new connections.
And, in every interaction that you have with them, make sure you add value.
Once you have created a relationship, you can make your ask.
Whether you ask for a referral or an introduction, your efforts at the networking event and in the follow-up are what make that ask possible.
It’s no secret that networking is an important part of getting hired in industry. Nevertheless, many PhDs still only do the bare minimum when it comes to networking. If you can get past your excuses and put real energy into networking, you will see benefits. The more successful your networking efforts, the more successful your job search will be. And, in-person networking must play a part in your networking strategy. You can make your in-person networking happen smoothly by just following this simple 5-step guide: remember you are at the event to network, don’t be afraid to approach a networking circle and introduce yourself, be genuine and engage in conversation, get contact details, and then follow up as soon as possible.
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