How To Sabotage Your Networking Efforts And Get Blacklisted (It Worked For Me)
Written by: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.
I was desperate.
I was still doing experiments in the lab, I was writing my thesis, I was teaching, and I was working on the side as a tutor because I needed more money.
Plus, I knew that in just a few months, I would submit my thesis and become an unemployed PhD.
Things were not going well.
To say my stress level was high is an understatement.
I barely had the energy to stay awake, let alone try to look for a job.
But, I did not want to be left with nothing after my PhD, and that’s how it was looking.
So, with the last bits of energy I could muster, I attended a few networking events at my university.
I took my CV and tried to dress nicely.
But, you could smell the desperation on me.
There were people who worked at companies attending the event, so I approached them.
I went into detail about my expertise, told them I needed a job, handed over my CV, and then said goodbye, hoping that I would get a job.
Then, I moved onto the next person and repeated the same actions.
Now, let’s stop right there.
I mean, I think that I am an intelligent person, but the fact that I thought that sequence of events would get me a job is ridiculous.
Clearly, I was not thinking straight.
Networking like that obviously did not get me anything except rejected.
Rejected and blacklisted.
No one wants to hire someone who acts like that.
But, I was so exhausted and desperate that I couldn’t see any other way to do it. I was lost and needed help.
It wasn’t until I realized that I had to save some energy for my job search, and specifically for networking, that my circumstances began to change.
I actually really enjoy meeting new people.
So, once I shook off the negativity that was surrounding me in academia, and dove into my job search and into networking, I started to see success.
I started to get interviews.
I started to make real connections with the people that I met, many of whom I still talk to now.
But, the only reason I was successful was because I decided to dedicate time and energy to networking.
Networking doesn’t just happen — you have to make it happen.
Why PhDs Must Capitalize On Every Networking Opportunity
The quality of your network will impact the success of your job search and your career.
First of all, as reported by HubSpot, 85% of jobs are filled through networking.
So, if you aren’t networking, you only have access to a small fraction of the total available jobs.
But, what does your networking look like?
Are you just sending cold messages on LinkedIn, or are you truly investing in people?
Think about networking as relationship-building.
Think about it as seeking out people who you want to know and who you want to see succeed.
If you value the people in your network like this, then they will reciprocate that value.
But, the only way to make these real connections, that can last a long time, is with in-person networking.
Because networking in person is the only way you can fully communicate with another person.
As reported in Psychology Today, pioneering work by Albert Mehrabian demonstrated that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
Once you are present in person with someone, you have the opportunity to really connect with them — that is, to build a lasting professional relationship.
But, this is not always what happens.
In-person networking, although powerful, can be difficult for many people.
So, you need to learn the right and the wrong way to network at in-person events.
5 Ways PhDs Sabotage Their Networking Efforts And What To Do Instead
Academia does not teach you how to network.
It doesn’t teach you how to talk to people, or how to add value to a connection.
And so, many PhDs sabotage their networking efforts without realizing it.
You need to learn how to avoid some common, but deadly, networking mistakes PhDs often make.
Otherwise, instead of helping your job search, you could be ruining it.
It might be hard to admit that you have made some of these mistakes, but the only way to improve is to recognize where you have messed up and learn from those mistakes.
Here are 5 ways that you might be sabotaging your networking efforts and what you should do instead…
1. Rudely starting the conversation by asking for a job.
It is very off-putting when someone you just met asks you for a favor.
It’s like when a stranger asks you for $5 and your immediate reaction is “no” — even if you have $5 to give away.
The same is true for jobs.
If you meet someone new and the very first thing you talk about is needing a job, they will think you are just trying to get something out of them.
They will feel like you are trying to use them.
And, this will mean they are more likely to say no, even if their company has job openings.
You will have missed out.
Instead, lead with questions about the other person.
Find out more about them, their passions, and also about their company.
Ask about their hobbies, where they live, and try to start getting to know them and become more than just a stranger.
But, most importantly, ask for their contact information.
Then use this for your follow-up.
In the follow-up, you should add more value.
After a few more messages that add value, it will be appropriate for you to bring up the fact that you are looking for a job.
And, here is when you can make your simple ask.
Ask if they will pass your resume to their hiring manager, or ask if it’s okay if you put their name on your cover letter as a reference.
Once you establish a relationship with someone, you are much more likely to get the referral you want.
2. Dominating the conversation and talking only about yourself.
Networking is a 2-way street.
Have you ever been talking with someone and they keep looking away, or their body is physically turned away from you?
This means they are done listening to you talk.
They don’t want to spend any more time listening to you and they are not enjoying the conversation.
But, why did this happen?
Why does this person desperately want to get away from you?
It is most likely because you talked only about yourself and did not give the other person a chance to speak.
Everyone wants to be heard.
So, instead of dominating the conversation, invite your new connection to talk about themselves.
Give them a place to talk about something they are passionate about.
You only need to talk for a few seconds when you deliver your elevator pitch.
But, when you give people a chance to talk and express themselves, they are more likely to enjoy talking with you and they are more likely to remember you.
Learning as much as you can about them also makes your follow-up and adding value easier.
So, next time you are at an event, be succinct and let the other person do the talking.
3. Pushing your resume onto your new connection.
Unless you are at a career fair (which is a unique event), you should not be handing out your resume.
Yes, you spent lots of time perfecting that resume and you are proud of the things on it, but a networking event is not the place to hand them out.
It’s weird and it’s too forward.
It also makes you look desperate.
Those are all things you don’t want people to think about you when you are trying to build a relationship.
People go to networking events to make new connections that will add value to their lives.
Be that connection.
Instead of handing out your resume, find a way to be the most valuable person in the room.
This means listening.
Listen to what people are saying and think of ways you can help them.
Do you know someone that you can introduce them to?
Do you know a great book that might help them with their current situation?
Find a way to add value.
Because, that is the way to build a relationship that can lead to a referral.
4. Acting like you are better than whoever you are talking to.
It might be hard to admit that you do this.
But, take a hard look at your networking habits and see if you are treating everyone you meet the same way.
Academia tends to create an elitist mentality that many PhDs carry over into the other aspects of their lives.
Dismissing the opportunity to chat with an entry-level employee because you don’t think it’s worth your time is a mistake.
If you are interested in a particular field or company, hearing from people at all different levels is important.
There is no “perfect” person to connect with who will solve all of your job search problems.
Plus, someone who is not the CEO is probably less busy and meeting fewer people, meaning that they are more likely to remember you.
No human being is better or worse than you.
Instead of holding onto an elitist mentality, go into every interaction genuinely and without judgement.
You never know who you will meet.
Networking is not about going around and showing how great you are — it’s about building relationships.
It’s about making real, genuine connections with new people and then adding value to each other’s lives.
5. Hogging someone’s time when, clearly, they are done talking with you.
This does take a bit of social awareness.
But, you are a PhD, so you can figure this out.
Every conversation you have with people will be different.
You will have more or less in common, the person will be more or less talkative, the time frame of the meeting will be more or less limited, etc.
Based on the circumstances, you need to judge when a conversation should end and be sure to not overstay your welcome.
You should never spend the entire event talking to just one person.
Instead, leave the conversation at a place where you can follow up to learn more or ask another question.
The conversation should leave both you and the other person wanting to talk again, and to make this happen, you need to know when to leave the conversation.
To end a conversation, you can simply say, “Thank you for chatting with me”, ask for their contact details, and then leave it.
Or, if you are in a group of more than 2 people, simply say, “Excuse me” and then leave the other people to continue talking.
In-person networking is a powerful tool that can boost your job search. There is no other job search strategy as powerful as in-person networking. But, this power means that when done wrong, in-person networking has the potential to ruin your job search. You must learn what common mistakes to avoid, such as starting the conversation by asking for a job, dominating the conversation and talking only about yourself, pushing your resume onto your new connection, acting like you are better than whoever you are talking to, or hogging someone’s time when, clearly, they are done talking with you. As a PhD, you have many advantages over other job candidates, and if you learn to network properly, it’s just a matter of time before you successfully make the transition from academia to industry.
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