Oops—I Forgot To Network In Graduate School. Now what?

I clicked send and my resume disappeared into cyberspace. I went home that night feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. I had diligently researched companies that I wanted to work for, found one that I thought would be a good fit, and then wrote up a targeted resume just for them. Then, I sent it to the company’s hiring manager through their website. At least I assumed that it was being sent to their hiring manager. I didn’t know anyone in the company but figured I was a shoe-in since I was about to get my PhD. Plus, I’d published a couple of papers. My CV was all set. What else did I need to do?

I never heard back from that job or about 100 others. This was as frustrating as it was embarrassing. But, a lot of other graduate students had the same experience, which made me feel a little better. After all, if everyone was having trouble getting a job then being unemployed after graduation wasn’t my fault—it was the system’s fault. Right?

There Is A Right And Wrong Way To Network

Still, I needed a job. I figured out pretty early that doing a postdoc wasn’t right for me and I decided to transition into industry. The only problem was I had no idea how to get a job. I knew how to send out a resume but that was about it. When that didn’t work, I started going to industry seminars and talking to the speakers afterwards. Then I started going to bloated networking events where everyone stood around with a drink in their hands, exchanged business cards, and then went home. I even appealed to my thesis committee members for any advice or business connections they might have. But all of these things ended up being a waste of time.

I remember sitting in my lab during the final month I was in graduate school wishing I would have learned how to network much earlier. If I would have started earlier, I would have figured out what worked and didn’t work pretty quickly. Now, though, I was stuck.

Never Too Late

5 Networking Tips To Get Your Back On Track Fast

Eventually, I learned how to network and got a job. Networking is still something I spend a lot of my time doing—even though I’m not naturally inclined to do it—because it’s so critical to being successful in industry today. Studies show that successful industry professionals spend 70% more time networking than their less successful counterparts. Other studies have shown that networking in the right circles of people is positively associated with salary growth, number of promotions, perceived career success, and job satisfaction. Most importantly, almost half of all job hires at top tier companies are from networking referrals.

If you haven’t started networking yet, it’s not too late. There are some things you can do to get you back on track fast. Here are 5 things that will help you get ahead and transition into industry:

1. Join exclusive and action-oriented networking groups.

Most people’s idea of networking is nothing more than talking. These people shake hands in person or comment on posts online and that’s where things end. The reason this kind of networking doesn’t work is because it’s too generic and superficial. The majority of PhD networking events are stuffed full of people who are not serious about collaborating or adding value. They’re full of people who are either there to take only or to just hang out and chat.

If you’re serious about getting ahead, you have to find a way to get around other serious people. You can’t just hang out and gab around a table of free pretzels. The problem is that finding worthy networking groups takes effort. But that’s the whole point. You have to dig—you have to invest time and resources—because you want to be around other committed people who are also willing to put in effort. Don’t just join the same easy-to-find, talking-oriented networking groups that everyone else is joining. Take some time to find exclusive and action-oriented groups that keep out people who just want to hangout and chat.

2. Network with MBAs, JDs, entrepreneurs and more, not just other PhDs.

If you’re a PhD and you’re only networking with other PhDs, you’re in trouble. For starters, these people are your competition. They are all after the same PhD jobs and PhD careers as you. Here’s the problem: 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 to themselves. Plus, you’ll never be memorable at these events because everyone else at the event has a PhD too. It’s hard to be a gold star in a room full of gold stars. A better strategy is to go to a wide variety of networking events, where you’ll stand out for having a PhD and where you’ll be able to see more opportunities.

First, start networking with other high-level academics. Reach out to MBAs, JDs, MDs, DDSs, and PharmDs both online and offline. If you’re goal is to transition into business, it will pay to know MBAs and JDs for their related experience; it will also pay to know people MDs, DDSs, and PharmDs who manage or work in private practices, or work for large corporations. Once you build a strong and diverse network of high-level academics, branch out further and start networking with entrepreneurs. These people will keep you on the leading edge of every industry—they are constantly changing business trends and you should stay close to them.

3. Build up an online presence (don’t just join LinkedIn Groups.)

I love LinkedIn and am a member of several high-quality LinkedIn Groups. I think that many of these groups are very valuable in terms of initiating discussions and getting questions answered. They’re also a great place to make an initial connection with someone you might want to work with or work for in the future. But, surfing LinkedIn and participating in 10 different threads a day is not a good strategy for getting the job of your dreams. This is a bad idea for three reasons. First, your exposure on LinkedIn and other social media sites is very limited. Second, your exposure on these social media sites is controlled by the sites’ administrators. Third, these sites are completely saturated.

In today’s world, it’s almost impossible to differentiate yourself on a social media website. Now, you have to build up your own online presence. You have to have a credible profile of yourself posted somewhere unique, not just on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. This means you need to either start a professional website of your own, start a website with a team of people, or join an existing site. The key is to have a personal profile on a credible site so people can come to your page and learn more about you specifically.

4. Don’t listen to networking advice from lifelong academics.

The biggest mistake that a lot of PhDs make when they start networking is looking to other lifelong academics for advice. You’ll never learn how to transition into industry successfully from someone who has never worked in industry. There are hundreds, if not thousands of PhDs getting on LinkedIn and other professional sites every day asking questions about how to get a job. The problem is they’re asking these questions in groups full of academics, journal editors, and other people who have never held an industry job. If you want a job in industry, don’t listen to an academic or a journal editor on how to get it. Don’t listen to anyone unless they’ve worked in industry. If you want to get into sales and marketing, applications, R&D, management, or anything else, network with people who are working in those areas.

5. Differentiate yourself as much as possible from your peers.

In college, I majored in Biology because I thought that medical and graduate school admission programs would be more likely to accept someone who had a science major. Later, I found out that most of these schools are more likely to notice an applicant who majored is something unique like French Literature or Interpretive Dance. Differentiating yourself is the most important part of networking. No matter what job you want, getting noticed is always the first step.

You have to consider the fact that hundreds of other PhDs are applying to the same jobs as you. Most of them have publications and very strong resumes and CVs too. So, how do you stand out? There are two ways to do this. First, you can join unique networking groups and network with a diverse group of people. Second, you can make yourself unique by working on your interpersonal skills, which surveys and studies continue to show are the most important skills in business. And the only way to sharpen these skills is to network with the right people in the right way.

To learn more about transitioning into a non-academic career, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, join the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

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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.

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