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Foolproof Networking Guide For PhDs Who Have No Idea Where To Start (… or How To Start)

Written By: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.

I knew that networking was important.

Everyone told me that I need to get out there and meet new people in the industry I wanted to work in if I wanted to get hired.

I believed them.

So I joined LinkedIn and started going to in-person networking events.

I added hundreds of new people as connections on LinkedIn.

I met lots of new people at events.

It was quite fun!

I am one of those people who enjoys meeting new people and chatting about anything, so I thought I would have this networking and getting job referrals thing in the bag.

But a few months went by and I still didn’t have any job offers.

I hadn’t even had an interview.

What was I doing wrong?

I had met so many people, why didn’t they reach out to give me job offers?

My confidence fell and I wondered if all these people just didn’t like me, or maybe they thought I was not qualified for an industry job.

I was lost.

Thankfully, I had a mentor that I reached out to and asked them what they thought the problem was. What was wrong with me?

They told me something that I found quite shocking, networking does not just mean meeting new people, it means building relationships.

And it was my responsibility to be the person driving the growth of the professional relationship.

Just meeting someone wasn’t enough.

I needed to follow up multiple times.

I needed to build rapport with my new connections by learning more about them and offering to help them however I could.

This was one of the huge mistakes I made when networking – I expected other people to do the follow up.

That was not going to get me a job.

Once I started taking responsibility for the entire networking process, from our first meeting through multiple rounds of follow-up, I started to really see the benefits of networking.

I started to learn about job openings.

I got interviews.

It was incredible.

What You Are Missing Out On By Not Networking

You cannot ignore the social component of hiring.

If a hiring manager or recruiter already knows someone who is a great fit for a new job opening, why would they waste time looking for someone else?

They won’t.

They will hire the person they know, and you would never have even known that a position was open.

Many jobs (up to 85% according to some reports) are never advertised because they are filled by networking.

So you are only aware of 15% of the available job openings if you don’t network.

LinkedIn also reported that 70% of people were hired at a company where they had a connection.

This is a clear connection.

Job referrals are a major way that people are hired.

But as an academic PhD you most likely do not have a large network of industry professionals to call upon.

You might not even know anyone who works in industry.

But if you want to get hired you need to take the steps to change your situation, you need to start networking.

And you need to be networking the right way.

5 Serious Networking Errors PhDs Make That Prevent Them From Getting Job Referrals

You have heard the phrase before, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

As a PhD you know a lot of information, you are a highly educated expert.

But this is not enough to get you a job.

To get hired you need to combine your PhD level qualifications with a strong professional network.

And there is a right and a wrong way to network.

Here are 5 serious errors that PhDs often make when networking and what you should do instead…

1. Networking without a clear goal or organizational strategy.

As a PhD you have an elevated ability to organize and analyze data.

This is a huge advantage when networking because the key to successful networking is in the follow-up.

So before you start to do any networking – get organized.

Create a spreadsheet or document where you will store all the new networking contacts that you make.

Keep track of their names, email addresses, phone numbers, the dates you reached out to them, and notes about your interactions.

When first starting you might want to do some research and put a few names of people you want to connect with on this sheet as well.

But every time you meet someone new on LinkedIn or at an in-person event, add them to your database.

Then create a schedule for your follow-up with new connections.

Whether it’s every 2 weeks or every month, set a goal for yourself and use your spreadsheet or document to keep track.

Always follow up by adding value, not by asking for something.

Think long term.

As you network more and more, this database you have will grow and by sticking with your follow-up plan you will start to build solid connections that will lead to opportunities.

2. Only going to events at the university.

As a PhD student or postdoc you have a lot going on.

Experiments, presentations, writing grants or working on your next publication can take up all of your time.

So you might be tempted to just go to the networking events that are offered on your university campus.

These events might even have free food!

Sure, free food is good, but these events are not going to bring you closer to your goal of getting hired in industry.

Networking events at universities are filled with other academic PhDs who you probably see all the time, and who do not have connections in industry.

It is not a good use of your time to go to these events.

Instead, look outside of your university.

Leave the campus.

Look up local networking events for industry professionals or look up events that are in a completely different field than yours.

These are called ‘blue ocean’ networking events.

At these events your PhD will be rare, you will meet people who are not academics, and you will have the opportunity to expand your network.

It’s valuable to develop a diverse network of people because this will allow you to learn about potential job opportunities from as many sources as possible.

If you are only networking with other PhDs, your sphere is limited and you are missing out.

3. Asking for something the first time you meet someone.

When you are networking your ultimate goal is to get a job referral and get hired.

But this is not how you should start a conversation with someone new.

Never walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I’m a PhD. I’m looking for a job. Do you have any openings?”

This is terrible etiquette and you are sure to make the other person feel uncomfortable and ruin any chance for a long-term professional relationship.

You might think small talk is silly and you don’t want to waste anytime in finding your industry position, so you want to get straight to the point.

But this other person does not know you at all.

Why would they want to help you?

The only way to get into a position where a connection wants to help you is by investing into the relationship.

This means listening to what they have to say, asking them insightful questions, and then adding value however you can.

It also means following up and adding more value over time.

You should add value over several interactions before you make any type of ‘ask’ from a new connection.

Much of the time, if you consistently add value and grow your relationship with the new connection they will reach out and offer to help you.

You won’t even have to ask for help.

It’s just a matter of continuing to follow up and show yourself to be someone that they want to invest in.

4. Taking networking rejections personally.

People are going to ignore your messages.

This is just a fact.

People are busy and they don’t know who you are, so sometimes they will ignore you.

Plus, if you are reaching out to industry professionals they have demanding full time jobs that take most of their time and energy.

If you email or message them once they will probably not respond.

Don’t worry and don’t take this as a personal rejection.

It really has nothing to do with you.

Instead, be persistent and keep following up with friendly messages.

Keep your messages focused on the other person.

Did they recently publish a new article?

Did they get a promotion?

Did their company have a recent success?

Talk about these types of things in the messages you send and don’t worry if they still don’t respond.

It might take 3 messages or it might take 30 messages to get someone to respond to you.

This is why it is essential that you are networking with many people and why you should try to create a diverse network.

The more people that you are reaching out to, the more likely you are to get a response, and getting even one response can give you the boost you need to keep following up.

5. Only attending large networking events.

One of the easiest ways to make new connections is to set up informational interviews with industry professionals in the fields and positions you are interested in.

An informational interview is a networking opportunity where you can ask someone about their career, their field or their company.

It can be done via email, phone, video call or in person – any way of communicating will work.

All the rules of networking apply in these situations, you should keep the conversation focused on them and do not ask for a job.

Sometimes these informational interviews will turn out to be a great success and you might spark a real connection with the other person.

Sometimes informational interviews can even turn into job interviews.

No matter how the informational interview goes, there is one thing you should always do at the end of the conversation:

Ask, “Is there anyone else you think it would be good for me to talk with?”

Keep your tone light and don’t be forceful.

This is a great opportunity to tap into their network.

You should be asking this question to all of the connections that you make once you have built up some rapport.

Don’t ask right away because they probably won’t be comfortable introducing you to anyone yet.

But asking this question ensures that you continue to grow your network at a steady pace, which is essential to your job search and career success.

Are you networking but not seeing the benefits? Then your networking strategy is probably flawed. There is a clear division between good networking and bad networking. You could be making a common mistake, such as networking with no clear goal or organization strategy, only going to events at the university, asking for something the first time you meet someone, taking networking rejections personally, or only attending large networking events. Evaluate how you are networking and make improvements. Networking is a skill that you can learn and it will benefit you not only in your job search, but throughout your entire career.

To learn more about the Foolproof Networking Guide For PhDs Who Have No Idea Where To Start (… or How To Start), 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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Jeanette McConnell, PhD


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