Contributing Author: Natalie Fredette, Ph.D.
With my LinkedIn profile and resume polished, I began getting lots of contacts from recruiters that resulted in follow-up phone meetings with hiring managers.
This gave me great experience in asking critical questions about company goals, daily work styles or objectives, and company fit.
Out of 5 phone screens, I got 3 follow up phone interviews and 1 on-site invitation that did not result in an offer.
All the while I kept working hard in my lab and networking.
And here comes the crazy sudden twist: three and a half years ago when I was a newly-minted PhD in vascular biology, my dad (being a classic dad) had been “bragging” about his daughter at a completely unrelated event.
One of his colleague’s spouses mentioned that she’d be happy to hear more about my work.
So, dad told me to email her when I had my conference in San Francisco (her home city).
We met for breakfast.
I didn’t know her quite well so I just thought it would be a nice morning talking to another scientist.
Turns out, she was a team director of a medium sized R&D company in the bay area.
THANK GOODNESS I had no idea before I met her!!!! I probably would have clammed up.
I sent her my long-winded CV after breakfast.
Over the next few years, I would contact her every 6 months or so just to say congrats on her work in a pharma trial or tell her about a paper I thought was interesting.
These emails were usually bare bones dialogue, overall just providing value in small ways over these 3.5 years.
Finally my transition began with a short simple email that went like this:
Hi XX, congrats on the new data! I see your FDA trial had a really impressive outcome for XXX, and I know that your extra data points will assuage any concerns about XXX criticism. Looks like XXX biology saves the day again ☺”
I got an email 2 minutes later.
One of the ideas we had talked about years ago was actually something her company decided to pursue and they had become extremely busy!
She asked, if I was I looking around for new opportunities?
She wanted me to send her a resume and fly out to California as soon as possible.
I asked about a cover letter she said, no need for that, just put me as your reference and they’ll know you’re good to go.
The simple act of emailing someone a couple times a year got me an interview that eventually led to an incredible job offer.
Why Networking Is The Most Important Part Of Your Job Search
If you are using the internet as your main tool for learning about new job opportunities then you are missing out on the vast majority of available jobs.
You’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg, as they say.
For example, PayScale reported that between 70-80% of jobs are not advertised.
Many companies do not advertise positions because the role will be filled through a referral faster than the advertisement can be made.
Other companies incentivise employees and prefer candidates who come with a referral.
So most positions are never advertised online and you can earn a higher salary if you have a referral.
Networking is essential to a successful job search.
Remember, at the end of the day it is a person who will decide to hire you or not.
Keeping this thought at the forefront of your mind throughout your job search will help remind you of the value of networking, of building relationships.
Networking Is All About Building Relationships: 5 Ways To Build A Great Professional Network
For most, the word networking brings up images of shaking hands and exchanging business cards.
But there is so much more to networking than that.
Real networking, successful networking, is about building professional relationships.
It’s about adding value to others.
It’s not just an exchange of information.
Here are 5 ways that PhDs can start to build a strong professional network by networking the right way…
1. Do not ask for something right away.
This is the #1 rule of networking.
NEVER begin a professional relationship by asking for something.
Asking for a job or a referral right when you meet someone is inappropriate, it is the equivalent of asking a stranger for $5.
They are very unlikely to give you $5.
But, if you have been friends with someone for a while and you ask them for $5 your chance of getting the $5 has skyrocketed.
This is also how networking functions.
You need to build rapport with a person before you ask for anything.
Building rapport means building a relationship, cultivating mutual respect, and creating understanding.
When seeking out new connections, look for people who you find interesting, do not only look for people who you think you can gain something from.
That is not a good way to build up your network.
The amount of time you need to invest in someone before you can make an ask will vary depending on the situation.
But, often if you have been adding value to someone consistently they will reach out to you when they have an opportunity that they think it suitable for you.
This is them reciprocating how you have acted, they are adding value back to you.
2. Stay organized.
When in the middle of a job search you will be building your networking much faster than you would outside of a job search.
This means that you need to be extra organized.
You are not going to be able to just remember everyone you have reached out to, what you have said to them, and when you need to reach out to them again.
Good thing you are a PhD and have incredible organizational skills!
To really excel in your job search networking efforts you should create a spreadsheet where you document everyone that you are networking with.
You can organize this however you like, but it should at minimum contain their name, company, position, the date you reached out to them and a little personalized note about them.
The personalized note section is very important.
The more information you are able to put here the more tailored you can make the information and messages that you send to this new connection and the faster you will be able to build rapport.
3. Become a connector.
You are spending a lot of time and effort networking because you realize that being a part of good professional is important.
Other people think this too.
They also want to grow their networking and meet new awesome people.
So, as your network grows be thinking about how you can connect the people in your network to each other.
This is something that you can practice easily with recruiters.
If they advertise an open position, but you are not a good fit and you know someone who is, recommend that for the position.
Introduce them to one another.
If that person ends up getting hired you have just added an incredible amount of value to both people.
As a PhD you are actually very good at making connections where other people don’t see them.
Use this skill on the people in your network and find people who you think should meet and introduce them.
You will be like a professional matchmaker of sorts.
4. Be very consistent.
Consistency is proven to demonstrate trustworthiness.
Use the organizational system you have created to build consistency into when you are touching base with the people in your network.
Set your own cadence with the reach out.
It could be anywhere from every 2 weeks to every 6 months depending on the type of connection and how much you have to discuss with that person.
Continue with your regular messaging or calling even when you do not get a response from the other person.
Remember you are reaching out to this person to add value to them.
When you reach out, and don’t ask for anything, you are demonstrating that you think they are a valuable person, that you want to be a part of their network.
Even if they don’t respond by reaching out you have added value to them.
So, no matter what type of responses you get keep up with your scheduled reach outs.
Overtime your consistency will pay off.
It’s important to realize that networking can have great benefits in the short term, but when you are able to maintain consistent networking efforts over time you are going to start to see huge benefits.
5. Incorporate in-person, phone and video meetups.
Internet networking is easy, sending email and LinkedIn messages can be done from the comfort of your couch.
But, because it is easy it takes longer to build a relationship online.
A great way to expedite a networking opportunity is to bring the conversation offline when possible.
Start with a phone call.
Make the call short and easy for the other person, have a clear reason for calling.
You can continue with phone calling to build the relationship.
Another great way to build a relationship is with video calls.
Video calls allow you to meet with people all over the world face to face, it also makes meeting with someone local who is very busy easier because they can meet you without having to travel somewhere.
The fastest way to build rapport with someone is to meet in person.
This is not possible with long distance contacts, but if you do live near some of your connections try to set up a coffee or team meet up.
Humans evolved to socialize in person and so much of what you say is lost when you are not meeting in person with someone.
An in-person meetup can take a networking connection to the next level quickly and easily.
So, although online networking is easy, don’t neglect the other forms of connecting with people because they can increase the success you have with networking.
There are many facets to a job search. Yes, you need to have a good resume and you should have a professional LinkedIn profile. But, if you never go out and speak to other people, if you don’t invest in your network your job search will be very difficult. So, get out there and network and when you do follow these guidelines do not ask for something right away, stay organized, become a connector, be very consistent, incorporate in person, phone and video meetups. Building up a strong networking will not only help you get hired in industry, but it will be instrumental to your continued career success.
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