5 Cheesy Networking Gimmicks To Avoid

During my PhD, I knew that networking was the key to getting a job in industry. And so, I did what every other PhD I knew was doing…

I went to conferences equipped with a copy of my resume and a handful of business cards. Then, during breaks, I would follow the crowd out onto the vendor floor.

I would wander around aimlessly looking for a vendor that wasn’t busy. The problem was, so was every other PhD that was looking for a job.

At the end of a conference, if I handed out all my business cards and shook hands with a few industry professionals, I felt accomplished.

I was really doing it…I was networking!

At least that’s what I thought.

But then afterwards, nothing happened. No one reached out to me. No one begged me to work for them.

What was I doing wrong?

The problem was, I was connecting with people, but I wasn’t truly networking.

Worse – I was networking like a cheeseball.

I was implementing gimmicky techniques that I learned somewhere – I think – but never really studied carefully.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned how to network like a true professional.

True networking is what gets your foot in the industry door. It’s what gets you a referral, and it’s what gets your resume directly into hands of the hiring manager.

One Cheeky Scientist member shares how networking landed them their ideal job:

At the beginning of my job search, I fell into the trap of uploading resume after resume. I must have uploaded over 100 resumes and ended up with exactly zero interviews.

I knew then, I had to change my strategy. I knew I had to start networking.

So, I reached out to an ex-colleague of mine who was working for a small CRO. I saw that his company wasn’t hiring but I still asked to meet over coffee.

When we met, he confirmed they weren’t hiring but we spoke at length about my situation. He said he would keep me in mind if something came up. Soon after, the company underwent a restructuring and, as a result, needed experienced technicians.

I didn’t interview for the job – I didn’t even send my resume. My former colleague showed my LinkedIn profile to the other managers, and I received a call asking whether I would be interested in the job!

Fast forward to now, I’ve been at the company for 6 weeks and I love what I am doing. I’m so happy to be part of a great team and be in a place where my skills and my input are valued and appreciated.”

Stop Looking For Networking Shortcuts

If you don’t think networking is important in your job search, consider these statistics.

According to HubSpot, networking is responsible for 85% of the jobs filled, and over half of all hires at top firms come from referrals.

Yet only 7% of job candidates have a referral when they apply for a job. That means that with a referral, you are ahead of 93% of all other job candidates.

A referral not only gets you ahead, but it can also give you access to jobs that aren’t publicly advertised.  

Close to 70% of jobs aren’t publicly advertised. And even for those that are posted, most have already been filled internally.

So, if you want to transition into industry, you must have a strategy – one that lands you the highly coveted job referral.

Today, I’ll discuss 5 steps to successful networking along with the many misconceptions that PhDs have about networking.

5 Networking Gimmicks PhDs Should Avoid

1. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, build your personal brand.

Your personal brand is your persona; how you come across to others.

To build a professional brand, you must think about how you portray yourself both in person and online. Especially online. That is most likely the first impression employers receive of you.

To ensure you’re portraying yourself in the best way possible, really think about what job you want. For instance, if you want to be a data scientist, is that being communicated through your online persona?

The important thing is that you don’t want to portray yourself as a student. If you want to be an industry professional, you must demonstrate that.

On your LinkedIn profile, include a photo of you looking like an industry professional. Participate in online discussions relevant to your area of expertise. Create a personal website that includes your resume. Upload articles you’ve written pertaining to the field you want to go into.

Really make sure you’re proving that you’re a professional and an expert.  

Also ensure that you’re not involving yourself in confrontational conversations on any online forum or platform. That means you should avoid discussing highly volatile subjects – for example, politics. You may think these conversations are private, but anything online is searchable.  

In person, really engage with people in a sincere manner.

If someone you’re speaking to is showing enthusiasm for a particular subject, match their enthusiasm. This is called mirroring. When you mirror a person, you’re showing them that you understand them.

Also ensure that you remain focused on them – no one likes to interact with someone that only talks about themselves. Really listen and stay genuinely interested in them. This will create a lasting impression.

2. Quit meeting people and never talking to them again. Instead, nurture your professional relationships.

Let’s talk about connecting versus networking. Many PhDs mistake one for the other but there is a major difference between the two.

Connecting is when you meet someone or click the “connect” button whereas networking is what happens afterwards; it’s the act of building a professional relationship.

To properly network, you must really focus on your individual connections. That means, instead of blindly clicking “connect” over and over, really think about the connections you want and nurture them.

So, after connecting with someone, follow up with them. And make sure you’re adding value. This is how you can ultimately land an informational interview, and eventually, a referral.

To add value, elevate their credibility by asking for their advice or their opinion. Make sure that you’re asking a question in your initial message – people are more likely to respond to questions over blunt statements.

Once you start connecting with people, make sure you keep track of your progress. Create a spreadsheet of every contact you’ve made and note where you are with the connection.

For instance, say you met someone at a networking event, and you’ve sent a follow up message to them on LinkedIn. Document that in your spreadsheet and make sure to note the date. That way, you can make sure to follow up with them in a week or so if you don’t hear from them right away.

In addition to keeping a spreadsheet, you should create a plan.

Many PhDs make the mistake of only contacting people one at a time. But this tactic is a huge detriment to your progress. You should be contacting enough people to justify having a spreadsheet.

So, every day, plan to reach out to at least two people. These can either be people that you’ve met in person, cold contacts that work for companies you’re interested in, or contacts of people that are already in your network.

It doesn’t matter how you connect with people; what matters is that you keep up the momentum.

3. Get over outdated, in-person only networking strategies. Join online groups instead.

If you’re not sure where to start with networking, online and in person groups are a great source for networking opportunities.

These can be groups solely dedicated to career growth or job searching, but they can also be ones focused on a particular area of expertise.

It’s best to join a variety of groups that focus on different aspects of your career. Say you have a PhD in microbiology. You could join a group with a focus on microbiology, one that revolves around networking and careers, and one that speaks to an area of technical expertise.

You need a close-knit group of connections to get you hired – a group that will help you do mock interviews and provide you with advice.

You may consider people vying for the same job as you as competition, but you can leverage these connections to find out about job opportunities.

4. Stop being afraid of strangers. Prepare for in-person networking events instead.

In general, you should be spending the least amount of time and energy at large conferences and networking events.

If you do go to such an event, go with a strategy.

First and foremost, make sure that before you arrive, your LinkedIn profile is complete. The plan is to meet people and follow up online. That means they’ll likely be viewing your profile after the event.

If the event is three hours, only go for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a goal to connect with three people.

It’s also best to go early. You can even contact the host of the event beforehand and ask them if they would be able to introduce you to a couple of people.

Also make sure you have perfected your elevator pitch and go equipped with business cards. If you only have a few minutes with someone, you need to make a lasting impression. One that conveys your professionalism.

Then, after the event, make sure you follow up. You can start by reminding them who you are and thanking them for their time. If you connected based on a similar interest – say, gourmet coffee – mention that in your message. It will trigger their memory.

You can also peruse their LinkedIn profile for context clues. You can see if they recently published a paper, received a job promotion, or are a member of a particular association. Include something pertaining to their achievements or interests in the message.

The key here is to maintain this professional relationship. It’s the only way you’ll get an informational interview or a referral.

5. Quit networking without a clear goal. Instead, start generating referrals

At last, we can talk about the referral!

After you’ve established a professional relationship with one of your contacts, it’s now time to move the relationship from a simple chat to actual results.

Many PhDs tend to stall out at this point. They connect with someone, follow up with them a few times, and but can’t seem to move the relationship to the point of an informational interview or a referral.

You can leverage online platforms to build up your professional relationships, but you must ensure that the relationship moves quickly towards a phone call or an in-person meeting.

As I mentioned above, lean into the person’s interests when reaching out to them online. It’s one of the simplest ways to establish a rapport with someone.

Once you’ve exchanged a few messages, you can bring up the idea of an informational interview. Again, approach it as a way to gain their advice. You don’t want to immediately jump to “I need a job – help me get one!”.

Then, in the informational interview focus on them. Ask them how they ended up in their current position, how they like the job, or how they like their current company.

Once you feel like you’ve built a good foundation during the interview, then you can ask for a referral. You must make sure you ask at the right time.

Towards the end of the interview is best. You can ask for a referral, but you can also ask if there is another contact they have that could provide additional information.

The key is to ask a question that is easy to say “Yes” to. Don’t make them guess what your intentions are.

Also ensure that you have a resume in hand. That way, if they’re willing to share it with a hiring manager at their company, you’ve already made their job simple.

Concluding Remarks

Getting a job is challenging. This is especially true if you don’t have any contacts within the company. If you are uploading resume after resume online and receiving no responses in return, then it’s time to switch your strategy. To get in the industry door, you must network with the people that are going to help you professionally. To do this, it’s crucial that you don’t just make connections. You must establish and maintain a strong professional relationships. And the way to do this is to provide value. Make the connection about the other person. Congratulate them on their successes. Ask for their advice. All in all, make sure that you are sustaining the conversation and moving it to the next level. Once you become well practiced in the art of building a network, you’ll be amazed at what it can do for your career.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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