3 Secrets To Networking That Don’t Involve Meeting People
Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma, PhD
I was finally offered my dream job, and it made me feel miserable.
Let’s go back in time a little bit.
I moved from India to the U.S., where I didn’t know anyone aside from my husband.
I was desperate to join the workforce, so I took what I could get: I became an International Charity Representative.
It was minimum-wage, but it gave me the opportunity to build a network from scratch.
It certainly wasn’t PhD work, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long-term.
So, I worked on my degree at the same time and, after 6 months, I had my doctoral title.
I was ready to move on.
Yet, my work was nowhere near complete – all my networking efforts were still ahead of me.
I knew that without a solid network, my chances of landing an industry job were thin.
I registered for every possible networking event around my city, and I made it a point to attend at least 4 of these events each week.
I even did volunteer work for 4 different professional organizations at the same time!
This was really hard. There were times when I was ready to give up.
But, I didn’t.
Slowly, my networking and volunteering efforts began to pay off.
People started to recognize me as a professional.
I underwent several informational interviews with industry professionals and finally, my strong network helped me land a job with a new firm.
For a time, I worked there as a project manager.
While it wasn’t my ideal position, my coworkers were lovely and the office environment was perfect.
Then, I got a call from another company and they offered me my dream job.
I felt miserable telling all my new coworkers that I would be leaving them.
But, they surprised me by actually encouraging my transition — one of the benefits of building a strong network with good relationships!
Why Networking Is Crucial
If you underestimate the power of networking, you’re going to make things really hard for yourself.
Are you exclusively relying on applications and resumes?
If you are, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t do that.
Lou Adler, CEO of Performance-Based Hiring Learning Systems, reports that 85% of jobs are filled by networking.
This isn’t surprising when you consider that networking is the only way to get referrals.
According to Undercover Recruiter, only 7% of job applicants get referrals — but those who do get referrals account for 40% of those who get hired.
By the time a lot of jobs are posted online, an internal referral process has already come up empty.
This means that the job posting is likely to be a “Plan B” situation.
The takeaway here is that — like it or not — networking is your best option for getting a PhD-level job.
3 Ways To Strengthen Your Network Without Meeting New People
If you’re like me, you’ve heard it too many times…
“It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Many PhDs lean towards introversion and for them, meeting new people can be the most draining experience on the planet.
The good news?
You probably already have a network — most people do!
And, even if you need to grow your network, there is a certain point where you can stop.
A point at which it’s easier and more effective to just improve your existing network.
Then the question becomes, “How do I maximize the value of my current network?”
Here are 3 ways PhDs can take decent networks and make them truly great — no new people required.
1. Connect your existing contacts.
Chances are pretty good that you know more than one person and, if you know at least 2 people, you can connect them.
Start reaching out to your existing contacts.
These can be your former labmates or peers, undergrad study buddies, former coworkers, bosses, and anyone else with whom you’re already connected.
Why connect 2 strangers?
Because you’re adding value.
You already know both parties and, with minimal effort, you’re hooking them up with solid professional contacts.
Now, you don’t want to introduce contacts at random: these should be thoughtful connections that will benefit both people.
And, you don’t want to surprise them either.
How much do you enjoy being surprised with a new person to meet?
This should be a casual, no-pressure situation.
Let each person know that you have someone you’d like to introduce them to.
LinkedIn makes this really easy.
And, by helping people make valuable connections, you are enhancing their careers.
At the same time, you’re strengthening your own network, which you can leverage in the future.
Your contacts will remember how you helped them, and these are the people who will be happy to give you that job referral, so don’t underestimate the value of your current network!
2. Prioritize your most valuable connections.
Any relationship needs to be nurtured in order to thrive.
If you don’t reach out to your contacts every so often, the bond can start to weaken.
Obviously, you can’t be best friends with everyone on your list.
The best way to manage your network is to prioritize your contacts.
Some of them will be situated in the field you’d like to join, or maybe they know hiring managers at companies you want to join.
It could even just be that they have huge personal networks.
Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to figure out who among your contacts is a priority.
Rather than having weaker relationships with a wider range of people, create stronger bonds with your priority contacts — people who can really help fuel your long-term goals.
Strengthening an existing bond is way easier than forming a new one.
You don’t have to meet anyone new to give yourself leveraging power in this way.
Conserve your time and energy by focusing on the contacts who matter.
3. Don’t underestimate weak connections.
Even though your strong contacts are the most important, you never know when a weak connection may come in handy.
Weak connections are people whom you don’t know all that well.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of a weak connection, but imagine that you get a call from a stranger asking for a work-related favor?
Now, imagine it isn’t a stranger, but an acquaintance.
Pretty big difference, right?
If the call comes from someone you know, there is a sense of social obligation.
That existing connection, while small, is still a significant factor.
As you prioritize your connections to strengthen your network, don’t forget to keep up just a little with your acquaintances.
For a very small amount of effort, these relationships can serve as your entry point to a new opportunity.
One simple way to do this is by writing or posting good content on LinkedIn, and sharing it with your connections.
You can also engage with content posted by your connections — this is a great way to add value.
Leave meaningful comments, share your connections’ posts within your own network, and congratulate them on their successes.
This will gain you some visibility and drive positive engagement with your connections’ posted content.
These actions amount to value. You’re adding it to your network, and you will see major returns on this: expect network expansion, informational interviews, and job referrals.
While a network always requires you to meet people, there’s more to it than making new contacts. By using these 3 strategies, PhDs can take their current networks and make them stronger. If you connect your existing contacts, prioritize your most valuable connections, and you don’t underestimate weak connections, you’ll be adding value and maximizing the efficiency of the network you’ve worked so hard to build.
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