Written by: Vanessa Wood Braband, Ph.D.
There are many ways to define an awkward situation and, for me, networking was it.
Who isn’t a little weary of talking to someone they don’t know, have never met, have never seen before, and who is essentially a complete stranger?
Not an ideal situation in my book.
I was feeling stagnant in my academic research position. I knew that it was about to come to an abrupt end.
So, what did I have to lose?
A few potentially awkward moments with strangers certainly wasn’t going to make my situation worse.
I had struggled with my industry job search after my PhD, applying to endless positions online, with little to no response.
I decided that I really needed to try something new.
So, networking it was.
I had the best luck reaching out to semi-strangers who I met in the Cheeky Scientist Association on LinkedIn, after they requested to connect with me.
Even if they didn’t include a personal message in their request to connect, I quickly glanced at their profile and messaged them:
“Thanks for reaching out! I would love to learn more about your work in X. Let’s keep in touch and I’d be happy to help any way I can. All the best. P.S. I would love to hear your story. Would you be willing to chat sometime? My phone number is X.”
I got way more responses than I was expecting, and learned so much from these informational interview conversations.
First, I learned that my story was not unique.
As PhDs, we often feel stuck, undervalued, as if we are frauds, and afraid of the unknown future.
It was oddly empowering to hear that I was not alone in my suffering.
And, it made me realize that as a PhD, I am immensely valuable.
I was surprised by how many people were willing to help me.
The second thing I learned was that I could indeed talk to strangers.
I didn’t think I could do this, but networking was not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be.
And, what I gained from my networking experiences far outweighed the sometimes uncomfortable nature of meeting and talking with new people.
Ultimately, it was networking that motivated and empowered me in my job search.
I learned new industry words, new ideas, new job search strategies, and gained confidence.
If I hadn’t gotten over my distaste for networking, I would probably still be feeling stuck and undervalued in academia.
How Networking Will Boost Your Job Search
As a PhD, you are an expert researcher and a skilled writer.
This can cause many PhDs to think that writing the “perfect” resume and cover letter is the key to getting hired.
This could not be more wrong.
Yes, you need a solid industry-style resume and cover letter, but these are not the things that will get you hired in industry.
Networking is what will get you hired in industry.
As reported by Undercover Recruiter, 40% of hires come from referrals.
But, only 7% of applicants even have a referral. A referral makes you stand out from the crowd of applicants.
Very few people get referrals because it requires effort to get one.
Getting a referral requires you to put yourself out there, to meet new people, and to network.
This includes in-person networking, which can be tough for introverts.
But, the rapport you can build and the value you can gain from physically meeting someone is much higher than what is possible through online networking.
According to Harvard Business Review, a request made in person is 34 times more successful than one made via email.
That is a huge difference.
Think about it like this — for every one person you connect with in person, you would need to send 34 emails to 34 different people to have the same effect.
Do not underestimate the power of in-person networking and make sure that it is an integral part of your job search strategy.
17 Networking Strategies For Introverted PhDs
It’s clear that networking is an important part of searching for a job.
But, for many of us, networking is hard.
You may not be sure where to start or how to follow up.
But, remember you are a PhD and you can learn anything.
You just have to put in the effort.
Here are 17 networking strategies that will make your job search more successful…
1. Be genuinely interested in the other person.
Being real and genuine is the key to having a good conversation.
If you are being fake or guarded, this will be readily apparent and negatively impact your networking experience.
Instead, be open and take a genuine interest in other people and their stories.
Where are they from? What are they passionate about?
Always be listening intently.
By listening closely, you will be able to find ways you can connect.
2. Ask great questions.
Don’t just ask someone, “What do you do?”
It’s limiting and the answer is not going to be exciting.
Instead, ask someone, “What’s your story?”
“What are you passionate about right now?”
“What are you struggling with in your life right now?”
“How can I help you?”
This type of conversation encourages people to talk about things other than their career.
They talk about where they’re from, and the answers are much more interesting.
You will learn a lot more about the person by asking the right questions.
3. Add value.
To go beyond a superficial interaction when you meet someone new, you need to find a way to start adding value.
A really great way to do this is to introduce them to someone else in your network.
By listening and asking questions, you will learn about them and can offer an introduction that would be beneficial.
But, don’t just think of ways to help your new connection directly.
Also think of ways to help their family or their business.
4. Leverage your current network.
Understand the power of your existing network.
Many PhDs don’t think they have a network.
This isn’t true.
You just have to dig deep.
Think about your past mentors, other PhDs who have left your group, anyone who you have seen speak at your university, etc.
Right now, in your existing network, you have all you need to grow your network and get hired.
You just have to reach out and have real conversations with people.
5. Make a plan and follow through.
Networking is not a one-time event.
It is a long-term strategy that you should ultimately continue throughout your entire industry career.
So, the sooner you make a networking plan and stick to it, the better.
A great way to start is to commit to connecting to a set number of people per day, and to commit to attending a set number of in-person networking events every month.
Hold yourself accountable to these goals.
6. Speak face-to-face whenever possible.
When trying to make a connection with someone, speak face-to-face as much as possible.
Meet in person, use Facetime, or use Skype with video.
Because it’s so much easier to build rapport when you can see someone, rather than just hear them or just see words they have written.
It is also easier for someone to remember you if they have physically seen you.
Use this to your advantage and meet face-to-face when possible.
7. Ask others for their advice or opinion.
People love to give advice.
So, give people an opportunity to help you.
Don’t go overboard with your ask, though.
But saying, “Hey, I am looking for a new designer, can you recommend anyone?” is a great way to build up a relationship that is not too difficult for the other person.
Or, asking what they thought of a recent article or development.
This can help extend the relationship you have with them.
8. Follow up once a month.
The real power of networking comes with the follow-up.
But, don’t be annoying.
Every 30 days, send them a text or email, with a friendly follow-up.
The follow-up should be simple. Don’t ask for anything.
Say, “Hi, I hope that your exam/interview/trip/project/course went well.”
Or, “I saw XYZ the other day and thought of you instantly, thanks for ABC.”
Or, “That advice you gave me was really helpful.”
You see the trend?
9. Make your ask easy.
If you have initiated your relationship online, then you might want to ask to meet in person.
Because, as mentioned previously, an in-person meeting is the best way to build rapport.
So, when you make this ask, make it easy for the other person.
Never say, “I wonder if you would let me buy you lunch and pick your brain?”
Never use the line, “pick your brain”.
Think about that for a second.
Would you like to go for a coffee with someone who wants to sit and ask you question after question?
Sounds tiring, right?
A better option is, “Hey, I would love to get your advice on XYZ. I’ll come to you. Do any of these 3 dates work for you?”
Now, you are showing them that you respect their opinion, rather than just playing 20 questions.
10. Don’t take ignored messages personally.
Have you messaged someone and didn’t hear back?
Don’t take this personally.
And, don’t be afraid to follow up about 7-10 days later with the line, “Just sending a friendly follow-up”.
Be polite, as they might not have received your first email or perhaps they saw it when they were busy.
Just follow up politely and, as always, add value when you can.
11. Be likeable.
Don’t rock the boat unnecessarily.
Don’t suck up either.
Treating someone like you are better than them or you are a crazed fan will only repel people.
No other human is better than you.
Be on their level.
It’s cliché, but just be yourself and be kind — this will get you a long way.
12. Express gratitude.
If someone takes the time to meet with you, or they help you out in some way, you must express your gratitude.
Of course, you will say thank you as you leave the meeting, or in an email.
But, to really stand out, send a handwritten note.
Thanking people with a handwritten note can have a huge impact.
It shows that you are willing to go the extra mile.
But, no matter how you do it, ensure that your gratitude is known and the person you met with feels appreciated.
13. Have a follow-up plan.
This is where introverts can shine.
At a networking event you, and everyone else there, will meet lots of people.
The likelihood that someone will remember you, from that initial meeting alone, is small.
So, you must follow up with them afterward.
Send them a note after the event, mentioning a little of what you talked about and any other relevant information.
But, this should only be a small message.
Then, you can use your spreadsheet expertise to craft a plan to follow up regularly with all the new people you are meeting.
14. Use and remember a person’s name.
Always use and remember a person’s name.
Don’t be one of those people who says, “I’m terrible with names” — you will blend into a sea of mediocrity with that line.
Step it up.
A good way to remember someone’s name is to use it as soon as you meet them.
After they introduce themselves say, “Hi, XYZ. It’s nice to meet you”.
This is also the time to ask for clarity if you didn’t understand what they said.
It might be a little awkward, but what is more awkward is not knowing how to say someone’s name after you have met them a few times.
15. Do your research.
If you know you are going to be meeting someone, research them before-hand.
A quick Google/Twitter/Linkedin search will give you tips on what to talk about with them.
This will only take 5 minutes, but has big impact.
You can mention something you saw on their social media accounts in your conversation.
Say something like, “I really liked ABC that you posted on XYZ.”
16. Be vulnerable and relatable.
Always show vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to talk about your failures. Everyone has failed, so just be real.
No one likes a show-off.
And, if you only speak about the times you were successful, this is what you will look like.
Instead, be open and show that you know what it’s like to fail, and to try again.
You could say something like, “My first business was in XYZ. It didn’t take off, but it lead me to ABC opportunity” or, “My first initial research project on XYZ didn’t pan out, but now I work on ABC and I am really enjoying it.”
17. Practice, practice, practice.
Not confident talking to people?
You just need more practice because speaking with people is a skill that you can learn.
And, a great place to practice is with the sales staff that visits your lab, or who you meet at conferences.
They are paid to build rapport with you.
They are probably experts at talking with people, and you can both practice and learn from them.
The more you practice, the more it will take the anxiety out of networking.
It will feel more natural the more you practice, and soon you will find yourself chatting more with others without noticing.
As a PhD, you are qualified for more than an entry-level industry position. But, to have access to these positions, you must network. You must meet and interact with industry professionals. This can be tough, but there are many strategies you can use to make your networking experience better, such as: being genuinely interested in the other person, asking great questions, adding value, leveraging your current network, making a plan and following through, speaking face-to-face whenever possible, asking others for their advice or opinion, following up once a month, making your ask easy, not taking ignored messages personally, being likable, expressing gratitude, having a follow-up plan, using and remembering a person’s name, doing your research, being vulnerable and relatable, and practicing.
To learn more about 17 Strategies For Introverts To Use When Networking For Job Referrals, 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.