Most of us have heard some version of the age old adage “it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.” In today’s competitive scientific climate, this saying couldn’t be more true. As a graduate student, I knew how critical networking would be to achieving my career goals. However, getting started was challenging. More importantly, I wanted to make sure that I was networking in a productive manner and making the most of my limited and valuable time. Listed below are some of the tips I learned in a professional development course and have found useful for networking, both online and in person.
Currently, LinkedIn connects an impressive 3 billion users to ~300 million businesses in 200 countries around the world. So, it is safe to say that it is one of the most widely used websites connecting professionals and a fantastic resource for individuals in the market for any kind of job. With 1 in 3 professionals using this resource, and 1 in 20 profiles belonging to recruiters, not having a profile can be a significant disadvantage.
For those individuals interested in creating a LinkedIn profile, here are a few tips to keep in mind: 1) have a well-written summary based on your background/interests, with a clear statement of your career goals, 2) have an up-to-date profile with rich descriptions emphasizing your accomplishments and contributions, and 3) be consistent in the format and language used. Some of the obvious “don’ts” include: 1) don’t include an unprofessional photo, 2) don’t have a profile that simply has titles and is missing a description of your skills/contributions, and 3) don’t overstep the delicate boundary between describing your contributions and sharing too much information.
Once your profile is in good shape, you can begin by connecting with your scientific peers, colleagues, and friends. However, don’t overlook the valuable professional contacts you have access to in the form of 2nd degree connections. For instance, it is not uncommon to ask your immediate contact to help introduce you to a contact of theirs. These connections can serve as excellent opportunities to learn about new careers, potential job prospects, etc. Once you do make connections, it is equally important to maintain these professional relationships. For instance, if a colleague has a new position or accomplishment, don’t hesitate to congratulate them. Reaching out in this manner can also aid in strengthening weak or new connections.
Networking In Person
When it comes to networking with potential employers in person, there most definitely is an element of “selling yourself.” For those of us who may be uncomfortable with this concept, as I initially was, there is a way to accomplish this without seeming insincere. The secret of good networking in person is having a well-composed and rehearsed elevator pitch, in which you briefly introduce yourself and relay the following information, all within the span of 2-3 minutes: 1) let the person get a sense of who you are, 2) express your career goal(s), and 3) inform them how will you be an asset to them.
To accomplish the first task, begin with your current job/position and describe your specific contributions and responsibilities. To accomplish the second task, transition from your immediate career goal to your long-term goals, explain why you feel passionate about this career path and why you feel well prepared to pursue this path. Lastly, solidify your impression by describing a specific and relevant example of how your contribution was critical to the success of a work project, and emphasize how you can transfer these skills to the position you are interested in. It is important to note that this version of the elevator pitch applies to situations in which you are meeting a potential employer where you know a specific position is available. Otherwise, it is often poor taste to outright ask people whom you are meeting for the first time for a job. However, your elevator pitch can be easily adapted to more common scenarios, by altering your closing statement. Instead of emphasizing how you can be an asset, you can ask for information that can help you in your job search.
Keep in mind that the point of this interaction is to leave a positive impression on this individual and lay the foundation for a professional relationship, which can be cultivated over time. Using the elevator pitch also ensures that you are not taking up too much of the other individual’s time and gives them an opportunity to ask you questions. As mentioned before, these relationships need to be fostered, so be sure to follow up with a thank you note. Maintaining these relationships can be critical to your success, even if not to your immediate success.
The last piece of advice is practice, practice, practice! To become comfortable interacting in such a manner, you need to get out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in these situations. An easy way to do this is by attending networking events around town. For me, the benefits were twofold—I was able to interact with individuals from a variety of professional backgrounds, and I learned how to adapt my elevator pitch to make it pertinent to the conversation I was engaged in. Using the tips outlined in this article have been crucial in helping me get job interviews, as well as engage in unique collaborations, and participate in opportunities I would have never been aware of. For instance, I have my elevator pitch to thank for the opportunity to participate in this blog! With that said, I hope these tips prove useful in your journey into the world of networking.
About the Author:
Dolly Singh is currently a graduate student in the laboratory of William Wright at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her doctoral dissertation is focused on understanding the role and mechanism of the growth factor GDNF (Glial cell -line derived neurotrophic factor) in regulating human spermatogonial stem cells and spermatogenesis. The long-term goal of this project is to translate these findings into the clinic as a mode of therapy for a sub-population of infertile patients. E-mail: Dsingh14@jhu.edu
Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.