Skip to main content

Networking as a Graduate Student

As prospective candidates and employers alike face uncertainty, it has never been more important to develop professional relationships in fields you’re exploring or actively applying. This is also something that can be particularly daunting and anxiety-inducing. Many enter into networking situations feeling that they need to make an inauthentic sales pitch for themselves with the goal of getting something explicit from a conversation.

Relationship Development, Not Transactions

The first challenge to overcome when approaching networking, comes in re-framing what you hope to accomplish. Conversations you aspire to facilitate should not be viewed as transactions where you’re hoping to get an immediate referral, interview, internship, etc., but as the first step in developing a professional relationship. Chances are, contacting a random person on LinkedIn at a company you’d like to work at with a transparent goal of securing one of the aforementioned opportunities will yield little response. Consider starting with Individuals with whom you share something in common:
Calling immediate attention to those commonalities will only increase your chance of receiving a response. Keep in mind, those you choose to reach out to are potential peers and colleagues in an industry or at an organization you hope to, at a minimum, learn more about.

How to Start a Conversation, with Authenticity

The first thing, then, to consider is how to be authentic and maintain your values when reaching out to strangers. Though the bulk of initial networking conversations will be focused on your contact – you should have your own introductory narrative prepared. Commonly referred to as an Elevator Pitch or Professional Introduction, this is your opportunity to communicate authentic relevant aspects about yourself. As you build your elevator pitch/professional introduction. Take time and think through:

Having a well thought out narrative of yourself helps set the tone and direction for initial conversations. 

Goal-driven Outreach

Equal consideration needs to be shown to the person on the other side of your LinkedIn request, email, or phone call. Devoting time to think about your interest in the person you’re contacting is essential to facilitating an authentic exchange. What do you hope to learn? Do your research and think about questions you have about their day-to-day work or projects like:

Visit the informational interviewing page of our website for more examples of potential questions.
As an advanced degree candidate, you may want to target employees with graduate degrees in an industry or company you’re exploring. You can then ask further tailored questions about:
Notice – all of these questions are focused on gleaning advice and insight, not an interview.  When you engage someone with a genuine interest in the information and expertise they have to offer, you set yourself up to have future points of contact.

The most important thing to keep in mind when approaching networking is that it is through relationships that referrals are made, not stand-alone conversations. As Joseph Barber, from the University of Pennsylvania wrote in his recent article A Networking Rule to Live By,

“Networking is not the process of reaching out to people. Networking is the process of thinking about whom to reach out to, why, with what goal.”

Additional Resources

For more guidance on networking as a graduate student, take a look at these recent articles: