Networking as a Graduate StudentAs 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.
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:
Relationship Development, Not Transactions
- your department
- your graduate or undergraduate institution
- your field or discipline
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:
- how research and other professional experiences led you to explore outside fields
- how to tailor your story based on the individual you’re reaching out to and their field
- what you enjoy most about your research projects, and/or graduate program
- how your current work could tie to outside industries
- what experiences you have in the industry you’re hoping to enter (including past positions, internships, contract work, etc.)
Having a well thought out narrative of yourself helps set the tone and direction for initial conversations.
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:
- how and with whom they collaborate?
- what is their work environment like?
- how does the organization support professional development?
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:
- challenges they encountered transitioning from their graduate program
- primary differences in their role from their academic experience
- ways they continue to apply training and experience gained during graduate school
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.”
For more guidance on networking as a graduate student, take a look at these recent articles:
- Lundsteen, Natalie (2020, August 3). What’s Holding You Back? Inside Higher Ed.
- Eberle, Stephanie (2020, March 23). At Home Networking Strategies Inside Higher Ed.
- Blackburn, Amy (2020, March 16). Be Patient Like a Jedi… job seeking during challenging times. LinkedIn.
- Lundsteen, Natalie (2020, February 10). Finding a Workplace Where You Fit. Inside Higher Ed.