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Networking & Focusing Your Search

Just as networking plays an important role in securing an academic position, it is of essential importance to learn more about different industries, career pathways, and positions outside of the academic job market. 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 the conversation. Individuals feel the need to jump into a transactional approach rather than the long-term relationship cultivation of a true network.

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 hope to get an immediate referral, interview, internship, etc., but as the first step in developing a professional relationship. For example, contacting a random person on LinkedIn at a company you would like to work at with a transparent goal of securing one of the aforementioned opportunities will often yield little response.

Effective networking requires a deeper intentionality and connection when you reach out to people. Consider starting with individuals with whom you share something in common, such as:

  • Your department
  • Your graduate or undergraduate institution
  • Your field or discipline

Calling immediate attention to those commonalities will 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.

Maintain Authenticity

Consider 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 narrative prepared. Commonly referred to as an elevator pitch or 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 are reaching out to and their field
  • What you enjoy most about your research
  • How your current work could tie to outside industries and what experiences you have in the industry you hope to enter (past positions, internships, contract work, etc.)

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

Goal-driven Outreach

Show equal consideration to those with whom you connect. Devoting time to think about your interest in the person you are contacting is essential to facilitating an authentic exchange. What do you hope to learn from the person on the other side of your LinkedIn request, email exchange, or phone call? Think about questions you have about their day-to-day projects as opposed to asking about their general day.

Consider the following:

  • How and with whom do you collaborate?
  • How would you characterize your work environment?
  • What skills have you found help people be successful within their first six months, versus areas where there is room to grow and learn?

As an advanced degree candidate, you may want to target employees with graduate degrees in an industry or company you are exploring. You can then ask further tailored questions about challenges they encountered transitioning from academic research, primary differences, and ways they continue to apply training and experience gained during graduate school.

Notice that 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. Not only that, you better understand how you need to craft your own story as you prepare to be a candidate in different spaces.

Through networking conversations, it is possible you will learn more about what you are not interested in, and remove options from your list. It is just as important to know what you do not want to do, as it is to recognize the directions you want to move towards. Keep notes as you connect with people. Start a spreadsheet and track who you spoke with, their role/affiliation, when you last connected, and notes from your conversation. Not only does this practice allow you to apply what you learned to your search, but the notes will also help you return for second and third conversations later. 

The most important thing to keep in mind when approaching networking is that referrals are made through relationships, not stand-alone conversations. As Joseph Barber from the University of Pennsylvania wrote in his 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.”

Joseph Barber
Director, Graduate Career Initiatives
University of Pennsylvania

Why Use LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is a widespread social media platform used as a tool by jobseekers, employees, and employers to establish and maintain professional online presences. For this reason, LinkedIn is a valuable tool for developing your network, seeking jobs and internships, and developing your career.

See the following links for guidance on how to: