Written by Anastassia Mikhailova
The Why of Doing it
In graduate school, we often contemplate on life after graduation. We dream about it and fear it at the same time. The fear comes, of course, from the uncertainty and potential lack of job opportunities. The job hunt can be associated with ‘dreadful’ networking experiences, lined with fake smiles, talking about something that does not interest you and the feeling that you are using people. However, these misconceptions can be easily dissipated with the right approach to networking.
Since one of the major events of the year, the LSCDS Networking Reception, is approaching fast, we decided to put together a tutorial series to help you prepare for the event, to assure you thatnetworking is not as scary as it seems and to empower you to shine as an aspiring young professional not only at this event but in all professional settings. We hope that by the end of this series you will view networking in a different, friendlier light that will help you to extract its full benefit and grow professionally and personally.
Before we start, lets review some common concerns of beginner networkers:
I don’t know what to say…
I am shy and I just cannot talk to strangers…
I feel like I am trying to use the person I am talking to…
I am scared that I will get rejected…
I feel like the whole process is fake/not sincere…
I don’t want to seem desperate/clingy/eager…
So how do you rethink your negative attitude towards networking? Here is how:
Information gathering or informational interviewing
Information gathering or informational interview is probably the most important aspect of networking. In this type of interview you are meeting with the industry professional to ask questions about something that you know very little about. I often hear “I always tense up when talking to people because I feel like I am trying to get something from them”. Guess what? If you keep the principle of information gathering in mind, this concern will disappear. When you network, essentially all you are doing is trying to learn. You are there, talking to the professional because you want to find out about the industry and different types of jobs available for people with your degree. It is just like talking to a friend about their hobby or something interesting that they did last weekend. This will get you the information that you will not be able to find online, in books or courses. You also get to ask questions that are relevant to your background and are interesting to you.
Some of the questions you will find answers to are:
What can I do with my degree after I graduate?
What types of jobs are available for people with my personality/interests/expertise?
What do people with these jobs end up doing in 10, 20 and 30 years down the road?
What is the highest position I can achieve in this area?
Is there additional education I will need down the road to advance in this area?
How do I get the job that I want?
Pretty important, huh? Not only do you get to find out about different occupations available, but you also get to create both short and long term visions of your future.
Additionally, if you are sincerely interested in the subject of discussion – the conversation should come naturally and you shouldn’t have to worry about being insincere or not knowing what to say. Moreover, you should mostly be listening. All you have to do is prepare your questions in advance. This way you will also sound more knowledgeable, confident and professional.
Networking is a two-way street
The second reason why one should re-think their attitude towards networking is the opportunity for mutually beneficial interaction between people. It is easy to see how the industry professionals can help you as a graduate student without much experience. However, you should not forget that you are also an extremely valuable resource for them. You also have a personal network of people consisting of family members, friends, friends of friends, classmates and colleagues. It is possible that you may just know somebody who may be able to help them in some way. Think of a potential situation where the professional you are networking with needs the scientific expertise from an expert in the field and your PI happens to be one. Moreover, as you grow professionally and your network expands, you become an even more valuable member of the network. You have the power to connect and help people.
Additionally, maybe you don’t have much to offer now, but as young talent, you will be in a very different position a couple of years down the road. Because true networking is a sustainable, long-term investment of building relationships (to be addressed in the next blog), people who help you today may need your help tomorrow. You don’t feel so bad asking for help anymore now, do you?
The ultimate door to your dream job
So you want that job but applying online on the company’s website does not produce any results even though you are qualified.
When chasing your dream job, you first have to ask yourself how much you actually know about that job and that particular company. Will you be happy working there and how do you know? This brings us to another reason to network. A company’s website is a good way to learn about what they are all about but does not give you the inside story and the human perspective. Talking to someone who works there may give you just what you are looking for. What is the company’s corporate culture? How flexible are they if you want to move laterally within the company? What is the management like and will you be able to get along with them? Are people who work there happy? What are some of the different departments in the company and what do they do? These are all important questions to consider. The answers to some of these are best found by talking to the employees. These people will help you decide if the company is a good fit for you. They in turn, may decide that an individual like you is exactly what they need for the advancement of their business. And then you have succeeded in bypassing the almighty “I’m never going to hire you” HR department. You get a job and your networking partner gets a loyal, smart and talented employee.
SO DON’T BE SHY TO GROW YOUR NETWORK!
Keep reading our next blogs to answer some of your other burning questions:
How to start networking?
How to extract maximum benefit from networking?
Do’s and Don’ts of networking
Author: Anastassia Mikhailova