Graduate Students - Summer 2011
by Susan Molnar, Graduate Career Advisor
Think about how you got to where you are today. Likely your decisions have been influenced by a few key people along the way. Perhaps it was a high school teacher who inspired your love for biology, and here you are pursuing a PhD, or maybe a parent who discouraged you from following in their footsteps and so you didn’t, or potentially even a rejection letter led you to your second choice, which ended up being a perfect gift. Maybe it was a complete stranger, who gave you some great advice that you acted on, or the person she introduced you to which led to a successful marriage! Many people touch our lives in ways we can’t predict or quantify. Naturally and inadvertently, our environment has a lasting impact on our careers. If we view the process of meeting people as a mystery novel unfolding, never really knowing who will lead us to our next adventure, perhaps we can greet our encounters with a heightened sense of curiosity and excitement. We really have no idea when someone will share useful advice, make a helpful introduction or spare us future heartache.
Most graduate students dislike networking. They say they are not comfortable “using people”, “brown-nosing” & being manipulative: pretending to be interested in someone who they are not interested in getting to know purely for the purpose of getting a job. Some say they don’t know how to start a conversation and keep it going, others don’t want to appear desperate, incompetent, or look like a beggar. The main reason why we don’t like to network is because we don’t like to ask for help. We work so hard to not appear dependent, needy or lost. Asking someone for time, advice, feedback, referrals – all the things a network can do for you – brings up feelings of vulnerability and shame. Why? Because we don’t know how to receive, we would rather give. The truth is we are not “using anybody”, when we ask, we simply create an opportunity for others to give and allow them to feel useful about their contribution.
What can extroverts teach us?
Keep in mind that more than 50% of communication is non verbal. Now think about all the people you know who are natural networkers. Notice that they smile often, don’t cross their arms but rather have an open body language. Most of their gestures imply they want to embrace you, invite you into their world. They constantly look you in the eyes, draw you in with questions, shake your hand with energy, they really want to engage you. They naturally show interest and joy in being with you. You feel special, interesting. Clearly they want your attention and are happy to receive yours. Although we can’t acquire their skills instantly, here is how you can learn to become an effective networker even if you are not naturally extroverted.
9 Tips for Networking Successfully
1. ASK QUESTIONS
If you consider yourself an introvert, your natural strength lies in being a good listener and receptive audience, so ask questions whenever you can, research a potential contacts biography before you meet them. Think about questions that will help you better understand your industry or the role you may play in it, rather than how to obtain employment in their company. It is OK to ask people how they got started, what they do currently and what they aspire to do next. The most important question you can ask while you are building your industry database is: “Is there anyone else you can recommend I should speak to?”
2. GET NOTICED
When overwhelmed by attention, be it in an interview or at a party, remind yourself that you really do need to be seen and heard. If you need proof of this, think about all the ridiculous things you did for attention when you were a teenager. Make a point of showing up and being seen and heard.
3. MAXIMIZE EXISTING CONTACTS
Surprisingly enough the 4th level referral is usually the one that leads to employment. So for example, it’s not necessarily your parents (1st level) who will give you a job, but perhaps someone they know (2nd level), who knows someone (3rd level), who knows someone (4th level) who will most likely end up being your employer.
4. FOLLOW UP
This is the most under-utilized job search skill aside from research. If you meet a kind soul, someone who genuinely wants to help you, keep in touch. At career fairs where a long line up means 3-5 minute conversations, it’s appropriate to ask if you could have a business card and follow up. If someone gives you good advice, be sure to keep them posted on the positive outcome. Never ask others for a job they can’t give you even if they want to. It makes people feel uncomfortable and useless.
5. LOOK THE PART
Smile easily and often, it puts people at ease. Remember first impressions are hard to undo. Dress for success because you never know where you are going to meet a potential employer. It could literally happen anywhere. Always be ready by carrying 10 business cards of you own in your wallet at all times. Stay upbeat whenever meeting people. If you are having a bad day, stay home. If you are feeling impatient, desperate or frustrated, work it out through art or sport. Avoid meeting people when you are not feeling your personal best.
6. VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME
Where do people in your industry congregate? What professional associations are they part of? Volunteer your time to help them organize one of their annual events. In the process you may meet hundreds of people employed in your field, who are likely well placed to hear of relevant openings.
7. ACCEPT HELP
If you want people to help you, give them the impression you need their help. Lower your defenses; don’t sound like you have all the answers. Look a little lost, admit you are just beginning the process of career research. Invite people who have more experience, contacts and power to share that with you. Let people guide you toward new career prospects, teach you about your industry (peak hiring season, salary ranges, career paths) and what it takes to make it in a particular role (personality fit, work culture). Let’s face it: you have spent most of your time as a graduate student acquiring knowledge, not researching your career options. It is OK to admit you are unsure about what your next steps will be.
8. SHOW GENUINE INTEREST
People really enjoy talking about themselves and their careers and helping when they can. Find out what they do outside of work for fun. When you give others the opportunity to talk about their passions, they experience joy and associate you with feeling good. Future encounters are much more likely to happen and the prospect of a rewarding friendship or mentoring relationship becomes possible. Too many of us have a distorted perception of networking. Forget the “give me what I want otherwise I have no use for you” attitude.
9. GIVE THANKS
Send thank you cards after a meeting or informational interview. Always show appreciation for people who generously gave their time to help you further your career. However small that gesture may seem to you, it will make you look very professional in the eyes of a potential employer or mentor.