The Benefits of Networking
Networking is a word that intimidates many, as many associate it with a “what can you do for me” type of connecting with people. This is not the case. Networking simply means regularly seeking out connections with people in the career field(s) of interest to you. Many of you probably do this already when you attend talks and conferences or plan speaker series and other events here on campus. If you’re exploring a wide range of career options, networking also means reaching out to new people and talking to them about their work, or “informational interviewing.”
Whatever your career goals may be, you should make networking an important part of your professional life. By networking with colleagues in your field, you can often gain information about jobs and other opportunities, plus receive feedback and career advice.
For some, networking is something that comes naturally. For others, it may take a conscious effort. If networking makes you nervous try to remember two things:
- Networking is a normal part of being a professional, whatever your field.
- Networking is a give and take. You have something to offer as well—your expertise, skills, knowledge, insights, and connections.
Here are a few easy, no-stress ways to start networking:
- Find a commonality you share with the person and begin a conversation from that.
- When entering a group conversation, you don’t have to say something immediately; you can listen for a few moments and then pose a question and add a comment.
- When someone comes to speak in your program, talk with that person afterwards about their work. (We’ve known a lot of scientists who find postdocs this way.)
- Ask your adviser to introduce you to people at an upcoming academic conference.
- Does your undergraduate institution have an alumni network? Use that to contact people for informational interviews. You will be surprised how receptive people are to fellow alumni. (Don’t worry, we are currently working to build an alumni database for the Graduate Center.)
- Get on LinkedIn or Academia.edu (or both). Complete your profile(s). Start connecting. Reach out to someone for an informational interview.
At conferences or seminars, it can be easy to stay with the group of people you know. Try sitting next to someone you don’t know and branch out from your core group. The conversation doesn’t always have to be about research or academia, you can discuss hobbies or even something basic such as the venue, the food, etc. Use inviting body language, i.e., make eye contact, don’t fold your arms, smile.
Don’t forget to follow-up with the person to continue building the connection!
Finally, it’s helpful to have business cards on hand when you attend conferences, talks, or networking events. The GC will provide PhD students with official cards for a small fee once they advance to candidacy. (Each program’s APO should have more information about this.) You also can use a service like VistaPrint to order free or inexpensive business cards.
- “How Successful People Network with Each Other” by Dorie Clark in the Harvard Business Review—explains how and why some marketing principles actually do apply to networking
- “Demystifying Networking While in Grad School” from GradSchools.com
- “How to Network: 17 Tips for Shy People” from CIO
- “Crash Course on Socializing at a Scientific Conference Dinner” from The Thesis Whisperer