Professional networking can be a stressful situation, regardless of if you are a recent graduate or a high-level executive. It's normal to feel uncomfortable with the thought of moving through a room full of strangers and striking up conversation about your work and professional goals. Networking seems to be an easy task for extroverts who live for social interaction, but introverts can find the task of connecting to other professionals in a social setting an artificial and utilitarian activity. Luckily, there are many less daunting and more effective networking alternatives.
A research study on instrumental networking in pursuit of professional goals showed that some individuals can “experience feelings of dirtiness” about networking. Professionals who felt “dirty” while networking tended to engage less in it and had poorer work performance. Fortunately, the research also discovered that such feelings of “dirtiness” can be overcome. The major step to enjoy networking events is to stop seeing them as a burden, and instead tell yourself they are an opportunity. With the right mindset, networking will help you learn more about your field; meet people with common interests; increase self-awareness of your strengths; and make yourself known to others in your industry.
Networking is similar to tending to a garden - it requires constant care for relationships to flourish. Contact should not only be when you need something. Effective and long-lasting relationships are based on mutual trust and respect, which is built over multiple interactions. They should be a win-win situation in which both parties exchange support and professional knowledge.
After establishing the right mindset, we encourage your to try these 4 less scary networking strategies:
1. Establish connections with the people closest to you
Networking starts with colleagues in your class and in your workplace. Take time for a coffee with a colleague or attend an event organized by your department or student association. These can be a safe spaces to practice your small talk.
Another overlooked networking opportunity is your alumni association. There are many forms of reaching alumni from your program. Volunteering at an alumni event is a great way to meet new people who have similar interests. It's also an opportunity to make yourself known to a large number of professionals without directly approaching them.
2. Use social media professionally
Social media, used professionally, can be a powerful tool to build your network. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to keep in contact with your connections and update them about your work (ex. projects, published articles, conference presentations, and internships). LinkedIn is the most popular professional networking tool among professionals and companies alike. If you wish to learn more about LinkedIn join our LinkedIn for Beginners workshop.
Twitter is another popular networking platform among professors and grad students. This social media allows students to increase research visibility in and outside academia, and helps them become recognized as experts in their field. Tweeting about your research, papers published and attended conferences is likely to place you on a hiring committee member’s radar. Join popular Twitter discussions among grad students like #PhDChat or #ScholarSunday. Or you can join our new Academic Networking on Twitter workshop to learn how to become a top tweeter!
3. Ask for advice from an expert in the industry
When making a new professional contact, it's not acceptable to ask straight-up for a job, but you can ask them for an short chat about their job. We call this an informational interview.
You can contact an alumnus or an industry expert, via social media or email, and ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time, over a cup of coffee, to ask questions about the industry, company or role you are interested in. If they accept, use their time wisely! Do thorough research about the industry and the expert, ask a lot of questions, take notes and listen with care. You are aiming to make a positive first impression. You need to show that you are serious about what the expert has to tell you, and with a sound background research you demonstrate that you are credible to the other person.
This strategy not only gives you insight into the company but also gives you visibility. The person you are talking with will better know you and what you are looking for, and might contact you if a opportunity (publicized or not) opens in the future. It is important to remember that this is an informational interview and not a meeting to ask for a job. It has to be a genuine chance to meet an expert and check the job and the industry is right for you. If you get an interview or a lead in your job search then it is a bonus, but not a necessary outcome of this informational interview.
Don't forget to be grateful of the person’s time and write them a short thank you note. Personalize your message with a brief explanation of how the person was helpful to you and how it helped you to progress in your job search.
4. Have your elevator pitch ready
You never know when you are going to meet someone who might lead you to a job interview and hopefully your dream job. It is wise to have a 30-second pitch to talk about yourself, and give an idea to the other person about your professional interests.
Take your time to write and practice your elevator pitch. Practice that pitch with friends and request feedback, as your pitch has to sound natural and confident. Your elevator pitch is an invaluable tool when you are attending career fairs, conferences or an interview. If talking about your research is part of your elevator pitch, you may also want to sign-up for the Concordia 3-Minute Thesis Competition, where we provide individual coaching on your research pitch.