Contributor Lynn Kimlicka
Networking, that hyper-social business behaviour aimed at developing new partnerships and refreshing old ones, can feel like a whirlwind of madding crowds and fluttering business cards. Joanne Kamens, executive director of Addgene and a recognized educator of young scientists, sees it differently in her presentation at the Naturejobs Career Expo in Boston on May 20.
Networking is all about building relationships with people you like, Kamens says. It is not a fake and superficial mingling. And although networking is crucial in landing a job – the majority of job offers come through referrals and direct contacts – it should not be confused with the process of a job hunt. In fact, it is never too early to start building relationships, nor should one wait until a job change is imminent or unemployment strikes. Meet people and expand networks regularly, she advises.
Here are some tips she offers for successful networking experience:
Do not network with jerks. Networking should be empowering, not scary, she reflects, and should be a chance to meet interesting people. If someone is unpleasant, just make an excuse and walk away. Do not let negative encounters deter you from future networking opportunities.
Make a good first impression. Practice an “elevator pitch,” keeping it broad and universal, so that the other person can relate to what you have to say. For example, try something like “I work on immune systems,” rather than delving deep into specific pathways and proteins. Also, open up a little and have things to say, not necessarily about work, so you won’t end up with an awkward silence following your initial greetings. Engage your listener and be memorable. It is also important to have a good, firm handshake. Practice your handshake with a friend.
Have business cards handy. Not only does it look professional and help people remember you, but it is also a way to show them that you care and want to keep in touch. However, the biggest secret of business cards, Kamens reveals, is that by handing one out, you will receive one in return, getting a means to contact the person.
Tell contacts what you need, so they can help you, say with advice or an introduction to a key person in your field. Do not be afraid in opening up with challenges you are having. Also, networking works in both directions, Kamens says. Be prepared to assist others and build good karma. You never know when you will need their help; what comes around goes around, after all. But do not keep score or expect immediate payback.
Follow up. This can be done with a thank-you note or an invitation to your LinkedIn or other social networks. Be sure to personalize your message and remind recipients how you met. Keep your social networks up-to-date and professional; you do not want to appear silly to contacts and future employers. Following up on new contacts is a great way to stay in touch. Networking need not be daunting; once a relationship is established, an occasional exchange is usually enough to maintain it.
Start where you are. Your academic department is a great place to start networking. Set a goal to meet one new person at every seminar you attend. Sit next to someone because leaving an empty seat between yourself and others can be the same as declaring, “I don’t want to talk to you!” Connect with fellow students, colleagues, and alumni by joining groups or clubs; they all share common ground with you. Furthermore, make networking a routine exercise by having lunch with someone new twice a week, for example.
It’s OK to be an introvert. Introverts can still be good conversationalists by talking about something they care about and finding common interest with new acquaintances in order to get conversation going. Maybe you are more comfortable with one-on-one situations, and that is perfectly fine. Going home from networking opportunity with a single great connection is still a success, Kamens reassures. The easiest way for an introvert to establish contacts is to become an active member of an organization, such as serving on a committee or volunteering. This way, you will naturally interact with other members and expand your network. Early-career scientists also can gain exposure and share ideas by becoming guest bloggers for Addgene Blog.
A shorter version of Kamen’s presentation is available on YouTube. It not only contains great content, but Kamens is also a great presenter.
Lynn Kimlicka is a recent graduate of University of British Columbia with a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She engages broad audience in her blog Something About Science, where she hones her skills as a writer, while making science more accessible. She is also an enthusiastic multi-hobbyist, who enjoys photography, illustration, and music.