How to Network in 7 steps

From my workshop at the Beyond Academia Conference,
March 15, 2016
U.C. Berkeley

For PhD students interested in learning about jobs outside of academia, networking is a crucial skill that should be honed. Here's a couple of steps you can take to make most of your networking. 

In an earlier post, I defined networking in the following way.

Networking is building relationships and community based on trust and generosity.

Admittedly, this is different from how people usually conceive of networking, but if you keep this definition in mind, the following steps will make a lot of sense.

Step 1: Do informational interviews

Informational interviews are a great way to quickly meet people and build your network. It means reaching out to someone to get to know:

  • their story,
  • their journey to where they are now,
  • what they do now and what they are interested in
  • how you can help and add value to their success or what they care about.

As a university student or postdoc, you are simply learning, not asking for anything else; this is a huge advantage. Here is a sample email I helped a fellow PhD student write that has been very successful in requesting informational interviews.

Let's step through this piece by piece:

Subject: Quick chat

This is casual, and it cuts straight to the point. Instead of writing something formal like "Request for an informational interview," which can be a bit off-putting and give some people the impression you are taking the chat too seriously and perhaps hoping to get a job out of it. Try to keep it light and friendly.

Hope you're well! My name is...

Be kind and polite. And introduce who you are. If the two of you have met before or if there is any connection between the two of you, mention it! 

I wanted to get in touch because... I would love the opportunity to learn more about YOU

Always give a reason why you are contacting them. Next time you write an email to a connection, count the number of times you talk about "me, me, me." Notice how the above text is all about "you, you, you"? This is because networking is all about building relationships, and that means getting to know and really care about the other person. This paragraph is what sets the tone for your request. 

If you are available to chat for a few minutes

People are busy, and meetings outside of academia are often 30 minutes or less. Don't presume that they can spend hours chatting, so ask for a few minutes out of courtesy and be appreciative of their time.

Let me know what is most convenient for you

Make it super easy for them to talk to you. At this point, they are doing you a favor, even if the relationship will be beneficial to you both. 

Step 2: Strategize

We make plans all the time. We plan research. We plan our weekends. We plan our lunches. We set alarms for when we wake up.

So why is it that most people don't make a plan for networking?

Networking is not a random process. It takes planning, research, and attention.

  • You should set tangible goals for each event: for example, talking to 3 people, making 1 really strong connection, and following up with everyone in a meaningful way within 24 hours.
  • You should be using Google and any other research tools to make sure you really understand who your network connections are so you can find ways to help them and keep them in mind as you go through life.
  • Google people before you go meet them, before you go to an event, do your homework so you can strategize which attendees you want to meet, how you might introduce yourself to them, and what questions you have for them.

Step 3: Add value

The goal you should keep in mind when you're building relationships and interacting with people is ADDING VALUE. Their success is your success!

How can you add value? I get asked this question quite a bit. Here are three areas you can add value to:

Interests: Share information

  • Sending articles and information that is relevant for their career or their passions
  • Offering insights and creative ideas related to their interests
  • Enthusiasm for what they do. This will take you far. People spend most of their time at work. Our work is a part of our identity so when someone expresses real excitement and interest in what we do, it can make us feel like our work is impactful and meaningful. This is a wonderful feeling to give to someone.  

LifeInvite them places

  • To events or conferences
  • To networking events
  • And even to more intimate gatherings

Network: Build their network

  • Introducing interesting and relevant people to them
  • Writing them a nice LinkedIn recommendation.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
— Dale Carnegie

Step 4: Follow up

Following up is like watering a fruit tree: it nourishes the relationship and essentially keeps it alive. Follow up by sending occasional messages.

What can you say in a follow up? 

  • Just drop a line and say Hi, hope you're well, you were on my mind. 
  • Give an update on yourself and what you're working on. Ask about how they have been and what they are up to. 
  • Send relevant articles and information.
  • Connect them to another person.

Everyone is super busy, and following up is the way to cut through the noise. 

Don’t assume people will remember to contact you, and don’t be resentful if someone doesn’t reach out to you even if they said they would or they don't reply. Send polite, genuine follow up messages.

Each person is different, so you have to feel out how often you should follow up with them on an individual basis. Some people are like cacti or succulents, not needing a lot of attention. But with others you may build a closer relationship that you nurture all of the time. 

Step 5: Sharpen interpersonal skills

If you have a PhD, it’s not a lack of hard skills or credibility that will keep you from getting a job in industry. It’s a lack of interpersonal skills and a limited network.

Several surveys have shown that interpersonal skills are more lacking in job candidates than technical skills. 

One of the best books on this subject is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. Check it out for some really solid info on communication and connecting with people. 

Step 6: Smile! Even if introverted.

Building relationships is not just for people who are naturally social. I have hid in a bathroom stall at a networking event before to avoid standing around awkwardly. It was rock bottom. So, I get it. 

Let’s say you’re an introvert and you’re at a networking opportunity:

  1. Every time you start feeling nervous, smile. Physiologically, it's nearly impossible to stay really anxious while you're smiling. 

  2. Reach out to the hosts of the event beforehand. Ask the how you can make the most of the event. They are usually happy to help! Ask them if they can introduce you to one of the attendees. That way you don't even have to be the one to approach the other person. 

  3. Email the people you want to connect with BEFORE the event. That way, you break the ice before getting into the room. You can just walk up to someone and say, "Hey, it's great to finally meet you in person!" It's a nice social hack since sending an email counts as meeting electronically. 

Step 7: Practice

This one is self-explanatory. Building relationships, interpersonal skills, adding value, breaking the ice with someone new and building a meaningful connection quickly, following up, etc. are definitely skills that can be learned, but it takes practice. They can also become dull, so you need to keep these skills sharp by integrating it into your life.

As cheesy as it sounds, building relationships is a lifestyle. You can’t have a crash diet of networking, but rather it’s a way of life. Just being a genuine, helpful, kind person who invests in other people.

Now go forth and build relationships! 

Questions? Get in touch :-)