Networking can take place at a dedicated networking event, exhibition, or conference, or in a meeting situation, and is far more relaxed than an interview. However, there are still some guidelines and tips you can follow, and here’s our top ten. Academics should pay particular attention, as networking is often overlooked by scholars, but is necessary for advancement.
1. Always on the look out
Even if you’re happily employed right now it doesn’t mean you can not network. You never know when circumstances may change. Plus you may need contacts for other purposes. For academics, contacts are also useful for other reasons, such as collaborative projects, external examining and support for funding opportunities etc.
2. Be prepared
Make sure your business cards are at the ready, in an easily accessible place (not at the bottom of a handbag). Ensure they are up to date, well presented and professional. There’s nothing worse than searching for a pen and a piece of paper. Generally people will offer their card in return, especially if you are discussing something that requires follow-up, but if it is not offered just ask! Even academics are included in this. For a long time academics have shied away from business cards, but now US scholars are leading the way making it more essential that we all have a business card.
3. Dress to impress
It may not be a job interview but it could lead to one, so make sure you are smartly dressed, mind your manners, keep eye contact and try to give a good impression.
4. Stand out from the crowd
This doesn’t mean you should say something outrageous or become the centre of attention by standing on a table. Just ensure you act assertive and capable. Don’t let it give the impression you are overbearing!
Remember there are many people to talk to at networking events. Others will want to talk to the key figures attending so don’t monopolise their time, just ensure you will be remembered for your presentation.
If you are involved in a group conversation, it may only be one person you are interested in networking with but pay attention to everyone. You never know when something relevant to you will be mentioned. Similarly, allow others chance to talk. Remember not everyone loves the sound of your voice.
Research and be fully aware of what you want to achieve by networking. Then you will not appear too vague, and can steer the conversation in the right direction for you, whether that’s scouting for a mentor, or finding out specific information about a company. Most academic networking will be opened by questions such as ‘which university are you from?’ or ‘what do you work on?’ You should try to break away from such openers which can often fall flat after a few minutes. If you have researched someone’s interests, challenge them about their work. If you are looking for specific help, ask straightaway.
It may not be an interview, but it doesn’t mean you can’t practice answers to questions you may be asked, in particular about your long term career or research ambitions.
Careful research is even more important when writing or ringing to network than when networking face to face. While contacting them is probably high on your priority list, replying to you probably isn’t high on their priority list. Remember people have busy lives, so give them sufficient time to respond before chasing them.
Once the networking is done, if you use someone’s name to get a job or take someone’s suggestions on board it is worth letting the person know (you took that business card for a reason!); a. to say thank-you, and b. you never know when your career paths will cross again. This is especially important if you are working in a narrow field as the other person will probably appear at most of the events you attend.