Everyday Networking Tips for the Life Sciences

networking event

Becoming a scientist takes dedication, singular focus, late nights and weekends in the lab, reading papers and a lot of discussion with other scientists. Becoming an employed scientist takes an additional ingredient: networking, a skill that often does not come naturally to “science geeks”. But here is an incontrovertible fact:  the best way of landing a job is being referred, and to be referred, one has to know people and to know people one needs to network.

The good news is that networking is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Here are some tips for everyday networking.

Networking Can Be Done (Almost) Always And Everywhere

A sales rep visiting the lab, a vendor show at the university, a presentation/talk, a conference or seminar, an event by the local biotech organization, or a dedicated networking event like Talent Connect, and even a birthday party are all networking opportunities. Wherever people meet there is an opportunity to connect with somebody who may one day make the difference between getting that job, or not getting it.

Networks Thrive on Diversity

It makes sense to focus networking efforts on one’s field of speciality – but not too narrowly. Developing assays? The gal designing optics systems for microarray readers or the guy working on marketing a new medical device might be or know the hiring manager for that dream job. On the flipside: a degree of discrimination makes sense, the LinkedIn request by a manager from the aviation industry in Vietnam can safely be ignored unless they are a friend or family member.

Be Prepared

This motto is good for boy scouts as well as scientists. The question “What are you doing?” is often difficult to answer for a scientist, especially if the person asking is not a scientist. The answer to that question should neither be very technical and detailed, nor start with something like  “Uh, well, I sort of, like, work on curing cancer…”. Everybody who is in networking mode should have a 30 seconds to 1 minute high-level summary of their professional/scientific accomplishments and future goals ready to be delivered flawlessly. The key ingredients are clarity, brevity, lack of jargon, and a bit of a human touch: a joke, a personal story, or – for the advanced networker – picking up on something the other person just talked about. The best way of mastering this elevator pitch is to write it down and practice delivering it – out loud and many times.

Attitude Adjustment

Attitude tends to get in the way of networking. Even if, for example, becoming a sales rep or a marketing manager seems like a waste of an advanced scientific degree to somebody hoping to cure cancer in the future, it is not. It pays to take a few minutes and ask a few questions to understand why a person made a career choice, it pays to respect that decision and connect with that person. Scientists are driven by curiosity and real curiosity about people is a key networking success factor.

Put that Smart Phone Away

Smart phones are the single most serious threat to networking. It is so easy and comfortable to hide behind that screen with an air of busyness during a conference networking break or between seminars, but it completely defies the purpose of a networking break: meeting real people in real life and having a conversation. No social media update is as important as networking!

Expand and Maintain The Network

Social networks that focus on professionals, such as LinkedIn, are great tools to maintain and expand a network. These online networks make it easy to keep in touch with contacts, whether it is liking an article they wrote or congratulating them to a new job. They are also unbeatable when if comes to expanding the network, e.g. by approaching 2nd degree connections based on a strong relationship with the person both know. Social networking sites, however, are not the best option when it comes to building a network from scratch. Actually meeting a person, talking and building a relationship is much more powerful and memorable.

Pay Forward into the Network

A network is more than the sum of its one-to-one relationships. The trick to getting the most out of a network is paying forward when somebody asks for help without pondering “What have they done for me lately?” The idea is to pay into the network, create goodwill until the day for a “withdrawal” comes. Whether that withdrawal is an introduction, a referral, the answer to a question, or one of many other things: a good “citizen” of the network generally gets what they are (reasonably) asking for.

Networking can be hard, frustrating, intimidating and annoying but – especially for scientists - there is no way to ignore the data: according to the 2015 Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey recruiters rely heavily on referrals and they remain the most effective source of quality hires.

“78% of recruiters find their best quality candidates through referrals. This is up from 60% in 2014. In the next year, 41% of recruiters plan to invest more in referrals.”

Hard to argue with that.

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