“Contacts only hurt the one who has none.” This saying has always been true, but as we spend more and more time on social media, good networking skills have become more important than ever. Some of the secrets to networking consist of asking yourself the following questions:
Who Are You?
Spend some time preparing a good, one-sentence story that introduces yourself and allows you to be remembered in a positive way.
Questions like “What are you doing?” “Why?” “What are you good at?” “What makes you unique?” “How do others benefit?” might be helpful in creating something a bit more interesting than “I am a Ph.D. student in the lab of Professor X working on xyz.”
Try something like: “I develop pigments for color filters to help make your TV display more colorful.”
Remember, your goal is an exchange, not a one-sided presentation or monologue, so keep it short but informative as well as conversational. Adapt what you say to your audience and make sure your science holds what you promise.
What Do You Want to Achieve?
Building a good network of contacts is very important when searching for a (new) job, looking for research partners or cooperative opportunities, for career building, and so on.
To focus on what you want to achieve when you meet an interesting person, define your personal goal for networking. Prepare insightful questions in advance to get the information you are looking for. This will help you recognize a networking situation and engage in more than just small talk or converse about topics that are not of particular interest to you. It also helps you to get your message across and ask the right things when there is an opportunity to do so.
When looking for a job at a specific company, you could, for example, collect information on the company from their website, their annual report, and press releases. Also look at LinkedIn profiles of employees or search the Web for interviews with people in similar positions. Specific interviews on day-to-day routines and what a specific job entails can help you; some examples include the Chemists Talk About Their Jobs series at ChemistryViews.org or the Berufsbilder für Chemiker brochure provided by the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh) (German only).
Who Do You Want to Get in Contact With?
Think about your goals and ask yourself: Who is doing what you would like to be doing? Who is good at what you would like to be doing? Who is a potential cooperation partner? Who can bring you into contact with other people of interest to you? Where can I meet somebody I only know from e-mail or social media?
Additionally, try to be someone who connects people. You are likely to be sought after by other people and have more impact.
When aiming at cooperative opportunities and longer relationships, be on the look out for people you like and find it easy to talk to. These relationships will be more fun and, therefore, are likely to be more successful. This does not mean that if you are a student you can only find this with other students. Well-known professors also like to talk to the younger generation.
How Do You Make Contacts?
You can find networking opportunities everywhere, so keep your eyes open and talk to other people whenever possible. However, conferences and events definitely offer good opportunities. Use coffee breaks or poster sessions (Tips for Your Poster series) to introduce yourself to someone. Don’t be too shy or introverted, but also don’t bore the other person with a monologue. Think of the introduction and questions you have prepared in advance and wait for the right moment. You don’t want to interrupt a conversation, of course, but if you wait too long and too far away, you might miss your chance to talk to the person.
Social media also provide a huge opportunity to network. You can join discussion groups or contact somebody directly by, for example, telling him/her what you like about his/her career path and asking a well-prepared question. The answer should not be something obvious you could have found out for yourself.
Another good opportunity is when traveling. Strike up a conversation with your neighbor on the train or plane.
When talking to someone, try to make more than just small talk about the weather and become more comfortable to direct a conversation towards topics of your interest.
It is always a good rule of thumb to be more interested in the other person than prove yourself to be interesting. Ask questions about the other person’s work. Find out the needs of the other person and gain some insight into what makes them tick. Relationships with other people only work on a give-and-take basis. Both parties need to benefit from the contact. So look for commonalities and how you can help. Do not expect an (immediate) benefit in return.
How Should You Cultivate Your Contacts?
The number of your contacts is not as important as their value. Therefore, it pays to keep in contact and exchange ideas regularly, whether it’s in person or virtually. You can send a short note on their birthday or anniversary, or drop them a line when you have information that could be of interest to them.
You should send a short follow-up after having had a nice conversation with a person. Here, you will soon find out that people are different: some might answer immediately, others might recognize your note, but are too busy to answer. Do not get discouraged by this.
And Last but not Least
Don’t expect too much. Otherwise you will come across as too nervous and demanding. Stay curious, open, and positive.
Also of interest:
- Chemists Talk About Their Jobs,
Interview series where we ask a broad range of scientists about their jobs
- Tips for Your Poster,
Simple things that you can do to help yourself get through presenting posters and leading the conversation in a poster session
- Online Networking – How Networking Works During Corona
The best tips from different scientists and their experiences with online meetings