Let’s face it, most scientists are not known for their social skills. We may be recognized for our brilliant minds, our resourcefulness in problem solving, and our obstinate dedication to lab work. Yet, rarely are scientists the life of the party. While I recognize that this is a broad generalization, and there are certainly some people who are good scientists and also love to socialize, many of us cringe when we hear the word networking. Part of the problem is that we seldom understand what networking is all about. Some equate “networking” with schmoozing; others think that it is just getting a long list of names on your LinkedIn. Others think that networking is about establishing close relationships with complete strangers.
Here is a simple yet powerful definition I like to use: networking is the process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other professional people. The key piece here is “mutually beneficial relationship.” The beauty of networking is that sometimes you will benefit, but in an equal amount of cases, you hold the key to helping someone else. Networking is about building relationships to help each other.
Here are some ways that networking has worked out for me:
• There is probably only one other female Venezuelan scientist in the US and she read my blog and contacted me. It turns out we had very similar experiences growing up and had socialized in similar circles. Needless to say, when she needed a CV forwarded to another group within my company, I was more than delighted to help her.
• I finally tracked down one of my childhood neighbors (OK, so really he was one of my early crushes) using Facebook after 20+ years. It turned out he worked for J&J in Venezuela, and we were able to reconnect via the Intranet. At some point, he needed some information regarding one of our compounds and had a tight deadline. I was able to get him in touch with the right people on the US side, help my friend, and help my company.
• One of my mentees was applying for a position at a given company and I wanted to make sure he got a second interview. I reached out through my network to someone who worked at that company and the information was passed around.
• When I was interviewing for my first Industry job, my friend who was employed there wrote a nice note to the hiring manager to tell him about me. The hiring manager, who later became a good friend, acknowledged that such a note made a positive difference.
Let me now add some disclaimers: I am a very social person and an introvert all at once. While I love to meet people, and can chat up a storm, at the end of the day I will retreat to the peace of my home/office/quiet place. Most people are surprised to hear that I can be quiet and shy, but it is true that I know how difficult it can be to “network.” One way to circumvent this is by having people come to me through different ways such as blogging, LinkedIn, and giving talks at different types of organizations (AWIS, UPenn, Jefferson University, etc). Because people are reaching out to me, I get to choose whether I want to network with those individuals based on their approach. Here are some examples of what works and what doesn’t.
For example, this morning I got a LinkedIn request for someone who claimed we were part of the same LinkedIn group. I’ve never heard of him nor do I participate in the LinkedIn groups besides reading the postings on occasion. As far as I am concerned, blind requests for networking are a big no-no. If you want to connect with me, give me a reason or some element in common.
Today I also got this e-mail from another employee at J&J:
My name is Mary Jane (yes, names have been changed) and I work for J&J, currently supporting Compound X from a market research perspective. I hope you don’t mind me forwarding on information regarding a friend’s interest in biomarker research. She was on-line and read your blog and was interested in speaking with you about your work and any potential opportunities within your group. Judy is a very vibrant, intelligent woman who I think would be a great fit within our company.
So, Judy found me and reached out to another friend in J&J who could get my contact information. Rather than just sending an e-mail, she asked her friend to help. This is a great example of using your network. Some other things I like: Judy read my blog and used some of the blog content to make a personal connection in her cover letter. Needless to say, within minutes I replied to Mary Jane indicating I would be delighted to talk to Judy. Now both Mary Jane and Judy are part of my network. Hopefully I will help Judy with her job search and Mary Jane has just provided the inspiration for this blog. A win-win for all!
How do you network?