Career Skills: Networking

Guest post from Aimee Wilde, Employer Engagement Officer, King’s Careers & Employability

At some point we’ve probably all been told to ‘network’ and nodded our heads along like we know what this means. But do we actually? Is it really that simple as walking into a room and collecting a load of emails? Not quite – but it is achievable and can be very valuable.

If you’re considering a move from academia to industry, then networking is your No.1 tool. It’s a great way to start researching about non-academic professions, and speaking with people who have already transitioned into commercial roles can be a lot more useful than reading a company website. On top of this, it gives you the opportunity to learn the jargon associated with your chosen industry. Employers want to hire ‘work-ready’ people wherever possible, and knowing the lingo can make it seem like you’re halfway there.

So how do you network well? Take a look at the tips below and see what results come from putting them into action.

1) Start early

You will not find your dream job overnight. Okay, a few people might, but this is unlikely and it’s better to start planning early. If you know you’re going to be finishing your PhD in a year’s time, start making friends in the right places now. And once you start, don’t stop! Maintaining a strong professional network is something that will help develop your career throughout your working life.

2) Be direct

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. One of the most effective networking techniques is to make contact with senior management at places you’re interested in working at. Of course, spamming emails to hundreds of CEOs is not productive – but a carefully crafted email to the right manager can get you noticed.

NOTE: If you’re thinking, ‘but managers never have their emails on company websites’ – you’re right, they often don’t. But they aren’t gold-dust either! It’s pretty straightforward to ‘guestimate’ someone’s work email address and even easier to find it on their LinkedIn profile.

3) Don’t talk just about your PhD

This might be a hard pill to swallow. Yes, you’re spending your life immersed in this and it is a hugely valuable asset (see below), but employers will also be keen to hear about other experiences. Can you demonstrate that you’re a self-starter outside of your degree? This doesn’t have to be completely unrelated to your university life and a great example could be establishing a society. By mentioning this, you show employers that you can use initiative within a variety of contexts.

4) If you have to talk about your PhD, repackage it

Okay, okay, this is exaggerative – of course you are going to want to (and should) talk about your studies. But when you speak to those outside the academic world, consider your audience carefully. Unless you’re planning on going into a niche industry, the specialist knowledge you’ve gained during your PhD isn’t of much interest to employers.

So what is? ALL the skills you’ve acquired along the way. We’re rarely taught to contemplate the new attributes we gain, but this is the most important thing you can do to market yourself well. Resources such as StrengthsFinder 2.0 can help you achieve this and make sure you stand out amongst an academic crowd.

5) Set clear goals

Networking isn’t the elusive art it’s made out to be. Like most things, it can be made more attainable by establishing goals. Qualify and quantify what you want to achieve! Next time you’re at a networking event, decide before what information you need; are you looking for guidance on getting an internship? Do you need to know what skills are most important in a certain industry? Giving thought to this will mean you’re able to ‘chat with a purpose’ and not end up on a tangent far from your original goal.

It’s also a good idea to consider how many people you want to connect with whilst at an event. It’s always going to be impossible to speak with everyone in the room, and it can be very easy to get engrossed in one conversation. Aim to building meaningful relationships with three or four people within an evening and be strategic about this – find out who’ll be attending and who’ll be most useful for you to engage with.

6) Follow up

Collecting business cards might make for a fun side-activity at conferences, but on its own it has no utility. Don’t sit by your phone waiting for the interesting manager you spoke to last week to call. They probably aren’t going to, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Reach out to the contacts you make regularly and they will remember you over other people that they meet. Then when a suitable opportunity arises, you’ll be one of the first people they call.

7) LinkedIn is your friend; realise it!

A lot of people don’t seem to like LinkedIn. ‘Oh, but LinkedIn isn’t for academics’ I hear you say. This isn’t true, and even if it was, it doesn’t matter because it is for professionals. Dirk Kruger, who studied a PhD in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering at KCL, was approached for a position through the site and is now employed as Executive Editor at BioMed Central. He therefore views it as a ‘valuable career tool’ and advises anyone looking to move away from academia to ‘get LinkedIn savvy’.

LinkedIn’s chief purpose is for networking, not for plain job-hunting. I’ve recently spoken to a number of PhD students and post-docs who consider the job function to be useless and often this is the case. It isn’t the best job board but this doesn’t mean that its other uses should be discredited too. Utilise it to keep new contacts warm, and to gain further insight into sectors that interest you. Joining relevant groups can be a great way to raise your profile and gain industry relevant knowledge.

If you’re a bit of a LinkedIn novice, don’t panic – you can learn more about how to use this site through our Grad School webinar series which can be accessed here.

8) ‘Be kind and be useful’

According to Barack Obama, these are the two things you should do in life to get ahead. It might seem at odds with the cut-throat corporate world you’re trying to break into, but remembering this whilst networking is important. Audacity is admirable up to a point, and then it’s just a bit annoying. We’ve all been at events where people have hounded speakers, and whilst we all remember them, it’s not necessarily for the right reasons.

Helping other people get what they want can really help you in getting what you want. Next time you meet a useful contact, consider how you could be useful to them. Do you know someone who might be able to help them with a problem they currently have? Is there an article that you read recently which relates to their work? Spread the love and see how it quickly comes back to you.

Careers at a distance!

Those of you who can’t come into Waterloo for RDP workshops might like to book up for three webinars in early March.  Webinars are real-time online seminars; you just need a computer and internet connection and can take part wherever you happen to be sitting.  You can ask questions, interact with the trainer and open websites or documents as the seminar progresses.

Here’s what one of your colleagues said about the webinar he attended last year: ‘…the presentation as a webinar was excellent. It saved time looking for a seminar venue and I was able to log in and take part remotely (I was not on King’s campus). Although asking questions is a bit slower online – we we’re typing our questions in a chat box – this wasn’t much of an issue and I had all my questions answered (I had a few). Great session, basically!’

CVs for Academia and Outside

Learn what looks good on an academic CV and how to make the changes necessary if you’re pursuing a career elsewhere.

Date: Tuesday 1 March, 2016, 12 – 1pm

Register Now

Develop Your Brand: LinkedIn Profile Building and Career Research

LinkedIn is a massive database of people’s career journeys. Join this webinar to find out more about how to use it effectively in your career research, how to communicate with interesting contacts, and how to promote your own personal brand.

Date: Wednesday 9 March, 2016, 12 – 1pm

Register Now

Preparing for Interview

If you have understood the basic principles behind what employers are looking for, you’re half-way to being well-prepared for an interview. Join this webinar to develop this understanding and listen to some ‘poor’ and ‘better’ sample answers.

Date: Monday 14 March, 2016, 12 – 1pm

Register Now

 

Case Study: working as a cultural researcher

Gabriela Mejan completed her PhD in Visual Culture at King’s in 2013.  Here she writes about her experiences of finding work, what she did during her PhD, and gives some advice to people currently looking for help.

I applied for academic jobs for 2 consecutive years (this means hours and hours of searching, filling applications, asking for reference letters). I was not even shortlisted for one single interview (this means getting a rejection e-mail almost every week). I also applied for all the postdocs I could find. The last rejection letter arrived in July.

THE ALTERNATIVE During my PhD years I always worked as a free-lance contractor for agencies like Lindsell Marketing and Marketcast International. My duties were mostly analysing data, working on translation and producing digital content in both English and Spanish. This kind of job was compatible with my studies as it was super flexible, walking distance from King’s and it also helped pay my bills. It also proved useful for me to find a job at Mavens of London right after my viva. It was a good job and a lovely working environment but it was also a marketing-oriented role. And my main interest is cultural studies (rather than helping companies sell more detergent, if you see what I mean). So I did feel frustrated. That was why I kept on applying for academic jobs.

DIGITAL PRESENCE IS A MUST I have made sure I keep a healthy, ambitious, active and visible profile online across different networks, including LinkedIn. This was how I first heard of Space Doctors. The main reason why I became interested in their work was because they recruit highly qualified researchers to provide cultural insight studies. Then they may apply such studies to marketing strategies but I don’t get to be involved in that part.

NOT (REALLY) PAID BUT REALLY REWARDING ROLES I have also kept my ties with academia as a Visiting Research Fellow at SPLAS. I coordinated a symposium there just last month, the result was fantastic and a very relevant publisher in our field offered to publish a book based on our presentations. In addition in the past few months I have helped organise Museomix, a global creative marathon. The one in Mexico took place at the Palace of Fine Arts. Museomix is a collaborative-art experience very similar to Fun Palaces which takes place every year in the UK.

MY ADVICE Find a day job outside the academia which involves putting your knowledge to good use: a think thank, a cultural organisation in need of researchers, a digital content publisher. Keep your ties with the academia but don’t expect to make a living out of it. Be creative!!! This is the free-lance, digital era after all. You could suggest work to employers that they might not thought about.

Improve your LinkedIn research skills and profile

LinkedIn is a massive database of people’s career journeys. Join this webinar (online, real-time seminar) to find out more about how to use it effectively in your career research, how to communicate with interesting contacts, and how to promote your own personal brand.

Date: Wednesday 18 November 1-2pm

Location: the comfort of your own desk!

Register now