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Networking: How to stand out and get noticed

Andrew Watson, PhD

I can’t stress enough how important networking is for opening doors and opportunities for career development.

Once you have a skill set to offer to a collaborative project or organization, or simply want to learn something from someone else that could help with your work, you must get noticed. This is easier said than done, however, as it is often uncomfortable having the lime light shine on you.

It is much easier to remain in the shadows, but doing so will never get you ahead. Success and getting what you want out of life often requires a planned and directed approach, and getting known by the key people that can help you obtain your goals is an important aspect of this.

“Networking” is certainly a big buzz word right now, but all it really means is that you actively interacting with groups of people that can teach you something that will increase your knowledge and skills, or oversee opportunities that would enable your career development.

Most of us benefit greatly from this sort of interaction — very few people succeed on their own efforts alone.

Networking offers many advantages that extend from travel opportunities to increasing your confidence and communication skills. Ultimately, the greatest benefit is getting your foot in the door and finding that job you are looking for.

Top Nine Networking Tips:

  1. Networking opportunities occur every day and everywhere you might be. You should always be thinking about how your personal interactions with people can influence your success.
  2. When you are in a workplace or work-sponsored event, always maintain a professional manner. For example, if you want a few minutes with that departmental speaker that just finished her seminar and has a crowd around her, hang back and let others get their time in. When it clears, you will have more of the speaker’s attention, and can arrange an additional time to speak with her during her stay or in the future.
  3. The same approach above will also work at conferences, whether they be local, national or international. Don’t think that the professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the CEO of the company you are interested in won’t want to meet you — a few minutes will give you the opportunity to introduce yourself and give them your card, which can be effective.
  4. When important people can give you more of their time, always take them up on it. For example, if that professor or company leader you are interested in asks to have lunch, make the most of it. Successful leaders are always looking for new talent. Networking is second-hand to them and whether you think they are or not, they really are networking themselves all the time.
  5. I am a big believer that personal touches still have impact, but there are many other ways to connect with people now. Become proficient with all of these ways, and ensure you are using them properly. Email, Skype, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing methods can be effective. Having a LinkedIn profile is also essential.
  6. It really isn’t about how big your network is, it is about the quality of your network. Some people may cast their net wider than others — it is your network, so you should construct it to fit your purposes.
  7. No network is fixed or ridged. People will come and go throughout your life, meaning your network will constantly be evolving and adjusting with time, circumstances and needs.
  8. Don’t get thrown off track if someone does not want to or simply can’t interact with you in the way you wish they could. Networking is not a one-way street, and it likely has nothing to do with you specifically, but could be due to many valid reasons related to time, lack of opportunities or finances. Let it go and find someone else that can fill the void if it is necessary to do so.
  9. Networking will seem like work at first, especially for folks that are less outgoing. However, it does become easier and almost second nature with time. It is like any other skill you will acquire in life — you must practise, practise, practise. It will pay off in the long run.

I know that all of you have much to offer. Each of you are talented and offer a unique set of skills that will make you attractive to many networks. Allow these talents and skills to shine through when you are networking in the New Year.

I hope each of you have a wonderful holiday break, and that you can recharge for the next term. See you all in 2016.

Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies