Dr. Joseph Barber
Networking is a funny old game. The proactive steps you take to reach out to people you think can offer you great insight into future careers can be filled with obstacles and barriers. Here are some common ones:
- You can’t find any contact information for the person you want to connect with
- You found an email address, sent them an email, but have not heard back from the person
- You can’t find anyone you know who knows the person you really want to know to allow you to connect in person
- You had a good conversation (by email or in person), but can’t think of a way to build the relationship and keep the conversation going
A fair proportion of all of your networking outreach efforts might not initially succeed through no fault of your own. Like I said, it’s a funny old game, and you’ll win some, and you’ll lose some when it comes to successfully making connections with people. Whatever your success rate, setting aside time in your busy schedules to be able to make contact with people with similar backgrounds to yours, but who are now in various different careers, will be a very valuable investment. Your future career planning may be based on the perspectives you gain from talking with people who look like they might be doing the kind of job you would like.
And then there is your new lab mate’s father. This is a true story. A postdoc I met with recently has been exploring consulting jobs in an international setting, and was having a hard time connecting with people who have worked as consultants in one specific country of interest. Networking effectively when the chances to physically interact are very limited adds another level of challenge to this endeavour. And then one day, as the postdoc was chatting with a new arrival to her research lab, she happened to mention her interest in consulting as a future career path. Lo and behold, the new lab mate not only stated that her father had been a consultant, but added that he actually had some experience in the geographic region that interested the postdoc.
This is the pure-blind-luck approach to networking – an added bonus you can sometimes get if you also spend time being proactive in your outreach, and setting yourself some networking goals to accomplish. Since people generally like to be helpful, if they know how they can help you then chances are they will. However, if you haven’t clearly articulated the information you seek, or the help that you need, then no-one will be able to offer you their valuable insight, and the even more valuable access to their own network of contacts.