The Importance of Networking and How to Do It Well

Networking doesn't always come naturally and it's not always something that we enjoy doing but it's very important to start taking steps to get better at it. No matter what academic stage you're in smart and strategic networking will be useful to you, sometimes in ways that you couldn't have imagined. 

Here's an example: in 2013, I applied for and got into a competitive pre-doctoral summer research program which catapulted my interest in academia and solidified my desire to pursue a PhD. The reason I was accepted into this program and even knew about it in the first place was because of a faculty adviser who not only told me about it, but helped me with my applications, and wrote me a great letter of recommendation!

I had developed a strong professional relationship with this faculty adviser throughout my first two years of undergrad by always being prepared for class, taking part in class discussions, and regularly visiting their office hours. I was networking and didn't even realize it! 

Networking is all about nurturing relationships with people who can possibly help you professionally. You can network without any context or previous introduction to the person you're wanting to meet or you can use professional organizations, jobs or internships, church, attending an event or talk, or any other extracurricular activity to create a more natural link to the people you're hoping to network with. 

Networking has an icky reputation because it's viewed as devoid of authenticity and entirely opportunistic but it doesn't have to be this way! After all, people respond best to genuineness. Introduce yourself to people and tell them a little bit about yourself and show an interest in them and what they do.

Don't underestimate how willing people are to serve as mentors, helpers, and guides when you show a genuine interest in them. And you never know who may have an opportunity that they'll place in your hands just because they know who you are and a little bit about what you're capable of. 

Here are 3 strategies about how to efficiently and strategically network: 

1. Have a good sense of what you're networking for. 

Networking won't be successful if you don't know the purpose behind why you're networking. Are you looking for job or internship opportunities? Are you interested in meeting people who are "big names" in your field so that you can share your intellectual ideas with them? Are you looking for a mentor? Are you looking for specific advice? 

What you're looking for will determine where you network, how you introduce yourself, and how you follow up. For example, if you are looking for job opportunities then start by asking the person about themselves but also talk about what you're currently doing and what your career interests are and connect it to what they've shared with you. This shows active listening and confidence, both highly valued on the job market.   

2. Recognize all of your avenues for networking. 

A lot of people only take networking opportunities seriously when they notice a Big Name or somebody who is highly recognized. But, challenge yourself to think about networking in broader terms. For example, your peers will oftentimes have resources that can help you out so use them as a resource too.

While it's great to go after super important people, that's not always a possibility and it won't always result in finding somebody who will be able or wiling to help you. So that's why it's important to tap into all possible avenues for networking. Then you increase your chances of finding a hit somewhere because you're not relying on finding a needle in a haystack (a super important person who is also very receptive to your needs) to jump-start your career. 

3. Be proactive and initiate introductions. 

This is a challenging one for introverts (and I'm an introvert too!). You need to be proactive and make the first move because if you wait around for people to come to you then you'll get nowhere fast and maybe nowhere at all. 

Personally, I decide before a meeting or gathering how many new people I am going to introduce myself to and then I hold myself to that. Oftentimes, I will email that person after we've met to tell them that I enjoyed our discussion and that I look forward to speaking with them again in the future. This serves two distinct purposes: (1) it puts me on that person's radar and (2) it opens the lines of communication so that it's not awkward when and if I contact them in the future. 

These are just a few tips and strategies about how to approach networking in an authentic way that can lead to beneficial professional connections. 

Networking is something that we all need to be doing as students. Networking can lead to fellowships, scholarships, summer programs, publications, great letters of recommendation, and so much more. 

Try not to think of networking as something unnatural or contrived. Instead, think about it as reaching out to others and asking them about themselves while also offering yourself as a resource as well. No matter where you are in your educational journey, you too have something to offer: your unique strengths and skills, your experiences, and your novel ideas.

Danielle Procope
Founder & Lead Editor of Mertina Writing Services 

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