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Job Searching Tips for Graduate Students: Building Your Network

The following article was published in the spring newsletter of the National Association for Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS), the Postgraduate Voice. The original article can be found here.
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By Matthew A. Engel and Alexander Miningham

Completing graduate school is a major step in your career path which can provide opportunities and open doors to future employment. For many graduate students who are focused on their classes, research, or teaching responsibilities, building a professional network can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task. The fact is the vast majority of jobs are found through networking. Therefore, overlooking this important facet of communication while transforming your graduate education into a career can be extremely counterproductive. Even without prior work experience directly related to your field you can implement the following clear cut strategies to increase the value of your existing connections, expand your network and jumpstart your career.

Motivate Yourself

Many graduate students expect their university to help place them in a job prior to graduation. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, as most career centers focus the majority of their efforts on undergraduates. As frustrating as this may be, don’t let it deter you. Instead, prepare yourself for your own job search by clearly defining what you want to do with your career and which roles best suit your individual skill sets. Next, research, create, and continually maintain a list of employers that offer the types of positions you are looking to fill. You should also research alumni from your university who are currently working for an employer you are interested in. This preliminary research should motivate you by helping you think of new ways to meet people who can be influential in your professional growth.

Set Goals

Setting goals is extremely important to building a solid professional network. Without goals, you can become unfocused which can negatively affect your job search. Here are a few examples of goals you may want to set:

  1. Devote a set number of hours per week to building your network and preparing for your job search. Even if you aren’t currently looking for a job, you should still be laying the foundation for your future job search now. If you’ve already graduated, you should be working on this full-time.
  2. Ask friends, family, classmates and professors for five new introductions per week. Don’t ask for random introductions – express interest in meeting individuals that are directly related to your career choice.
  3. Attend a minimum of at least two networking events per month. These are the absolute best places to meet new people who can help you expand and strengthen your network. Don’t be shy, ask questions and politely request others to introduce you to individuals who can be influential in your job search. Always be sure to return the favor by offering your assistance in introducing them to someone in your own network.

Brand Yourself

In order to brand yourself properly, you need to really know who you are. Write down your strengths and weaknesses and most importantly, what you want out of your career. Once you have a firm grasp on this, prepare an elevator pitch about yourself. An elevator pitch is a thirty second overview (typically under 130 words) that describes who you are and what you have to offer. Essentially, the elevator pitch should be designed to sell yourself and tailored to the individual you are speaking with. This will come in handy at networking events, job interviews and even more casual situations.

Next, tighten up your resume or CV. This document should create a story and paint a picture of who you are as opposed to a list of facts about previous employment and achievements. You want to stand out from the competition, as typically, you have thirty seconds to make a lasting impression before your resume is discarded. Before submitting your resume or CV have it reviewed by at least ten people including your university career center, professors, industry professionals you trust and alumni already working in the field. When you are in academia, it is acceptable to submit your CV to an industry position, though it should be streamlined to contain only those elements essential to the position you are applying for.

Branding yourself online is another critical aspect of networking and finding a job. Publicly available websites such as LinkedIn and inDegree offer a valuable platform for enhancing your personal ‘brand’. Professional webpages about you hosted by universities and companies can also go a long way in solidifying your professional identity. Use these websites to your advantage by including past work and education experience in your profiles. Employers can view this information online, so make sure you are representing yourself in the very best way possible. Highlight professional accomplishments and achievements to help you stand out from the competition.

Ask For Guidance

Whether you think so or not, you’ve already formed a strong network while in graduate school. Your classmates and especially your professors can be a huge asset to your career. Many professors have real world experience and valuable connections you can tap into. Along the same lines, fellow students may have connections you may be able to benefit from as well. Most importantly, let everyone know you are looking to build your network and find a job. If nobody realizes you are looking, they won’t know to help you.

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Build Your Network

There are two primary methods for adding connections to your network: in person and online. Meeting people in person is still the tried-and-true best approach for making a lasting impression. You should take advantage of networking opportunities by reaching out and building relationships with faculty, administrators, students, alumni, guest lecturers from academia and industry, and professionals in the fields you are most interested in. This can be accomplished by introducing yourself to new people at seminars, conferences, and meetings in person and following up immediately online. Conferences provide a huge opportunity for you to associate a face with your name and make a strong positive impression by communicating effectively, being respectful, displaying a positive attitude, and appearing motivated. The best time to network at these events is between sessions or during the social hour. It is during this critical window that you should be shaking hands, introducing yourself, talking about your interests, and exchanging business cards. Communicating with individuals on the web is the optimal way to follow up with these new connections. You can send them an email referencing the conversation you had in person. This is a great way to help them remember who you were, and put a face to your email. In addition, you should look to expand your digital network by adding these connections to your profiles on websites such as LinkedIn and inDegree.  LinkedIn is a very useful tool for reading the resumes, accomplishments, goals, and recommendations of others who have obtained a career you are interested in pursuing. InDegree allows you to network with graduate students and simultaneously search directly for jobs in your field online. In addition, depending on your areas of expertise, here are a few websites you may want to check out to help you get started:

  • doostang.com
  • xing.com
  • visualcv.com
  • jobsboard.biocareercenter.com
  • bio-link.org
  • fobip.org/alumni.

Sustain Your Network

Just because you’ve found a job, doesn’t mean you’ll have that job forever, especially in the current labor market. Make sure you follow up with your most valuable connections at least once a month. Some ways to reconnect with a contact are by sending them an article that they may find interesting or relevant, asking for career advice, or sending a holiday greeting.

There are many benefits to having a wide network. However, the quantity of your connections is not nearly as important as the quality and depth of your relationship with each individual. Ideally, you should offer to assist your contacts in a meaningful way – however, if you do not know how you can assist them now, you should still ask. This will go far in showing them that you are motivated in helping them, which adds value to your relationship. In return, a strong connection could potentially open doors for you by writing a recommendation (online or hardcopy), act as a mentor, or potentially hire you in the long run.

Overall, Networking is critical to your long term success. It is known that most jobs are actually unadvertised, and that these positions are filled by people who have built relationships with an employer or their representatives. Having a strong network with will help you find out about these positions and get hired.

About the Authors

Matthew A. Engel is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering pursuing interests in intellectual property and management consulting. Alexander Miningham, founder and CEO of inDegree, is an entrepreneur focused on advancing career opportunities for graduate students.

One Comment

  1. Matt

    Hey, I thought this was a good article on leveraging your CV on LinkedIn – from Eric V.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703571704575340624253781034.html?mod=wsj_share_linkedin

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