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Networking 101 (and jobs, of course)

12/12/2014 2:06:47 PM

Never underestimate the power of networking! This mantra is repeated by almost every mentor and at almost every career seminar, but if you’ve never put time and energy into building and using your network, you’re definitely missing out on some great opportunities.

Whether you’re an academic looking for the next lab to join, a senior postdoc looking for that tenure-track faculty position or a science-minded individual trying to break into industry or business, networking is incredibly important. Today’s post will cover some tips and tricks to build your networking prowess, and just in time! The new year is right around the corner, and with it come some big meetings (ASBMB Annual Meeting, Keystone Conferences, AAAS Meeting, Experimental Biology, etc.) where opportunities abound to meet contacts.

Looking for other tips and tricks? I wrote posts on strategies for job searching and how to decipher a job post as well. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Leave a comment or reach out to ASBMB on Twitter or Facebook!

The networking toolkit

There are a few essentials to assemble before you really delve into networking, and maintaining this toolkit will make it easy for you to meet new contacts and keep in touch with those you already have. First and foremost, get a professional, reliable email address that you plan to use long-term. That old email address from high school (i.e., will make you cringe every time you have to give it to a professional contact, and academics are constantly moving around and switching from one .edu address to another. It’s good to have a personal email with no frills that you can trust to stay active no matter where life takes you. Using your name and/or initials is a good place to start.

Second, make or update your LinkedIn profile. Many people do not enjoy social media, but having a LinkedIn profile that is up to date is seriously helpful when you’re in the process of searching for a job. Even if you’re a few years away from the job hunt, building your profile, adding your accolades, being part of group discussions and adding contacts takes time, so it’s never too early to start. The primary value of LinkedIn is being able to see the contacts your contacts know. For example, take this job post for a research scientist at BioAmber. LinkedIn tells me I know nine people connected to this company, so I could ask one of them to tell me about the company, give some advice on the application process, or pass my résumé on directly.

Third, consider purchasing business cards. It may seem odd to some academics, but a set of business cards can make your life easier even if you are not in the business world. Most universities and have predefined templates you can use, or you can design your own personal cards. The cost is generally low ($20 or less for many more cards than you’ll ever need), and the return value is high. Slipping someone a card in passing at a seminar, conference, happy hour or networking event is much easier than fumbling with phones or writing contact information on a piece of paper that will inevitably get lost. Carry a few cards in your wallet all the time, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you hand them out! and are great makers for your first set of business cards.

The bull’s-eye

I like to think of a network like a bull’s-eye. In the center are the people you know well: your friends, your family, your co-workers and your mentors. If you begin by talking to this inner circle of people you know and asking them to connect you with people they know, you can build out to the second, then the third ring of the bull’s-eye. By the third and fourth rings, you start making the most valuable connections that can help you find that job. My current full-time position was a result of networking, as was my good fortune to meet my editor at ASBMB Today.

When you meet with someone in your network, start the conversation by asking him/her about his/her career path, what kind of experiences he/she found most valuable to get where he/she is, and any career advice he/she might have for you. Always finish by asking if he/she knows anyone else that you can talk to, and offer to connect him/her with someone you know in exchange. Ask these questions of the people in the first ring, and then do the same for those in the second and third rings. You’ll find that you can meet a lot of interesting people, receive a wealth of advice, and hopefully network your way into that ideal job or company.

Maintaining a healthy network

Adding someone to your network is exciting, but maintaining the valuable network contacts takes a bit of work. Here are five tips on how to increase your own value in networking and cultivate professional relationships:

1. Make time for networking events. Go to the happy hours, the seminars and the conferences. Besides introductions through your colleagues, events like this are a great way to expand your horizons and meet people outside your small area of expertise. Join professional groups, scientific societies, regional networking groups, alumni networks, etc. (i.e., join your local chapter of Graduate Women in Science). Make sure to be active and participate in conversations at these events, and hand out those business cards!

2. Follow the initial contact with an email or LinkedIn invitation (or both). Thank the person for his/her time and say that you enjoyed meeting with him/her. Remind him/her of any information or contacts he/she promised to give you, or deliver any information you promised to give. It’s best to do this within a week of meeting the person, but someone once told me, “there’s no statute of limitations on networking,” so don’t feel awkward if it takes you a bit longer.

3. Follow through. If someone gave you a contact or some reading material, follow through and actually use the information, then let that person know the outcome. If someone takes the time to help you out, the least you can do is use the fruits of his/her time and effort. 

4. Be thoughtful. Turning a new contact into a trusted colleague can be as easy as sending a message to check in every once in a while. Did you read an article you think he/she would enjoy? Send it! Did he/she get a promotion or have a work anniversary on LinkedIn? Say congratulations! It’s the little interactions that make people smile and make them remember you favorably. Being thoughtful is an easy way to increase your own value within others’ networks. 

5. Connect others. Do you know two people in your network who would benefit from meeting? Let them know and try to engineer a meeting for them. Not only will it give you an excuse to talk to two of your own contacts, you’ll also earn the gratitude of your colleagues and hopefully provide them with a reason to help you in the future. 

Hopefully these basics of networking have helped prepare you to take that next leap and work your contacts to find your next job. Expanding your network, especially through professional societies, has benefits including instant commonalities to connect to new people and access to additional resources and jobs posts. 

Here are some additional professional societies that post jobs (in case you're looking for somewhere to start) and links to jobs I found on those sites. 

(Note: FASEB has two sites, one for jobs at FASEB societies and one for jobs elsewhere.)

Education and professional development manager with ASBMB (Rockville, Md.)

Assistant professor, molecular food microbiology with Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)


Quality assurance technologist with Thermo Fisher Scientific (Lenexa, Kan.)

Associate chemist quality control with Thermo Fisher Scientific (Fremont, Calif.)

Postdoc in structural bioinformattics with the Structural Bioinformatics Core at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md.)


Assistant professor of mammalian virology with University of California Riverside (Riverside, Calif.)

Research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

Senior scientist in enzymology/biochemistry/chemical biology with Pfizer (Cambridge, Mass.)


Postdoc in neurocognitive aging with the National Institute on Aging (Baltimore, Md.)

Postdoc in cellular and system neuroscience with INSERM (Paris, France)

Real-world data scientist with Roche (Basel, Switzerland)


Postdoc in Blouin lab (Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore.) testing candidate genes for disease resistance in snails

Genetic testing personnel with chromocare (New Albany, Ohio)

Assistant/associate scientist in molecular biology R&D with Myriant Corp. (Woburn, Mass.)

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