Whomever said, “it’s all about who you know” wasn’t wrong. Networking really is a skill, one that requires fine tuning throughout the course of your career! Since it can be daunting to enter a room full of strangers and start up a conversation, I wanted to share some of my personal tips and tricks that I’ve learned by following this simple mindset – never not networking.
The Networking Impact on My Career
When I made the decision to join a local professional organization – the Women in Bio Seattle chapter (WIB-Seattle) – I knew very little about the life science community in my city. At the time, my network was mostly connected to another workplace setting – hospital sites. Ultimately, I wanted to expand my reach to better understand the biopharma industry and the challenges of drug development, all while growing my professional network.
Beyond forming new connections, volunteering on WIB-Seattle’s non-profit board has also helped me bolster skills like public speaking, budgeting and negotiation. It has exposed me to the startup environment and deepened my understanding of the impact of technology and science. The list goes on and on, and I would have never expected to gain so much from one opportunity.
Here are a few ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your next networking experience:
Evaluate the Event Beforehand
When reviewing an event’s main topic of discussion, consider the key demographics of individuals the event may attract (e.g. new graduates, seasoned vets, industry professionals, academia, etc.) Topics usually range from deep dives into industry-specific content, professional development advice and general networking. It’s important to set some objectives on what you’d like to get out of that event. After all, you are taking a few hours out of your busy life, away from family and friends and (if you’re anything like me) forcing your significant other to make dinner, all in hopes of improving yourself professionally in some small way. Setting goals helps to ensure you’re making the experience worth while!
Start Outreach Early
A few weeks before an event, I like to create a list of contacts that I want to extend a personal invite to. To build that list, I will check out the speakers’ profiles on LinkedIn and identify what type of research they focus on. If we have any mutual connections, I will explore them to identify opportunities. There is a lot of value in drawing connections between your network and the area of expertise being explored by the organization and/or event.
When it’s time for the event, the most important thing to remember is to be active. Instead of passively letting individuals come to you, work the room and use your tools! Sometimes the simplest things can make a big difference. Take business cards, for example. Beyond providing valuable contact information to attendees, business cards come in handy in a variety of ways. When you receive a business card after an exchange, jot down a note on the back to help you remember your conversation.
If you want to remain memorable in the minds of your fellow attendees, it pays to be an active listener. By remaining fully engaged in the conversation (and not thinking about the dinner that’s waiting for you back at home) others will know you’re invested in what they have to say. It’s not about just being there physically, but being present in the moment to make true connections.
Following Up After the Event
Just as important as what you do during an event is your plan for fostering new connections after an event. A great first step is to send an invite to connect via LinkedIn. After connecting online, I typically do not ask individuals to meet immediately, unless there is an urgent reason to. Instead, set a task or calendar reminder to reach out in about a month or so for coffee or a follow-up call. To go a step further and really knock some socks off, send a thank you card directly to your new connections. People don’t get snail mail often and it goes a long way towards making an impact.
Pay It Forward
I am forever thankful for the mentors and advisers that I have made through networking. Now, I hope to make this same impact on others throughout my career. Are you interested in discussing networking opportunities in your area? Contact me directly at email@example.com and let’s connect!