Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guest Post: Deanna Ratnikov on Taking the "Work" Out of Networking

Our guest blogger this week is Deanna Ratnikova. Deanna Ratnikova is the Women and Education Programs Administrator with the American Physical Society. In this role, she works on the Women in Physics program and provides administrative support to the Education and Diversity Department. She earned a B.S. in Chemistry at Austin Peay State University and a Master of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.


Take the “work” out of networking: 5 tips for students and early-career professionals
by Deanna Ratnikova, American Physical Society

If the idea of networking makes you cringe, you’re not alone. When we discuss networking, we often talk about approaching unfamiliar people and trying to establish rapport with them in a relatively short period of time. We then have to follow up and nurture the relationship. This process can be awkward and may seem insincere, and most of all, it’s a lot of work.

Don’t give up on networking, however. It is one of the most powerful tools for advancing your career. Many job openings are not advertised, and in those cases, you need to know someone to find out about them. This is where networking comes into play—it helps you build contacts that, one day, may call you when they hear of a job opening appropriate for your interests and expertise.

If you want to network but don’t know where to start, here are five tips for taking the “work” out of networking.*

  1. Get to know the people around you — your classmates, advisors, colleagues. Let people know what your goals are and ask them about theirs. Politely ask others to keep you in mind if they hear about an opportunity or know someone who could help you with the next stage of your career. Be sure to share information with them about opportunities you hear, so they will do the same for you.

  2. Use a connector at networking events. If you are attending a reception with a friend or colleague, ask him/her to introduce you to someone present that he/she knows.

    Another example is when you find out or someone informs you of a contact who will be at a conference you will be attending. Ask your friend or colleague, if he/she could help you arrange a meeting with this individual. Alternatively, if you do not get the opportunity to set up a meeting, you can still approach this person while at the conference using your connector’s name as a starting point for the conversation. A good ice breaker for such a situation may be, “Hello, Dr. Einstein. I’m Deanna Ratnikova from Small Town College; Professor Planck encouraged me to meet you. I’m interested in working for Big City Company and would like to ask you about your research and role with the organization.”

  3. Volunteer at events and conferences related to your interests and goals. In addition to positioning yourself at an event with many people who share your interests, volunteering has several perks. For starters, you usually receive free access to the event. Also, as a volunteer, people often approach you to ask you a question about the event (When will the speaker give his/her speech? How late is the event scheduled to run?). You can sometimes use this opportunity to start a conversation: “The speaker will commence at 7pm. She will be talking about exoplanet mission technologies; do you work on related research?”

    Volunteering also helps you build visibility. Even if you are not working the room and talking to everyone, people still see you at the event and you see them. You can use this as an ice breaker the next time you see someone: “Hi, you look familiar; were you at the science cafĂ© downtown last month?”

  4. Join a professional association. The American Astronomical Society (AAS), for example, provides members with many resources to keep them up-to-date and in touch with the astronomy community. AAS also hosts semi-annual meetings which give you the opportunity to meet and connect to others in the field.

    Professional associations often ask members to contribute articles for a newsletter and/or participate in smaller interest groups (like the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy). Participation with the society and its smaller groups will help you become more visible in the community.

  5. Create a LinkedIn profile and fill it out thoroughly. LinkedIn allows you to display your education, work experience, skills, publications, goals and interests—it is essentially a virtual CV. Similar to making “friends” on Facebook, you build “connections” on LinkedIn.

    Even if you do not know a person well, you can send a personal note when you ask to connect stating your reasons for adding him/her as a connection. A sample note is, “I saw that you are also a member of the American Astronomical Society group. I’m interested in meeting other astronomers and I would like to add you to my network.” If they agree to connect, you can then try to start an online conversation. Inquire about their work, educational background or any other topics that would help you establish similarities you might share.

    As a bonus for your hard work building your LinkedIn profile, you can include a line on your business card informing others of the web address of your LinkedIn profile. If someone forgets your face or what you were talking about, they can refresh their memory by referencing your card and checking out your LinkedIn profile.

*While testing out these networking tips, make sure you are providing value to your new connections because networking is as much about helping other people as it is about helping yourself.

Do you have networking tips to share with the Women in Astronomy community? Found a way to overcome your fear of striking up a conversation with a stranger at a networking event? Tell us in the comments section!