10 Things To Do To Be An Effective Networker As An Academic

by Anna Blanch on May 2, 2012

In Part 1 I shared 10 Ways to Be An Effective Networker as an Academic. In my experience in both career and professional networking, people who displayed these qualities were the ones I enjoy spending time with at events and conferences. Many of the qualities displayed are equally appropriate for small business and corporate environments, with some qualification.

Today I will share part 2, 10 Things To Do to be an effective networker as an academic.

1. Take Selfless Action: Decide to go to an event or conference with the sole purpose of only helping others. Not ready for full commitment? How about the first 5 people you meet? Every question from you and your focus on their needs and not on your own. Think that would feel good? It does. And it is not a waste of time. Because while a rare person will walk away having sucked you dry, most will want to make sure to ask you about your needs or work. Regardless, it will be a nice break from your own “needs”. One way to do this is to adopt someone new at the event or conference. Someone who is clearly smart but uncomfortable. Introduce them to a few folks and then look for the next person standing on the outskirts looking for a friend.

2. Show Relational Intelligence: Relational Intelligence is “the capacity to connect with other people with skill, warmth, authenticity and compassion”. If you have this capacity or show an interest in developing it, then I am in. Be sensitive to the demands on others and don’t push yourself onto people. Suggest that you email later to follow-up if a conversation is too detailed or intense for the social situation of lunch or coffee at a conference.

3. Provide Introductions: Really good career networkers are called Super Connectors in the business world because they have a passion for connecting people. And, over time, they meet more and more people that might be a good friend to someone they already know. You can do this at events, via e-mail, on LinkedIn and even on Twitter. For example, if you thought two guys you met should know each other, you could post this on Twitter: “@ErnestH You should meet @Fidel for coffee. Cuba in common for sure!” Whether they actually meet is up to them. But you have started the ball rolling and, as a result, you are bringing yourself to their attention as someone who acts without a gain in mind.

4. Build Real Friendships: While it is easy to go to events and build acquaintances, a great goal of professional networking for scholars is to slowly develop real friendships. You can’t do it with everyone of course, but when you connect with someone, don’t let that moment pass. Set up a series of coffee meetings to create multiple impressions. It takes about three personal meetings to turn a first meeting into something that looks like a friendship. And it is not just the time. It’s also the commitment. Demonstrated by completing a few transactions (i.e. doing something for each other). This builds mutual trust which is critical to that early friendship. Great example? Be the accountability partner for three people. Meet them for four successive Fridays about their writing projects and keep them on task!

5. Speak Boldly: When people speak too softly and/or without a strong voice I struggle to hear you. Especially when addressing a group or presenting a paper. If I can’t hear every word clearly, I will likely tune you out. If your delivery is not clear or if you meander,  I won’t get your message or understand your argument. And I may not decide to introduce myself to you after the intros are over. Finally, if your delivery is timid, I won’t know that you are ready to do what you say. So be strong in your words. Let me hear you.

6. Know The Objectives Of Others: How do you do this? Ask really good questions. Why are they at the event or conference? Looking for work? What research projects are they working on?  Once you know this, you can be a much more active networker for them. And for the people you know that may value an introduction to them.

7. Remember The Early Days: Sit back from the computer and think about your first days walking into an academic conference or networking event. Especially, that feeling of insecurity. Come on, we all felt a bit of that, right? WhenYou know no one. And, often, no one turns and, with a big smile, says “Welcome!”. You probably looked a little timid. A little unsure. And then remember that first person who introduced themselves.  Now that you remember all of that, go look for someone to help. Someone who needs your knowledge and experience and someone whose path would become clearer as a result of spending time with you.

For people new to networking in job search, I can assure you it doesn’t come naturally to most. You will need to practice by attending multiple events and keeping the elevator pitch as consistent as you can – only then do you become more confident in your message. The first few times you’ll feel unpolished and clumsy – everyone does.

I would ask the more confident, experienced people for advice on your elevator pitch describing your research interests – they’ll be flattered you asked them and very likely they will help you out.

8. Stay In Touch – Of course after all this hard work at the event, you can’t just let it all fall away. Relationships don’t build by themselves. You need to stay in touch. Ask everyone you meet: where can I find you online? Once you know their Twitter and LinkedIn addresses, life gets easy. And fun. Join the facebook pages of the professional scholarly associations you are part of, you never know what kind of doors this may also open!

Business Cards: If you receive someone’s business card, write down on the back of it what event you were attending when you met them, the date you met them, and if possible any additional notes as to why you think it is important to stay in contact with them. It could be that you know of someone who could help them, or maybe they have experiences and ideas they could share which would benefit you.

The information mentioned above comes in handy if you try to connect with them on linked-in. Using the generic introduction on LinkedIn is not advised as it is impersonal and sometimes may even make it difficult for someone to remember who you are. However, if your invite says, “Hi …, It was a pleasure meeting you at the … event last night. I was happy I attended because I learned … Would  you be willing to meet with me over coffee to chat about my/your research further.” It makes you much more memorable and the person is more likely to be willing to meet with you.

If you attend a networking event that has a speaker, try to get the speakers card and then later try to meet up with them for coffee. Frequently the speakers at networking events are the people who have developed good relationships with others and often those who connect well (though not always) and if they enjoy sharing ideas, thoughts, stories, and information with a group of people, they will more than likely be happy to meet with you at a later date/time.

LinkedIn: If you find someone on LinkedIn that you would like to meet or connect with and the person is a group member of one of your groups, I would recommend using the send message feature of LinkedIn as your initial communication. If you send a connection request to someone you have never met, they may choose to click the I don’t know option, and that is a strike against you. If you use the send message feature, and they don’t want to communicate with you, the worst thing that can happen is they ignore you. Using this technique insures that you won’t get a strike against you if the person doesn’t respond in a positive way.

Twitter: If you follow a person on twitter, pay attention to who he/she tweets about. If someone you follow frequently tweets about another person, more than likely, they like that person. If that is the case, you may want to consider following that person yourself and you may be able to make another connection that way. If you are on twitter and in job hunt mode, I would suggest asking people who to follow who are either recruiters, or people who write advice about job hunting. I have several job search related people I follow.

Follow Up: If someone provides a referral to you, let that person know that you made contact (if you did) and what happened. In addition to just being nice, it provides another opportunity to contact the person giving you leads and it rarely hurts to say thank you a second time. When I provide an introduction then never hear anything I am left wondering if I did the right thing!

9. Show Respect: While you shouldn’t let too many rules inhibit your networking strategy, You need to be careful. Because you can bruise your network. So respect (1) the time of others – don’t take more time than you deserve. Have a great 5 to 10 minute discussion at an event or conference, then politely disengage so that they can move on. And so can you. (2) Respect the network of others – don’t overuse a name you were given or tell everyone you know about your new contact at XYZ University. Use the contact, report back to the provider and ask, if possible, if you can share it with others. And (3) respect the personal information of others. Don’t share phone numbers or e-mail addresses with a big crowd. Be more purposeful than that.

10. Make Eye Contact: When talking with groups and especially when talking one-on-one, maintain eye contact. It shows respect and indicates you are actively listening. It is a subtle but critical action that says you are engaged and interested. One trick to use when speaking to groups? Engage someone’s eyes long enough to fill a water glass. Three or four seconds allows someone to feel that you have noticed them. And that connection will give them a reason to listen more attentively to the rest of what you have to say.

11. Here’s a Bonus . . . Smile – It says that you are open and friendly. I’m not saying to fake it.  I’m saying that you should signal to others that you are comfortable in your shoes and willing to engage. Put up a “hard, business-like” persona and you may get fewer conversations and fewer follow-ups days later.

12. And a Second Bonus: Say thank you. Not only will it make you more memorable, it . Do your best to thank the person for spending time with you. In some cases, the people I have met with have made such an impression on me it changed how I think about my life. If the person made a difference to you, send them an e-mail and let them know. Sending the person a thank you note after a meeting will make a lasting impression because they may not expect you to do it.

So there you have it. And, like with Part 1, I hope each of these Things To Do can be implemented easily. Tomorrow or at your next networking event or conference. These are critical characteristics and skills to build into your professional networking strategy – and ways to develop your scholarly self!

What are your key things to do? What did I leave off?

The Basics consists of general and introductory advice for research tasks and professional development, like using research libraries, reading and note-taking, submitting and presenting conference papers and journal articles. The Basics also explore the basics of working in the interdisciplinary field of Literature and Theology. It simultaneously provides sources from Literature and Religion, the Bible and Literature, and resources for exploring issues and themes of faith in literature, pop culture, and the arts.

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