10 Ways To Be An Effective Networker for Academics

by Anna Blanch on April 26, 2012

Networking in professional and personal situations has become critical for everyone, hasn’t it? The old adage of it’s not what you know as much as who you know does apply in many situations, whether we like to admit it or not. But rather than rueing the reality of the influence of interpersonal relationships on employment situation within academia, it’s probably helpful to recognise that networking is also essential to moving research forward. Scholarship is paradoxical in this way, both such a lonely and individual pursuit and one which requires so much teamwork and the assistance of others in order to get things done.

Whether you are looking for work, support for a research project, leads on funding or co-operative research endeavours, and career development, professional networking is absolutely essential, and I would also argue, should be enjoyable.

But how do you do it?

The 20 habits can be separated into two sections: Ways To Be and Things To Do.

10 Ways To Be

1. Be Memorable (in a good way): Grabbing the positive attention of people is critical. A great elevator pitch/description of the projects you’re working on that includes something compelling is essential. It will be different for all of us. You may be sharing a story about the stage of your PhD project, your position in the job market or projects your are hoping to pitch to others. In any case, you need a story to engage people. ps: Be interesting, at a multi-day conference those who can only ever talk about their own research can become grating, ask questions and discuss papers and keynotes you’ve heard or talk about something else (this is about connecting, not beating your interests into others).

2. Be Patient: You will meet all sorts while networking. Be kind and generous. Be careful of being the one who only ever speaks to the ‘important’ professors. Everyone you meet will have a story and their research may intersect with yours in ways you might never have suspected. Be aware that those who will be popular at conferences may feel overwhelmed by people, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself briefly and ask if they mind if you email them if your question/inquiry involves a detailed conversation (after 3 or 4 days most of us are exhausted).

3. Be Consistent: Don’t crawl under a rock and don’t expect that showing up at a conference once will properly freshen your professional networking relationships. You need to pick a few key organizations or events and go consistently. This way you become a part of the fabric. And you start to build friendships that will now extend beyond your visits. Set a goal for yourself that gets you in one disciplinary conference a year and one niche association conference/event each year. You might also join societies or associations that have broader interest than just your discipline (interdisciplinary or period-specific).

4. Be Relevant (and generous): You are relevant if people attending events see you as having value. To them. Right now. How do you do that? First, keep up friendships and each time you re-connect, ask them about what is happening in their lives and research. Send emails occasionally sharing links to research you think might be relevant to their projects. Offering assistance and value to others generously is what the collegiality of the academy is supposed to be all about.  If it is a job search driven group, offer to serve as a volunteer and create subject matter expertise. Be the resume expert for your group. Or the job interview prep person. If you help someone else achieve their research objectives , you are relevant to them.

5. Be Social Media Savvy: To be effective in today’s world, you really need to be savvy in social media. It is the easiest and most effective way to keep in touch with your network. In a personal way. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Foursquare to name a few. If haven’t already done so, get started today. Really. Many of the major scholarly societies now have facebook pages which share the latest information.

6. Be Honest: I am convinced that the way to network with integrity is to be honest with people. People find honesty and a down-to-eath approach to things refreshing in the sometime pretentious and self-aggrandizing academic world. If you tell everyone what they want to hear and promise the world, the results will be poor. There’s no need to ‘talk yourself up’ but you also don’t need to sell yourself short. You can make great friends with people by helping them also see the benefits of selfless networking.

7. Be Influential – How do you build influence? In short, it has to do with creating a sense in your network that you have something unique to offer.  You can this by being selfless. I am convinced that an attitude of generosity  will create a wave of positive momentum. And people will come to events looking for you. That makes networking easy. And fulfilling. You may have to get used to the idea that others may use your ideas without giving you credit, or otherwise ‘use’ you. You can be bitter about this, assert yourself directly if you feel it necessary, or choose to be glad that your suggestions have been taken up with a view to the big picture of improving the world, or at least your corner of your discipline.

8. Be Considerate: If you place undue expectations on others then you may find yourself out of luck. People may ignore your emails or avoid you at conferences. Be polite, be self-aware. Don’t disregard a networking request if you can help it. And don’t over-use a networking contact.

9. Be Thankful – Say thank you. And display your thanks in more ways than one. Know the needs and wants of your network. So that you can give targeted gratitude. Instead of something coming back to bite you, this effort will come back to you ten fold.

10. Be Present – In order to do this really well, there will be sacrifices. Less time at home with family. Less TV. Less Sport on TV. Everything in life is about choices. Everything involves a decision about how we spend a finite amount of hours in a day and week. Are you prepared for that? Being present means that you are there. At the events. And are there mentally as well.

So there you have it, 10 ways to be we can all practice.

What else do you think matters in professional networking for academics? What have I missed.

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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