Post Academic

Networking Done Right

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 5, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe following post was inspired by Post Academic reader SH, who suggested a post about “networking without feeling inauthentic and disingenuous.” Thanks for the idea, SH, and all readers are welcome to propose future topics!

Although they have been known to make love connections, academics and grad students are not social creatures. One of the big reasons any person fears entering the Hamster World is the prospect of networking. Networking has a slimy rep, and we’ve even listed the “Networking Name Dropper” as an annoying graduate-school personality.

But networking doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some common arguments against networking, followed by a sound debunking of the argument:

“I don’t like to think of people as connections.”
Networking implies that you are using people to get ahead, but you don’t have to “use” anyone to network. The only time you “use” anyone is if you accept a favor and don’t give–or at least attempt to give–anything back. If you are polite, if you treat people well, and if you pay it forward, then you’re already a good networker, and you don’t need to scheme to get ahead.

“Networking sounds like making friends at work, but I like to keep my professional life and my friend life separate.”
You’re reading this because you’re in grad school or academia. Your professional life and your friend life have merged into one already. If you want a sharper line between home and work, then you have even more reason to network so you can get into the Hamster World. The private and public can get mixed up there, but it’s a whole lot easier to sort them out when you can leave the office at the end of the day.
Retro telephone image public domain from Wikimedia Commons.

“OK. I can accept that. But I hate asking favors of friends.”
Understood. That’s the worst part of networking. For example, what if you recommend someone for a job, they don’t get it, and a rift develops? It can happen. Be clear and set expectations whenever you are considering helping a person out. If you can put in a good word for someone, do it, but never promise a miracle.

“I hate kissing ass.”
Then don’t. Never network with people whose work or whose behavior you don’t respect. As for the people you do respect, restrain yourself to one compliment lest you give off the wrong vibe. Sincerity is the ultimate vaccination against obsequiousness.

“Someone accused me of being a kiss-up! I didn’t think I was that bad!”
Oh, that’s just a petty grad student talking. That person is calling you a kiss-ass so you will get out of the way and they can have a turn at puckering up to the object of your networking. It’s an old trick. Get wise to it, and cut that person out of your social circle.

All of these tips boil down to one thing: Networking is a way to meet people. The job is a side benefit. Focus on meeting new people rather than jockeying your way into a job, and you’ll earn respect. The respect of your peers and your supervisors is what will get you noticed.

3 Responses to 'Networking Done Right'

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  1. SH said,

    Thanks, Caroline! The part that feels the trickiest about networking, for me at least, is feeling like I have something valuable to offer in return when I receive or ask for a favor. I’m hoping that this becomes a little easier the more skilled, connected, and established I become in my chosen profession!

  2. […] bottom line is, you have to network if you want to transition. As I’ve told several people, HR is likely to discard your unorthodox job experience without […]

  3. Anthea said,

    Networking is very important…far more important than most academics realise. Yes, once you’re out of the academy your professional life and your friend life merge into one.

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