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Long-Distance Networking


August 5, 2015

Image: Telephone Switchboard Operators, circa 1914 (via Flickr CC user Royce Blair)

Networking is about building relationships. It isn’t the impatient, somewhat smarmy “What can you do for me?” exercise that many novices see it as — and if you’re doing it that way, it probably isn’t doing much for you. If, instead, you approach networking as a long-term investment in creating meaningful connections, it can help you build the career you want.

For Ph.D.’s seeking to pursue a nonacademic career, networking can be especially challenging, particularly if you are targeting an industry that is not uniformly distributed geographically.

For instance, I live in San Diego, home to one of the large hubs of biotech companies. That gives me a natural advantage when looking for a job in the biotechnology industry, and, indeed, my local network is full of people in that industry. Even when I was in graduate school, I knew people who worked in biotech, and the only reason I didn’t know more was that I didn’t put much effort into networking. Furthermore, the natural migration of people over the course of their careers has created geographic offshoots in my network, so even if I wanted to relocate to one of the other biotech hubs, I would have contacts already in those cities.

You won’t have that advantage if you are doing graduate work or a postdoctoral fellowship in a region that is not a hub for your chosen industry. In that case, the easiest path to a job may well be to find a postdoctoral position in one of the hubs. However, that is not the only path. It is possible to build a network in a place in which you do not live, and that network, in turn, can increase your chances of landing a job there.

Building a long-distance network takes some effort, so it is best to pick one or maybe two geographic areas on which to focus. That doesn’t mean that you’ll turn down a job in some other locale. It just means that you are going to concentrate your networking on your top pick (or your top two picks) for your next home city.

Be realistic in choosing a geographic area. It is hard to put in the effort required for remote networking if you’re focusing on a place where you don’t actually want to live. Likewise, your efforts are going to be wasted if you’re trying to network in a city with only a few jobs in your target industry. Also be realistic if the target of your remote networking is a position in a foreign country. Securing a postdoctoral fellowship in that country may be a faster path to your desired end goal than attempting to get there via networking.

Once you have chosen the locale, look at the upcoming conferences in your field. Are there any in that region? If so, strongly consider attending one. Your ideal networking partners are people who are a few steps ahead of you on the career ladder. Those people often have families and other commitments that make them less likely to attend conferences that require travel. That’s why the attendee list at many conferences held in an industry hub skews toward locals. If there are commonly used software tools in your field, don’t overlook user-group meetings as networking opportunities. They skew even more toward locals than larger scientific meetings do.

Next, look into networking groups in the region. Many have open email lists or groups you can join on Facebook or LinkedIn. In some cases, you can become active in those online venues and begin to meet people. Even if that’s not possible, look at the networking group’s calendar and try to attend one of its events.

If you decide to travel to one of these events, think about your goals and your personality before choosing one. Many networking groups have yearly open houses or other big “anchor” events. They can be a great way to meet a lot of people, but due to the nature of the event, forming a meaningful connection will require that you follow up afterward. If that sort of follow up seems forced and awkward to you, perhaps you would be better served attending a smaller event that lends itself to longer conversations.

While in-person events certainly make networking easier, they are not your only option, particularly not now that social media has become so prevalent. Here are some avenues to try:

  • Some fields have large Twitter communities that can be a great source of contacts. However, you will get the best results if you take a slow approach to social media. While you can just jump in and start asking for help, you are much more likely to get it if you’ve taken the time to develop actual relationships with people via Twitter. Either way, be sure to ask for help, not demand it, and behave as if a potential boss is watching you. Because, after all, that is literally who you are hoping to find.
  • LinkedIn can be a valuable tool, too. Besides joining a networking group on LinkedIn, search your contacts on LinkedIn for people who know people in your chosen geographic area. If you find someone, check and see what sort of work that person does. If they are in a field at all related to the one you are interested in, ask your LinkedIn friend to introduce you. Your goal is to schedule an informational interview.
  • When we think of informational interviews, we often think of sitting down for coffee or lunch with someone, and asking them about their career path. However, informational interviews can be done remotely, too. If you find someone you are interesting in talking with about their career, ask if you can send that person some questions over email or schedule a short phone call. Ask about their career path, but also about which networking groups in the area are most active, whether there are any job boards that are particularly favored by employers in the area, and which local companies are growing.

As with all networking, the long-distance version takes time to be meaningful. You are quite literally building relationships, and that cannot be rushed. However, with time, patience, and some luck, you should be able to make real and useful connections with people — even if they live on the other side of the country from you.

– See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1087-long-distance-networking?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en#sthash.tDpuWDGz.dpuf

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