It’s difficult to overstate the importance of developing a solid professional network when it comes to building your career. Academic achievement and work experience are critical too, of course, but when it comes to finding out about opportunities, positioning yourself for promotion, finding collaborators and simply staying up-to-date with relevant news, it really is all about the people you know. In fact, research into career changers indicates that the more diverse an individual’s network, the more offers he or she receives during the job search process.
If you’re not a natural networker this might make your heart sink a little as you conjure up images of struggling to “sell yourself” during intimidating conversations. But the truth is that building a professional network is really much more straightforward – and hopefully enjoyable – than that. You’re simply trying to establish and maintain informal relationships with people whose acquaintance or friendship could bring some job and career related advantages.
To put it another way, networking is the process of being curious about others, finding mutual points of interest and making an effort to stay in touch. It’s also about being willing to help others develop their careers.
If you’re a little nervous about initiating face-to-face encounters, social media is a great way to start to build these reciprocal relationships . Joining specific academic networks such as academia.edu and researchgate is a good start, but it’s worth considering the more popular sites as well:
Linkedin: This was originally a tool for business networking, but is also used increasingly by the academic community. It allows you to set up an online CV, or profile in which you can highlight your skills and experiences. More importantly it lets you make connections with people you know – and then, by asking for introductions, with the people they know. You can also join discussion groups (such as alumni, previous employers or areas of professional interest) which instantly puts you in touch with new contacts. These helpful webinars give excellent advice on ways to create and raise your profile .
Twitter makes it easy to stay in touch with interesting people (or organisations, or interest groups) even if you’ve never encountered them in ‘real life’. This opens up a wealth of new networking opportunities, as a quick topic search often reveals an amazing number of people “tweeting” about the same subject. Setting up an account and commenting is straightforward but there’s a useful help section if you get stuck.
Blogs and discussion forums: Writing your own blog is a great way to develop new connections, but you can also start by simply reading some good blogs related to your field or area of interest and start interacting using the comments thread. It’s also worth searching for relevant discussion forums: for example, the Guardian live Q&A lets you chat with people who work in particular sectors. You can find other forums by using our online careers library www.careerstagged.co.uk and through websites of professional associations or industry publications.
– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group University of London