Keeping up with other people in your industry is essential to professional development. Simon Frost looks at some top tips and pitfalls of networking.
Some professionals seem born to mingle. You’ll spot them weaving through brightly lit conference foyers, pivoting slickly from one canapé-nibbling delegate to the next and deftly impressing themselves on each. If anyone’s going to return to work with a backlog of opportune emails and a throng of new prospects to follow up, it’s them.
But even the most intrepid go-getters had to start somewhere. Like most of us, their first steps into the networking arena were probably taken with trepidation.
Networking is a skill that, like any other, takes some honing, and it’s worth the effort. STEM industries form a highly collaborative professional community, and the sharing of ideas, research and skills is vital. As well as aiding your career development, communicating within your field will make your work – and other people’s – easier and more efficient, and ultimately more enjoyable.
We’ve been doing some networking of our own – here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom we found.
Conferences and events
- Make targets and decide what you want from an event beforehand. If possible, obtain a guest list from the organiser so you can choose a few people to meet and prepare with some research on what they do.
- Ask questions and listen. You’ll get your chance to put yourself across, but as a rule you should open a conversation inquisitively.
- Aim to help others. New contacts are far more likely to provide value to you if you can do the same for them.
- If you’re right-handed, wear your name badge on your right hand side so that it can be read when you shake hands.
- Follow up relevant contacts with an email one or two days after the event. Keep it brief and polite, say how you enjoyed meeting them and remind them of something you spoke about.
- Latch on to the people you already know. It’s tempting to stick with colleagues and associates, but you’ll pass up opportunities.
- Ask big favours in the first follow-up email – the aim is to open an ongoing and mutually valuable dialogue.
- Be afraid to pick up the phone. Emails are convenient and less daunting, but they can also be easily overlooked. The majority of professional communication is via email – a phone conversation sticks in the mind.
Stuart Patrick FIMMM Chairman of the Polymer Society
"You have to be clear about the potential benefits and downsides of making relevant contacts. If you intend to use your STEM experience to assist in enthusing the next generation, it’s best to go through the properly accredited and appropriate organisations set up to achieve such aims."
- Bring more than you need to events, and keep a handful with you day-to-day.
- Write notes on the back of cards you collect to remember key points. Gauge whether to do this in the new contact’s sight or not, though – in some cultures it is considered disrespectful.
- Don’t give your card to everyone in the room – be focused and selective, because for each card you give, you’ll get one back.
Dr Les Pook FIMMM Independent consultant, fracture mechanics specialist
"Some of my contacts are now made through my website, online discussion groups and LinkedIn. I have some useful contacts that I have never met, and am never likely to meet."
Intended for professionals across all industries, LinkedIn is by far the most populated online professional network, and an account is a musthave. It doesn’t replace face-to-face networking, but it’s a useful way to gather your connections, engage in discussion through specialised groups and discover new opportunities without having to go anywhere. It’s like a never-ending conference that you’re always attending, in the least distressing sense. By enabling recruiters to search for exact qualities and skillsets, it’s also a powerful, competitive headhunting tool, so it’s worth getting your profile right and updating it often.
There is also a STEM-specialised equivalent called ResearchGate. It’s a good idea to join both. Here are some tips for networking online.
- Your headline is the first thing that will be read when you are searched. Give a brief account of yourself to draw relevant people to your page.
- Take the time to complete your profile as carefully as you would a CV, and include an appropriate picture of yourself. Profiles without pictures turn up at the bottom of search results, and the more details you fill in, the more searchable you will be.
- List your important skills and ask to be recommended by employers and colleagues. A written reference from an employer or colleague is worth much more than a simple endorsement of an item on your skills list, but this list allows employers and colleagues to write a reference based on the strengths you want people to know about.
- Join relevant groups and engage in the discussions. Familiarise yourself with the topics that elicit the best responses and start your own thread.
If you haven’t already, join the IOM3 LinkedIn group to benefit from regular discussions with more than 6,000 members whenever it suits you.
Robert Le Clerc MIMMM Independent consultant – mineral extraction and waste management sectors
"To me, it has been important to boost networking opportunities by
attending industry events such as conferences and social occasions, and
where possible taking an active role in these events. I think it is also
important to get involved with the work of professional bodies,
industry associations or Government committees, which gets you out of
your workplace and gives you the opportunity to meet people from sectors
you might not normally come in contact with. I have been self-employed
for 15 years and have never advertised – my consultancy has depended on
maintaining contacts and word of mouth."