Whether you are looking for a job, a new collaboration, mentors or anything else to do with people, you have first to meet the right contacts and make a connection – and that means networking.
To boost your networking success you need to have some ‘essentials’ in place. The two most important are your business card and your online presence.
Your business card
Do you have one? I recently gave a couple of seminars on networking for postdocs and found that the majority of people didn’t. So why should you have your own business card as a postdoc?
· You never know when an encounter might prove useful down the track (useful to you, to the other person, or ideally to both of you). So you do want to be able to collect the contact details of the people you meet at networking functions. A card is ideal for an easy, quick and unobtrusive exchange of these details.
· Handing out a card makes you look much more professional than scribbling your email address in someone else’s conference booklet! It’s a small thing, but makes a big difference, especially if you have managed to finally meet a senior person who you admire and who is asking for your contact details.
As a postdoc and therefore usually an employee of an institution, you get your branded cards from your place of work, often for a fee. However, if you can design your own card you can personalise it to make yourself stand out, for example by add a striking image if you create those as part of your work. That’s an instant talking point and an easy way to illustrate what you do.
There are plenty of online printing businesses who do good value printing if you provide the design – so have fun!
Your web presence
Have you ‘googled’ yourself recently? Is the result what you want networking contacts to see? The good news is that you don’t need to put a lot of effort into having a professional-looking presence online. Below are my suggestions for sites you should have a presence on – in order of importance:
1. Your university / institution’s site. Search engines such as Google love university sites since they have high ‘kudos’ value and a lot of activity – so search engines tend to put your university profile first when someone searches for your name.
Unfortunately many institutions do not provide postdocs with the opportunity to upload profiles within their particular school or faculty. Search your institution’s website to see if there are other opportunities to add your profile. For example there may be an online database of researchers that your institution maintains so industry can find suitable consultants.
2. LinkedIn. This professional networking site works for those within and outside academia and is currently the largest professional networking website. LinkedIn puts a lot of effort into ranking well with search engines and it also has a powerful internal search function to help connect its participants.
The main advantages of using LinkedIn for your purpose are:
· Your profile page stays with you when you change employers, unlike a university profile for example.
· Since it is used by professionals within and outside academia purely to network you never know what kind of connections may form or who may find you. The site is a favourite tool for recruiters and HR personal, so if you are looking for a job it’s a great presence to have.
· LinkedIn has a nice ‘light touch’ follow-up process where you can invite people you just met to join your network. LinkedIn maintains your list of connections if you want to use it as a networking database.
· The site gives you a lot of freedom to design and customize your profile and you can update it yourself any time.
· In your profile you can link to 3 external websites such as your university site, your up-to-date publication record (see point 3 on where you could house such a list) and maybe a recent news article about your work.
3. Academic networks such as Mendeley, Academia.edu or ResearchGate: I put these after LinkedIn in importance since they are more specialised for use within academia and often don’t allow you to provide much detail in the profile section. All these options are excellent however for uploading and maintaining your publication record.
4. Your own website. While it will give you the greatest freedom in design and content, it can actually take quite a lot of work to get your own website ranked highly with the search engines, especially if you have a common name. For the purposes of having a web presence so people can find out more about you, you probably only want to consider creating your own site after making sure you have a presence under the 3 options outlined above.
These tools will be essential to gathering and maintaining contacts so your networking efforts actually pay off.
Do you have other tools that work really well for you? Or do you have more ideas of how to use the tools discussed here? Please leave a comment below – I'd love to hear your thoughts.