Network Your Way Out of Academia

Deciding to leave academia can be scary. Talking to people you don’t know can seem scarier. Reaching out and building relationships with other people is the best strategy to land a non-academic job.

Networking is a multi-faceted skill that takes time to improve, but it’s a skill that can make or break the chance of a non-academic job. John R. Dijulius III writes in The Relationship Economy that “When you have the ability to make an instant connection, get people to instantly like you, make them feel comfortable, and fully develop relationships of all kinds, you are likely to have more fulfillment and success” (p. 3).

Preparing A Networking Strategy: Research

Before you actually network with others, you have to research companies, people, and events. For larger efforts, you may need to systematically keep track of all the information you gather with an Excel sheet. Academics are the best in this aspect because academics are often capable of handling various sources and information.

Having a spreadsheet can be very handy in cases where you want to keep track of information like email, phone numbers, or where you met them.

Making A First Impression: Writing Emails

Emailing appears to be a monotonous task you do while in graduate school, but being able to write an email with etiquette and prose is underrated. It is often the first way to establish a connection with people in the non-academic world.

Writing the first email can be anxiety-inducing, but being the first to email someone is often a good way to show you are open to making connections with people. Chris Kolmar writes that you can introduce yourself through email by:

  • Include an informative subject line.
  • Use an appropriate greeting.
  • Mention how you got this person’s contact information.
  • Compliment the recipient or organization.
  • State why you are contacting them.
  • Tell the recipient you look forward to hearing back from them.
  • Include signature and contact information.

Leave A Strong Impression

At the end of the day, Networking is about connecting and forming relationships with other people. If you want to network well, understanding interpersonal relationships is important.

Understanding human psychology doesn’t mean you have analyze them, but it means that you emphasize with their perspective to make the best judgements when you communicate.

My advice for leaving a strong impression:

  1. Make the conversation about the other person. Let them talk.
  2. Use storytelling techniques to convey your experiences with others.
  3. Leave thank you notes for people, whether that is a written note, or a nicely written email.
  4. Use social media to keep your “personal brand” at the top of their mind.
  5. If you talk about your skills, talk about how you bring value to organizations as opposed to just talking about your skills on their own (For example, if you use Python, talk about how you make sense of complex datasets, it sounds more engaging than “I know Python”).
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