Networking….or Not Working

Last Thursday evening, I gave a talk to university students who are entering the job market this spring. Many of the students expressed anxiety about this market, given recent unemployment statistics. To assist these students in strengthening their prospects, I shared the same strategy I share with every candidate: network, network, network!
I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but have you applied it to your own job search? Whether you are looking for a position in drug discovery, science writing, or student services on a university campus, building up a network of contacts in your field of interest in crucial.
Once we began discussing networking, the students at my talk shared the frustration of “not knowing anyone,” a sentiment I have heard more often than any other in my counseling career. For these students, as well as all students and postdocs trying to build a network, I suggested connecting with a professional association in a field of interest.
To illustrate this point, I described the situation of a research fellow who wanted to establish a career in science writing but had no contacts in that field. I encouraged her to connect with the National Association of Science Writers (, and through this group, she found a local editor willing to mentor her and critique her freelance submissions.
Members of professional associations can be relatively easy people to approach, as they are typically satisfied with their work and are glad to help others interested in their field.  To build your own network, simply search for “association” and the name of a career field or occupation in Google (ex: association science writers), and you will see results emerge. If not, try using a different keyword in your search, like “society.” From a professional association’s website, click on either “Local chapters” and/or “Board of Directors.” Whether you find a local contact or the President or VP of a national organization, send an introductory email to establish contact. Chances are good that members of a society (and in particular its board members) will be delighted to speak with someone interested in their field, as it is ultimately the role of professional societies to grow their profession. Once you connect via email, set up a time to talk by phone or in person to investigate the best ways to conduct a job search in that field. And if at first you don’t succeed, try contacting someone else from the organization’s website.
Remember, people are still being hired every day, and it is likely that the most successful candidates have strong contacts in their field of choice.  Contact someone today to build, or add to, your personal network.

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