Take Advantage of Every Situation: Elevator, Hallway, or Office

As scientists, we are familiar with giving talks.  We can give a meeting talk of ten minutes, a group meeting for 30 minutes or a department seminar of an hour.  We make our slides, we prepare notes, we practice and then we stand before our audience and present our work.  This process is not that much different than talking about yourself, but the data changes to:  Who are you?  What do you do?  What are your research interests?  What are your career interests?  Now the trick is, can you do it effectively in 30 seconds?  What about two minutes?  Now, can you expand it enough to fill 10 minutes?   

An elevator ride takes about thirty seconds.  If you find yourself on an elevator with someone you would like to make a connection with, why waste that time?  An “elevator pitch” fills that thirty seconds with an introduction to who you are.  Give your name, where you work, what you do and what your research interests are.  Also, it is good to mention why you want to meet this individual.  Are you a fan of his/her work, or interested in working for the same company?   For example:  You are in an elevator and Dr. Francis Collins (Director of the NIH) steps in.  You can say, “Dr. Collins, I love how you can write songs about science.  I’m Jane Doe, from NIXX.  I recently mapped the gene responsible for finger dexterity in guitar players and would love to continue my research as a PI at the NIH.”

You might find yourself walking with someone between sessions, or in a hallway.  This gives you about two minutes to make an impression.  While compared to thirty seconds it seems like a lot of time, it will still go by quickly.  You still need to be concise.  Still include the content from the elevator pitch, but be a little more personal and detailed.  What about their work are you a fan of?  Why would you be a good addition to their company?  Is there something about them personally that you admire?  What one accomplishment of yours do they really need to know about?       

If you were successful with your 30 second talk in the elevator, or your two minute stroll you may get invited for a longer conversation while getting a cup of coffee.  This is where you can provide more details about your expertise in a particular field.  Elaborate on your project and how you see it moving forward.  Or, discuss your career desires.  If you want to join their company, you need to know why. Be specific and be unique.  Everyone wants a good paying job with benefits.  Why are you uniquely qualified to join their company or institution?  Also, have prepared one or two thoughtful questions about the person or company. 

These short networking speeches need to be delivered concisely.  Write out notes for each one.  Decide ahead of time what you will say if you find yourself in one of these situations.  Then, just like you would with your scientific talk, practice it with people you know.  Get their feedback and practice it some more.  Then start taking advantage of every situation you find yourself in, regardless of how much time you have.