Many STEM professionals spend much of their time and energy perfecting their technical skill-set. Often, they do not pay attention to building their interpersonal communication skill-set, crafting their brand, or networking. Pay attention to these areas to manifest a more well-rounded career and community.
One of the top pointers from networking professionals is to go into networking with the mindset of “How can I help others?” Many times networking events turn into a game of who can distribute or receive the most business cards. Instead of focusing on what you can get out of an event, focus on building relationships. You never know when or how those relationships will blossom.
Another top pointer is to brand yourself. Consider your target audience and your mission. How will others know your brand? Consider your appearance, communication style, and how you treat others. All of these apply not just to in-person networking at alumni events or professional meetings but on your social media, website, and other marketing materials.
Andrew Vest, contributor for Forbes, suggest eight tips for networking:
- Start Networking Before You Need It
STEM professionals do not have to attend a networking event to begin networking. Networking can be done daily by skillfully communicating with those already in your sphere of business. Make meaningful connections and focus on relationships. Networking when you have no ulterior motive shows your willingness to be of assistance to others and people remember that.
- Have a Plan
A networking plan for STEM professionals can have several components. Joining professional groups, maintaining a comprehensive social media presence, and attending alumni events is a great start. Before doing this, be clear about what you have to offer. Consider what talents, strengths, and skill-sets you can offer and then articulate those clearly.
- Forget Your Personal Agenda
When networking with people, it is easy to identify those who are only networking for their own professional gain. Forgetting your personal agenda, in order to help others focus on their goals or help meet their needs, is a surefire way to endear yourself to others. People will remember this about you long after they have misplaced your business card.
- Never Dismiss Anyone as Unimportant
Whether you are formally networking, or just conducting business throughout an average work day, it is essential to have a respectful attitude. Dismissing people, after deciding that they can do nothing to serve your interests, is not the way to build a professional network of like-minded and supportive colleagues. Others instinctively know when they are being dismissed. Word of mouth is important and people do talk to others about how they are being treated and by whom. Being dismissive of others is a sure-fire way to sully your brand.
- Connect the Dots
In business, there will likely be many times when one is in the unique position to serve as a bridge between two people. For example, Dennis and Ed are in the same professional network. Dennis asks Ed if he is willing to do some public speaking. Ed, knowing that speaking in public is not his strong suit, politely declines but offers to introduce Dennis to Jane. Jane is a well-received public speaker in the industry and she and Ed have an excellent working relationship. Ed introduces Dennis to Jane and a new connection is created. Dennis acquires his speaker, Ed feels great about being in a position to connect the dots, and Jane now has new business. Everyone wins.
- Figure out How You Can Be Useful
Much like servant leadership, this concept is all about how you can be helpful to others. Let people know they can always call upon you should a need arise. When you put others first it feels good. In addition, people will be appreciative of your attitude and generosity of spirit. Consider ways outside of work that your network can help one another. Someone may need a recommendation for a repair, a new car, schools, doctor or church. Building relationships at this personal level can lead to growing your business and brand.
- Follow Up and Follow Through
One thing that makes people stand out immediately, and not in a good way, is not following through. People often use the phrase “I’ll find out and get back to you.” While well-meaning in the moment, other work, personal, and familial commitments often take priority. Doing this once too often will begin to damage your credibility. Always remember your word is your bond.
- Believe in the power of networking
Andrew Vest, writes: “When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover magic happening all around you. The beauty of this approach is that you never know when that magic may cast its spell on you.”
Regardless of which industry within one works, creating and cultivating a professional network will be rewarding in a multitude of personal and professional ways.