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To many grad students, the concept of networking has all sorts of negative connotations — it’s uncomfortable, vague, unnecessary, even fake or disingenuous. However, regardless of your goals, networking is integral to effective career planning, as it gives you the opportunity to learn about different fields of employment, occupations, and employers of interest, all while refining your target career goals. Furthermore, having a robust network is more and more central to landing a job — a 2019 survey of U.S. adults reported “respondents were 64% more likely to say they found their most recent job through their network or someone they knew than via a job site.”

But what even is networking? You may think of cocktail tables and glasses of wine, but networking is so much more than shmoozing at a conference reception. In fact, networking effectively means that you have specific goals in mind, a cohesive narrative about yourself, and a concrete plan to make and maintain the connections you need in your job search.

In formulating your specific goals for networking, don’t think simply about  getting a job. Instead, think of the connections you make and information you glean through this process as tools to help you in your job search and preparation. As a graduate student, it may be helpful to think of questions networking can help you answer such as: 

  • What career fields have people with my academic background entered?
  • How do I break into a particular field?
  • Who are the people working in a particular type of position that interests me and what skills do they have?
  • What is the typical career progression for a certain type of job? 
  • What is a typical day like in a particular job?

Think about what information would help you in your career planning or job search. If you pursue networking with these questions in mind, you can save time by getting answers from people who know firsthand.

Having a cohesive narrative about yourself (a “pitch”) helps you prepare for that typical networking question: “So, tell me about yourself!” For this self-introduction, consider who is asking –this will help you decide what level of jargon or detail to use when talking about your research, for example. Your aim is to make a positive, memorable impression and open the way for further conversation. Check out this video on Crafting an Elevator Pitch for helpful suggestions on constructing this kind of story about yourself.

Making a plan for networking helps concretize what might seem like a wishy-washy task, and helps you think systematically about career planning. Your plan should consist of identifying people already in your network (friends, family, supervisors, professors, co-workers, neighbors, former employers, scholarly association members, etc.) and assessing where you will need new connections (referrals). You can grow your network by drawing on your contacts’ referrals, their referrals’ referrals, and so on.

Expanding your network can happen both informally and formally.

Examples of informal networking are:

  • Getting involved in student organizations, clubs, or working groups
  • Informal, spontaneous conversations (in line, at the park, etc.)
  • Volunteering with community groups

Formal networking includes:

  • Joining a professional organization
  • Attending conferences and other professional events
  • Participating in departmental activities
  • Using LinkedIn to connect with alumni, faculty, peers, and professional associations
  • Informational interviews

Because networking doesn’t often immediately lead to “concrete” results, it can be hard to tell if it’s helping you make progress toward your career goals. But it’s an incredibly valuable process with many benefits. You’ll gain new information and contacts, focus and hone your career search, gain a better understanding of an organization or industry, and become clearer on how your current skills and strengths match those of a particular job (or how you can add to your skillset and make yourself a better fit for roles you’re interested in). Finally, you’ll gain confidence in meeting and talking to people, which will pay off in future job interviews.

There is a lot of university support at Berkeley for networking. Get practice at career fairs, strategize with the help of a Career Center PhD counselor, read the Career Center’s page on networking, and connect to alumni using the @cal Career Network. Finally, the upcoming Professional Profile Clinic (November 20th, 4-7 p.m.) organized by Beyond Academia is a great opportunity to prepare for networking by learning how to use LinkedIn and getting feedback on your CV or resumé.

Happy networking!

Alicia Roy holds a Ph.D. in German from UC Berkeley and is a Hitchcock Postdoctoral Fellow in the GradPro office of the Graduate Division.