Networking often proves to be a powerful way for individuals to extend their knowledge, opportunities, and connections. How can we build networks so that they benefit us and our partners? In our August AWIS webinar, Alaina G. Levine, president of Quantum Success Solutions, STEM career coach, and science writer, emphasized that generosity is foundational to a strong network because it results in win-win partnerships.
Levine shared her personal experiences and thoughts about why generosity can be integral to expanding our networks. She emphasized that if we are willing to share skills and knowledge with other people, they will likely want to help us. She also provided strategies for how to search for potential collaborators and how to build mutually beneficial partnerships with professionals. The following points are key highlights from this webinar.
Look for Hidden Professional Opportunities
Levine mentioned that networking provides access to approximately 90% of jobs, opportunities, collaborations, and grants. However, networking is not the focus or official discussion at a conference: rather, it consists of the personal relationships and experiences that enrich not only your career but also your life. Her advice is to talk to everyone. Ask your connections, “Whom in your network would you feel comfortable introducing me to?” It’s also okay to conduct informational interviews where you can explore potential collaborations.
Listen for Pain Points
Ask others, “How can my background help you?” Levine gave an example of a professor of particle physics who landed his ideal job at Campbell Soup Company by offering the employer an optical sorting technique for identifying mushrooms. She encourages women who want to improve their careers to view networking not as a forced activity but rather as a genuine relationship-building opportunity and as a possible means of creating a foundation for a win-win work environment.
Ask others, “How can my background help you?” Levine gave an example of a professor of particle physics who landed his ideal job at Campbell Soup Company by offering the employer an optical sorting technique for identifying mushrooms.
Create Your Unicorn Career
According to Levine, a “unicorn career” is one that is customized, individually designed, and personally implemented. She believes that when you work to develop your unicorn career, you should focus on three crucial elements: your passions, your values, and your objectives. What skills do you enjoy using? What tasks do you enjoy doing? What do you love to experience? When you have identified these three elements, tell potential employers how your passions, values, and objectives can help them. This approach can open doors for everyone to succeed. For example, listen for gaps in the system or for unsolved problems in the company and then communicate how your skills and abilities can help solve these issues. In this way, you can suggest ideas that will help both you and the company to thrive.
Follow This Networking Formula
To network effectively, you need a strategy. Levine shared three powerful ones.
- Identify contacts: Leverage the idea of six degrees of separation. You already belong to many networks (friends, associations, etc.), and your job-search network can be a natural outgrowth from these primary contacts since each such person may know of an available job.
- Reach out and converse: Once you have a list of potential collaborators, you can reach out informally and engage them in conversations about your genuine interest in their work. You can first help them by sharing information or by making a recommendation before asking anything in return. Such a conversation could lead to potential collaboration and to promotion of your own skills.
- Build relationships: Building a strong relationship with a professional network is about identifying mutual benefits. You can signal your helpfulness as a partner by sending a thank you note that describes your willingness to assist the network; by directly lending your support to a project; or by sharing new information about yourself and your abilities in an email.
Levine concluded the webinar by emphasizing that it is crucial to keep an open mind, to respect cultural differences, and to always follow up to show that you value the professionals in your network.
AWIS members can watch the replay or visit alainalevine.com for links to her other popular keynotes. Levine also offers coaching services and consulting for organizations looking to attract, retain, and grow talent.
Shruti Shrestha is an assistant teaching professor of physics at Penn State Brandywine. She is a particle physicist who worked on the High Voltage Monolithic Active Pixel sensor for the Mu3e Experiment. She also conducts free STEM workshops in the Philadelphia area to empower girls to pursue STEM degrees.