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Informational Interviewing Part III: Interview Etiquette

Here’s guest blogger Kristen with part III of her blog series on informational interviews…

 

In the beginning of this blog series, we covered what an informational interview is and tips for preparing for your interview. In today’s blog, I’ll give you tips on interview etiquette that will help you foster an ongoing relationship with your interviewee.

 

General Etiquette

When doing an informational interview all the normal rules of interview etiquette apply:

  • Show-up or call on time. If it’s an in-person interview, you should plan to show up 10-15 minutes early in case you have trouble finding or getting to the location.
  • Smile and nod to show you are listening, even if you are on the phone. Doing these small things will automatically put you in the correct mindset and help you sound pleasant.
  • Dress professionally, even if it’s a phone interview. This will help you to portray yourself as professional in your speech and mannerisms.
  • If you meet in person, give a good handshake
  • Turn your cell phone or other devices to silent
  • Let your interviewee finish their thoughts and try not to interrupt
  • Follow-up after your interview by sending a thank you email

However, there are a few additional things that I have learned that will help you during and after the interview.

 

During the Interview

Tip 1: don’t be nervous

When I did my first informational interview, I was ridiculously nervous. Being an introvert doesn’t help me in these situations. However, you have to remember that the interviewee is there to help you, not decide if you’ll get the job or judge you. He or she wants the interview to go well and may also be nervous about offering advice.

 

Tip 2: use cue cards

This is much easier to do for an over the phone interview, but it can also be done for an in-person interview.

For a phone interview, I write out all of the questions that I want to ask and position them so I can see the questions without having to stand-up or move papers around. You can read directly off the question sheet or use them to just remember the topic you wanted to ask about.

For an in-person interview, I normally practice more so that I don’t have to go back to a list of questions very much, but it is always a good idea to bring your list as a back-up. If you forget a question or have more time, you can always say, “I know that I had another question about X, let me look back at my notes.” Then you can quickly flip to your question sheet to refresh your memory. I never read all of the questions directly from my question sheet because I think it makes me look un-prepared.

 

Tip 3: take notes

Whether you are doing an in-person or over the phone interview, it is a good idea to take notes. If I am doing an in-person informational interview, I generally ask if the interviewee would be OK with me taking notes while we talk. You won’t be able to write everything down word-for-word, so you’ll want to write down key phrases, short bits of information, etc. to help you remember what the interviewee said. Be sure to be listening even though you are writing.

 

Tip 4: be flexible

Because I’ve prepared (or over-prepared) for the informational interview, I tend to want to stick to my question script, but this isn’t always the best way to have a conversation with your interviewee. Some interviewees will be fine with you taking the lead and asking whatever questions you want. They will wait for you to initiate the next line of questioning. However, some interviewees will want to just talk at you and share their opinion of their job and what you should do with your career. It may be difficult for you to get in the exact questions you want. For these interviewees, it is best to try to redirect their comments with related questions, rather than trying to totally change topics.

 

Tip 5: thank the interviewee

At the end of your conversation, you should thank the interviewee for their time and insight. It’s just nice.

 

After the Interview 

Tip 1: rewrite your notes

When you are in the middle of interviewing, it will be difficult to write down everything the interviewee says. You should rewrite your notes while the conversation is fresh in your mind. This will allow you to add in any details that you didn’t get the chance write down while you were talking. Rewriting will also give you the chance to think through the interview and make sure that you got all the information you wanted.

 

Tip 2: always follow-up with your interviewee

It’s a good idea (and polite) to follow-up with your interviewee after the interview. Normally, I email the person the next day. I’ll thank the interviewee for speaking with me and say that I enjoyed speaking with them. I generally also ask something that requires a response from the interviewee. This will help them remember you, and you’ll know that they got your email.

  • You can ask an additional question or for clarification.
  • You can also ask if they know someone else that they can put you in contact with for a specific reason. This is particularly helpful in there is something that the interviewee didn’t know much about or if the interview has a very different training background than you do.
  • You can say that you are going to reach out to them on LinkedIn.

 

Tip 3: reach-out on LinkedIn

If you want to keep your interviewee in your network, it’s a good idea to connect via LinkedIn. You will get updates on their career and vice versa. It will also help you keep track of who you’ve talked with. Your interviewee may not respond to your request, especially if you only very briefly met them. But at least you tried!

 

Tip 4: get a second or third opinion

Remember that many things that your interviewee tells you is based on their opinion, their personal experiences, and their microenvironment. Therefore, it’s always good to get multiple opinions before deciding that you do or don’t want to do a particular career or work at a particular company. Because:

  • You may not know if this person had a bad experience that may have given them a negative outlook.
  • Your interviewee may have a different training background that made their transition to their role easier or harder.
  • The same position within different companies (or divisions within a company) can have very different culture, job duties, or expectations.

 

I hope that this blog series has helped you understand informational interviewing and given you some tips that you can put into practice. Good luck with researching your future career!

 

Further reading:

  1. 3 steps to a perfect informational interview
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-steps-to-a-perfect-informational-interview
  2. How to ask for an informational interview (and get a Yes)
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-ask-for-an-informational-interview-and-get-a-yes
  3. How to land and ace an informational interview
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/12/11/how-to-land-and-ace-an-informational-interview/3/#4fe7b479211e
  4. Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development by Toby Freedman

Informational Interviewing Part II: Preparing for your interview

Here’s guest blogger Kristen with part II of her blog series on informational interviews…

 

In our last blog, I shared what an informational interview is, why you should do one, and how to secure an interview. In this blog, I’ll share some tips to help you prepare for your interview.

Now that you have secured your meeting with your interviewee, you should prepare ahead of time to ensure that you have a successful interview. In addition to making sure that you get all of your questions answered, a successful interview will give the interviewee a good impression of you and foster an ongoing relationship. This will allow you to develop the interview into a new point of contact for future job openings, a resource for additional questions, and a connection to meet other professionals.

 

Step One: Do your homework

Remember, an informational interview is an opportunity to gain insight that you cannot get in another way. You want to spend the limited time you have with your interviewee gaining specific information and not waste it on basic questions. With all of the online resources, blogs, podcasts, and books available you should be able to get a general understanding of the job’s duties and expected experience before your interview. This will also allow you to ask more detailed questions about what experience is really necessary or what sort of extracurricular opportunities you should pursue.

I recommend reading both informational overviews and job postings to get an impression of the career in general and qualifications that hiring managers look for. Another tip: take notes while you are researching. This will help you stay organized if you are looking at many different careers and help you remember any questions that you have.

Here are some informational resources to check out:

Here are websites to browse for job postings:

These are only a few of the many online resources. It is also worth Googling the job titles you are researching and looking at company websites.

 

Step Two: Identify questions you want to ask

This is probably the most difficult part of preparing for your interview, but it is also the most important. You want to ask questions that are helpful to your job search and also show interest in your interviewee as a person. I recommend opening with questions that allow the interviewee to talk about themselves because it is a good way to break the ice and put them at ease (Everyone likes to talk about themselves!). Here are some examples:

  • What was your career path from your PhD to your current position? Are there other ways to transition from academia to your field?
  • Were there any experiences that you had as a graduate student or postdoc that prepared you for your current position?
  • Were there any experiences that you wished you had taken advantage of as a graduate student or postdoc to prepare for your current position?

 

After that, you can transition to other types of questions. You may want to know more details of the job position:

  • I know that grant officers are in charge of overseeing grant portfolios. What exactly does this entail?
  • Do you have the opportunity to travel with your job? Where do you get to go?
  • From my research on job expectations is seems like scientific editors have good work-life balance. Have you found this to be true?
  • Is a certification in medical writing necessary for the position of a senior medical writer or is there another path to this position?

 

If you are interested in the particular company they work at, you can also ask questions about company culture or the structure of the organization:

  • What type of team do you work on?
  • Are all of the teams within the organization structured the same way?
  • Do you think you have the opportunity for advancement in your current company?
  • Are there opportunities for lateral movement between departments at your company?

 

You may also want to ask about the interview process, application materials, or if certain things listed on the job posting are necessary:

  • I’ve heard that there is a manuscript test for editors. Did you have to take tests during your interview process? Was this the same at other journals you interviewed for?
  • I noticed on many job announcements that 3-5 years of pharmaceutical industry experience is typically listed as required for this position. Did you find this was the case when you were applying for jobs?
  • Did you have many clips already published when you were applying for your position?

 

Here are a few things that I have found useful for designing my questions:

  • Make the questions open ended rather than just yes or no. This will allow the interview to expand on their answer, and you’ll probably learn something that you didn’t expect.
  • Even though your questions are open ended, you want to be precise in what you want to know. If you ask a really broad question, you may not get the information you are looking for.
  • Ask questions in a way that demonstrates you did research the job and position ahead of time, so the interviewee doesn’t cover just the basics. You can always ask for clarification of terminology or something that they mention. For example:

Don’t say: What are your daily activities?

Instead say: From reading job postings, I know that coordinating between various teams is an integral part of your job. In what ways are you speaking with different team members? Do you coordinate lots of meetings?

  • Ask questions in a way that shows you’re listening. This will demonstrate that you are actively engaged and keep the interviewee engaged as well. For example:

Don’t say: How should I get experience for this job?

Instead say: You mentioned that you spend a significant amount of time writing in your current position. What sort of writing experience do you think I should pursue to be a good candidate for a similar position?

 

Step Three: Organize Your Thoughts

If you are like me, you will probably come up with a really long list of questions that you want to ask, but you will not have time to get through all of them in your interview. I found it helpful to prioritize my list. What was is the most important thing that you want to know? You may not want to open with it (if it’s about something like compensation), but you definitely want to put it towards the top on your list. You also want to consider the flow of the conversation, so it doesn’t sound like you are asking random questions and not paying attention to the conversation. I found in helpful to organize my list of questions by category (job details, company, interview, etc.) and then prioritize the categories. If you find you are running short on time, you can always skip less important questions within the category.

I normally estimate that it takes 3-5 minutes for each question, so you probably want to have a list of 6-10 really important questions for a 30 minute interview. I also prepare a secondary list of about 5-10 additional questions that I can ask if there is time.

If you are doing an interview over the phone or on Skype, you can write out all your questions and have them with you for the interview. If you are doing an in-person interview, you will probably want to practice going through the questions so that you don’t forget any.

 

Step Four: Prepare for the Interviewee’s Questions

In an informational interview, you are the one primarily asking the questions, but the interviewee may ask you questions too. You’ll need to prepare a little for these types of questions, and this preparation will also help you think about your career. Here are some of the questions that I have been asked:

  • Tell me about your science background?
  • Where have you done your training?
  • How you are currently preparing for the career?
  • What do you want and don’t want to do in your future career?
  • What do you like best about science?

In general, these questions are the interviewee trying to gage your level of understanding of the job, your interests, and your expertise. It’s important to remember that if you aren’t trying to do a primarily research position, don’t focus your answer on all your technical expertise and research accomplishments. Be sure to highlight the skills or experiences that you have outside of the lab that are relevant to the career you are looking at.

 

After preparation

Now that you’ve prepared, you are ready to execute your interview.

Check out our next blog post for tips on informational interview etiquette to help you have a successful interview!

 

 

Further reading:

  1. 3 steps to a perfect informational interview
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-steps-to-a-perfect-informational-interview
  2. How to ask for an informational interview (and get a Yes)
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-ask-for-an-informational-interview-and-get-a-yes
  3. How to land and ace an informational interview
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/12/11/how-to-land-and-ace-an-informational-interview/3/#4fe7b479211e
  4. Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development by Toby Freedman

Informational Interviewing Part I: What is it?

This week, guest blogger Kristen Murfin begins a blog series on informational interviewing. This is a valuable way to get detailed information about career paths that you may be curious about. Here’s Kristen on how to get started with an informational interview…

 

About three years ago, I decided that I wanted to explore career paths outside academia, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I tried attending seminars, reading books, and doing online research, but I didn’t feel like I was making much progress in deciding what I wanted to do. Sure, I learned that as a science PhD I could pursue a variety (almost too many!) careers and the basics of what they entailed, but I felt like I didn’t really understand what people in these positions actually did on a daily basis. What did it mean to oversee a portfolio of grants? Or to manage a team?

When I confided this in a friend, she recommended that I try doing informational interviews with people in the careers that I was interested in. Since then, I’ve done many informational interviews and started co-hosting interviews for the CNSPY Podcast, SPYcast. I’ve found informational interviewing to be one of the most useful resources for getting detailed information about career paths. In this blog series, I’ll share with you a little information on what informational interviewing is, asking for an interview, preparing for your interview, and other tips I’ve learned along the way.

 

What is an informational interview and why should I do one?

An informational interview is a short meeting with a professional to learn about their career path and job responsibilities. You should think of it as an opportunity to ask all the questions that you can’t answer by reading about the career or job online. You’ll be able to get information about details on a particular job and company:

  • Daily responsibilities
  • Opportunities for career growth and change
  • Company culture
  • Interview processes

You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about career tracks:

  • The interviewee’s career path and career paths of others that they know
  • Skills that the interviewee thinks are necessary
  • Ways to break into this career from academia
  • Experiences to prepare you for this career path

An informational interview is also an excellent way to grow your network. It gives you the opportunity to form a connection with someone at a company where you might want to work. Hopefully, the person that you interview will be able to tell the hiring manager, “I met them and they seemed like they would be a good fit.” If you’re lucky, they might even be willing to pass along your resume to the hiring manager.

However, the primary purpose of an informational interview is not to get a job. Never ask directly if their company is hiring! Also, don’t give them your resume unless they ask for it! The interviewee will likely think that you are just using them to get a job rather than being actually interested in their career.

  

Finding someone to ask for an interview

The best way to find an interviewee is through your network. Ask your colleagues, mentors, or professional connections if they know anyone who is in a particular field or job position. Often, they might know someone or be able to put you in contact with someone who knows people in that area. The vast majority of the interviews that I’ve been able to secure have come from people I know putting me in contact with someone they know.

You can also consider contacting alumni from your academic institution. Often, an alumnus will be more willing to speak to you than someone you have no connection with. Yale has a great career networking database that all Yale students and affiliates can access.

If all else fails, you can try cold emailing or calling someone. This route is much less likely to get you a response, even a negative one. A good resource for finding people is to try searching LinkedIn for a particular job title or company. You can also look at company websites for an employee directory.

 

How to ask for an informational interview

You’ll only have one chance to initiate the conversation for an informational interview, so you want to make sure that you have the greatest chance for a response. The easiest way to engage someone is to have someone that you know introduce you via email. If your connection just gives you their contact’s information or you are emailing someone that you don’t have a connection with, you will want to compose a brief email that states your intent. Here are some examples:

 

Example 1:

Dear John,

Joe Smith gave me your contact information. I am a postdoctoral associate at Yale University studying infectious disease, and I am exploring careers in scientific publishing. I was wondering if you would be willing to do an informational interview with me to give me advice on transitioning careers from academia to publishing and your career path as a scientific editor.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

Susie Doe

 

Postdoctoral Associate

Section X

Department Y

Yale University

 

Example 2:

Dear John,

I am a PhD candidate at Yale University, and I will be graduating next spring. I am interested in careers in management consulting, and I was wondering if you would be willing to do an informational interview with me. I would like to know more about your career path as a consultant and working at Consulting Company X. This should take no more than 20-30 minutes.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Susie Doe

 

Graduate Research Assistant

Section X

Department Y

Yale University

 

What if the interviewee doesn’t respond? Many times, you may not hear back from an interviewee for a while or you may never hear back. Generally, I contact someone and wait about a week for them to respond. If I don’t hear anything, I’ll send a second follow-up email that restates what is in the first email, but the email is not exactly the same. If the person does not respond within another week, sending more emails will likely not get you a response, so I move on to asking someone else. I have also found that I am much more likely to get a response if I email the interviewee in the morning around the middle of the week.

 

Setting up the informational interview

If you can, it is best to do the interview in person. Putting a face with the name is always helpful for having people remember you. Offer to meet the person at their office or somewhere close to where they work. Meeting for coffee is always a safe option because it can go as long or as short as you or the interviewee wants.

Many times, an in-person interview isn’t possible if you are trying to talk with someone out of town or who is very busy. Doing an interview over the phone or via Skype is the next best option. In fact, if you are nervous or have trouble remembering questions, this might be a better option because you can have cue cards right in front of you and you can more comfortably take notes as you talk.

 

Now what?

Securing the informational interview is the hard part, but you still need to prepare and execute your interview.

Check out our next blog about how to prepare for an informational interview.

 

 

Further reading:

  1. 3 steps to a perfect informational interview
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-steps-to-a-perfect-informational-interview
  2. How to ask for an informational interview (and get a Yes)
    https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-ask-for-an-informational-interview-and-get-a-yes
  3. How to land and ace an informational interview
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/12/11/how-to-land-and-ace-an-informational-interview/3/#4fe7b479211e
  4. Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development by Toby Freedman

Telling stories

Continuing with the theme of language, this week’s blog offers some more advice on how to speak during a job interview. I often hear about this topic in the context of industry jobs, but I suspect it will be just as useful in many other sectors, including in academia.

Interviews can be pretty stressful, and most people on the job hunt spend a lot of time preparing and practicing in mock interviews. This is for a good reason – the interview is usually the last and biggest hurdle to getting that job offer. Interviewers have to talk to scores of applicants and hear answers to the same questions many times over. Your interviewing technique should set you apart as much as your carefully crafted resume and cover letter.

One way to stand out and grab the interviewers’ attention, is to tell compelling stories.

Telling stories is not just a clever interviewing trick. Interviewers actually want you to do this. In many cases they are even explicitly looking for stories in your answers. Not made-up stories, obviously. Stories from your real life.

 

Behavioral Interviewing

Interviewers ask many different types of questions to probe your knowledge and skills. But your technical abilities aren’t the only thing they care about. Interviewers also ask competency questions that are meant to asses your soft skills and your personality. Competency questions come in 2 general flavors:

  • Theoretical – answer hypothetically
    Example Q: What would you do if you had to deal with a difficult team member?
  • Behavioral – answer with an anecdote
    Example Q: Tell me about a time when you had to confront a difficult team member and how you dealt with the situation?

 

Answering questions with real anecdotes has some major benefits. Firstly, telling a story that really happened makes it easy to add genuine details and feelings that will make the situation so much more compelling. Stories are automatically interesting and will keep your interviewer attentive and awake! Secondly, how you handled a situation in the past shows how you are likely to handle situations in the future. Demonstrating your soft skills can be difficult. But framing them in the context of a story easily highlights your successful personality traits.

Nowadays, interviewers usually prefer answers in the behavioral anecdote style, and will therefore frame their questions starting with “tell me about a time when…” That’s a clear signal for you to think of a specific time in your life when you encountered this type of situation. However, if an interviewer is a bit behind the times and frames their question as “what would you do if…,” you can still impress them by answering with a concrete anecdote.

 

Story structure

Any plot should have the following basic components:

  • Protagonist: a person with relatable characteristics, such as yourself
  • Conflict: a struggle, hurdle, or a problem to be overcome
  • Action: a series of steps taken and decisions made by the antagonist
  • Resolution: the final solution or outcome

Since most of us aren’t literature majors, there’s a handy acronym to help you structure stories for you interviews: STAR

 

Situation: set up the background information, place, and people involved

Task: describe the problem that needed to be solved

Action: what did you do and what decisions did you make to solve the task

Result: what positive outcome did your actions lead to

 

Notes on style

Focus on you. The point of these behavioral responses is to showcase your skills and personality. Highlight your role in the story. Use “I” instead of “we.” Focus on your contributions to the events, and how the results turned out for you.

Include details. This story happened in real life, so there should be plenty of details that you can use to make the story engaging and life-like. Include anything that is relevant to make the story easy to understand and interesting.

Keep it short. However, don’t include every detail. You’ll lose the interviewer’s interest if your story drones on for 15 minutes. An ideal story should be 2-3 minutes long, or 1-2 sentences per STAR item.

Expose and engage emotions. A truly compelling story requires more than just dry facts. Emotions draw listeners in and help them connect and engage with the story. Reveal some of the feelings you encountered during the conflict. Make your story human and relatable.

Use dialogue. This also humanizes your story and makes it more engaging. Hearing direct quotes instead of paraphrases will help the interviewer envisage the story and follow along as it was happening.

End on a positive. Again, these stories are supposed to showcase your successful soft skills and personality traits. Ideally, the outcome of the story would be a positive resolution of the problem or successful completion of the task. If your story does not end this way, put a positive spin on it. This could be something you learned, a skill you gained, an unintentional positive outcome, or knowing what you would do differently in the future.

 

How to prepare

Especially people from academic backgrounds often don’t know about behavioral interviewing and are caught off-guard by these types of questions. But now that you know about the STAR format, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare:

Find example questions online. A simple Google search for “STAR method” will provide tons of resources and sample questions.

Practice your answers. Pick a few sample questions and do a mock interview. Just like any other type of interview question, getting a good story to roll off your tongue takes some work. Write your answers down or practice out loud with a friend.

Collect anecdotes now, as they occur. Even if you are not preparing for interviews right now, you know that these questions lie somewhere in your future. It’s a good idea to keep track of anecdotes that happen to you now, instead of having to rack your brain later to remember a situation from 5 years ago.

 

** Tell your own stories and let us know how it goes! **

 

Resources

  1. Tell the story of your life
    http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/01/tell-story-your-life
  2. First Encounters With Behavioral Interviewing
    http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/1999/02/first-encounters-behavioral-interviewing
  3. STAR Method
    https://www.vawizard.org/wiz-pdf/STAR_Method_Interviews.pdf

Language of Industry

A few weeks ago, I attended the SciPhD Workshop, delivered by Randall Ribaudo, PhD. Co-sponsored by CNSPY, the Office of Career Strategy, and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, the purpose of this workshop was to help scientists with a PhD find positions in non-academic jobs, especially in industry. The workshop unveiled some eye-opening misconceptions about making the transition from academia to industry. While I can’t recapitulate all the information provided by Randall Ribaudo (the workshop was 4 hours long), the lesson that stuck with me the most is that the transition to industry requires a shift in language.

This might be surprising if your main worries about job applications are whether you have impressive accomplishments, relevant experiences, and whether you can provide concrete evidence that you’re a successful scientist.

It turns out, how you talk about your success matters a whole lot too.

 

Cultural Differences

If you have already done some research about how to break into an industry career, you’ve probably heard or read a lot about how to write your resume and how to answer interview questions, that is a bit different from how things are done in academia. I used to think of these differences as quirks or a matter of tradition. Academic researchers have CV’s because that’s how universities happen to do it, and industry researchers have resumes because that’s how businesses happen to do it. But research is research, right? It turns out the differences between academia and industry reflect a much deeper, underlying, cultural divide.

Some differences you would expect to find between industry and academia. The environment is different (industry buildings and equipment are probably new), the work pace is different (much faster turn-around in industry), and the goals of the work are different (focus on products and profit in industry). What you might not expect is that industry employees also speak a slightly different version of English than academics do.

I am by no means an expert on the culture of industry. But based on Randall Ribaudo’s advice, I will describe some topics that will require a shift in mind-set and a new vocabulary, as you venture into this foreign land.

 

Talking about your experiences

Every field has its own way of talking about goals and success. You may have come across this when comparing different fields within academia. For example, a sign of a successful humanities PhD would be a published book, whereas a science PhD is only expected to publish a few academic articles. The number of articles also varies between fields, where the expected number would be much higher for a synthetic chemist than for a neuroscientist. Now imagine something like that, but with a greater paradigm shift, between academia and industry.

Things academics brag about:

  • Number of papers published
  • Papers published as first author
  • Journal in which papers are published
  • Number of presentations and invited talks given
  • Collaboration with big-name scientists
  • Expertise in difficult technical skills
  • Reviews, commentaries, or other articles published
  • Membership on review committees
  • Teaching and mentorship experiences

 

Things industry researchers brag about:

Honestly, I don’t know what kind of braggery goes on around an industry lunch table. But here are some things they probably don’t brag about:

  • Everything on the list above.

 

Many of the activities that we value in academia, are things you won’t really get a chance to do in industry. There are no classes to teach. There may be mentoring of new employees, but not in the sense of mentoring a student. Although there may be opportunities to publish papers and deliver talks, there is much less of an emphasis on this. Even your technical skills might be less emphasized, because there is a lot of mobility between projects in industry.

If you walk into a job interview and hope to impress the recruiters with the usual academic bragging topics, these are not things they will care very much about.

To grab the attention of a recruiting or HR department, immediately tell them about things they do care about. This would include how your demonstrated skills translate to the job you are applying to, what can you provide that will benefit the company, your knowledge and interest in the company’s goals, and how you would fit into the company’s culture.

Some ways to do this, as covered in previous blog posts, are: Tailor your resume and cover letter to a specific job posting. Reframe your technical skills as soft skills. In other words, tell them about your experiences and accomplishments using the language they want to hear.

 

Talking about yourself

Another reason to de-emphasize the typical academic bragging points, is that the stereotypical qualities of science PhD’s correlate negatively with leadership success.

A common caricature portrays scientists as dominant, authoritative, independent, and detail and technical-skills oriented. This is contrary to the qualities that are more valued in leadership roles: strategic thinking, clear communication with others, and showing excitement. Scientists are particularly assumed to be poor communicators and poor team workers.

As an academic, you might think that your personality should have nothing to do with your scientific merit. But a hiring manager will definitely take these factors into account when evaluating your potential for success. It’s important to consider what a company wants to get, not just from your scientific record, but from you as a person. So don’t avoid talking about your personality, but actively convince the company that you don’t fall into the awkward, authoritative scientist stereotype.

Randall Ribaudo recommends thoroughly thinking about how you represent yourself and your values, to the point of creating a personal brand. Your brand should have three prongs:

  • Scientific/technical identity (what you do)
  • Business identity (how you do it)
  • Social identity (how you interact with others)

Until this point in your career, you’ve been taught to focus almost exclusively on the first point, your scientific/technical identity. Interviewers will value all three prongs of your brand, so your scientific/technical identity is still very important. But consider your social identity (which I had previously thought about only a little) and your business identity (which I had thought about not at all) to be equally important. If you were like me, you’ve been ignoring almost two thirds of your personal brand!

As you create your brand, target qualities that show your benefit to the company, and aim to defy the stereotypical perception of science PhD’s. While you’re at it, do a Google search of yourself to see how the Internet supports your brand.

 

Talking about the company

I’ve mentioned a few times that you should cater your language about your experiences and about yourself to what hiring managers want to hear. The company is looking to fulfill its own needs. It follows that you should demonstrate your own interest in fulfilling the company’s needs.

As you prepare for an industry interview, be sure to do thorough research about the company you are applying to. You should be well versed in the company’s main products, new ventures, and any noteworthy or recent news. You should be able to initiate and follow any conversation about what the company does. Also, through your research, you should become fluent in the language they use to describe their products and objectives. Their language will be more business oriented than you are probably used to, and may include some new vocabulary that may take some practice.

Fully understanding the goals of the company will also help you better express your skills and personal qualities in terms of the company’s needs. You can use information on the company’s objectives and work culture, and build them into your own business identity. A useful place to gain insights into the inner workings of a company is GlassDoor, which provides a wealth of information about the interview process, salary range, etc., for specific positions. Ideally, find a member of your network who is or has been at the company, who can give you a detailed, personal account.

 

Language Matters

In any career trajectory, language matters. You may not realize it now, but scientists have a very peculiar way of speaking. Moving to industry research or any sector outside of academia will require a shift in language and familiarity with a slightly different vocabulary. Every field and career has a different way of speaking about success. During the job search and interview process, it is important to demonstrate that you understand the values and needs of the company, in the language that they are used to hearing.

 

If you are interested in more insightful advice about the non-academic job search, check out SciPhD online. And keep your eyes open – we hope to bring back Randall Ribaudo for another workshop event next year!

 

 

** Think about the language you use during your next job application or interview and let us know your thoughts! **

 

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking V: Changing your Perception

In the previous blog, you learned about the importance of taking breaks during networking events. An introvert’s energy resources are drained by social interactions, so taking time to recharge is mandatory for you to be on your best game with the people you really need to connect with. We also discussed the importance of following up with your new contacts in order to forge lasting connections.

 

Throughout this blog series, you learned 3 general strategies for improving your networking experience as an introvert. They each begin with the letter “P” and were adapted from Devora Zack’s book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking. Each component is based on skills that introverts tend to excel at:

  • Prepare: organization, planning, think to talk
  • Process: focus, one-on-one discussion, listening
  • Pace: reflection, systematic follow-up, energize alone

At the beginning of this series, I lamented that most networking advice is directed at extroverts (ironically, since they naturally have an easier time networking). There are several common networking rules that we are now going to abandon and replace with better-suited networking rules for introverts:

 

✗Don’t ✓Do
Get out there as much as possible Prioritize people and companies that truly interest you, and chose structured or one-on-one networking opportunities
Promote your self constantly Ask thoughtful questions to create a personal connection
Never eat alone Use breaks and alone time to recharge and reflect
More contacts = higher probability of success Small number of reliable contacts = higher probability of success

 

After nearly a lifetime of being told to follow the old rules that are meant for extroverts, it will take practice and a shift in perspective to accept that your new strategies can be successful too.

 

Accept who you are 

In Part I, I made an analogy to opera singers: a natural alto shouldn’t force herself into the role of a soprano. Another example, possibly closer to home, is handedness. Most instructions for learning to write are intended for people who write with their right hand. But if you’re left-handed, following the standard instructions for right-handers, you’re going to have a hard time. Instead of forcing yourself into a mold that doesn’t fit, why not follow advice that’s intended to match your particular skills?

Instead of being miserable at networking events, trying to use advice that isn’t meant for your character traits, identify your strengths and limitations and work with the temperament you have. Accept who you are: whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or centrovert, you already have the skills you need to be a successful networker! You just have to figure out which strategy works for you.

 

Positive self-talk

Example: I hate networking. Networking events make me feel insecure. I’m terrible at making small-talk with strangers. I know I have to try harder to become a better networker. But I really hate networking!

This is an example of negative self-talk. It’s easy to fall into the trap of circular negative thinking. You’re bad at networking because you hate it, and you hate networking because you’re bad at it. This kind of reasoning leads to a general compounding of terribleness, which I like to call “catastrophizing.”

Negative self-talk is reactive, exaggerated, limiting, and discouraging. In other words, it is not realistic and not productive.

Positive self-talk is reflective, realistic, encouraging, and pragmatic. Positive self-talk allows you to evaluate situations rationally, give yourself praise when you’ve done well, and learn how to improve if you’ve made a mistake.

Example: Although I felt a bit uncomfortable at the networking event today, I managed to connect with a person who will be a great addition to my network. I had a hard time explaining my project succinctly and stumbled over a few details, but Dr. Biotecha actually seemed very interested in my research. Next time, I will practice my pitch out loud so that I’ll know exactly what to say.

 

Reframe failure 

The focus of positive self-talk should be on learning how to improve, rather than on having done something wrong. Sometimes we do make serious mistakes or fail to accomplish a goal. But it doesn’t help to beat yourself up about it and get bogged down in the negative emotions. Failures aren’t just terrible, unfortunate end points. Failures produce results that allow you to improve.

Any time you don’t achieve what you set out to do, or you don’t perform up to your expectations, instead of saying “I failed”, reflect on these questions:

How could this happen?

What can I learn from this to improve in the future?

 

Say ‘and’ instead of ‘but’

This is a very easy trick to start moving away from a negative, limiting perspective, to a positive, constructive one. “But” signifies that two things are opposed to each other and don’t belong together. “And” means that two things can coexist. How do these sentences make you feel differently about approaching networking?

I have to meet new people but I’m an introvert.

I have to meet new people and I’m an introvert.

 

Redefine ‘well-connected’

If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt miserably under-connected compared to your extroverted peers, who are getting out there as much as possible, are always self-promoting, and have over 900 Facebook friends. And probably, like me, you’ve envied these apparent “super-connectors.”

But why does being well-connected have to imply high volume? After all, 850 of the super-connector’s 900 LinkedIn contacts will probably never lead to anything. The reason he collects so many contacts is because he can’t know which one of them will end up panning out.

Another approach to being well-connected is to be well connected with your contacts. If your network is composed of people who know you on a personal level and hear from you periodically, they are much more likely to recommend you or pass on job postings for you. This level of commitment is only possible with a smaller number of people.

So if you only have 120 Facebook friends, are you really under-connected? You can decide whether being ‘well-connected’ means having many connections or having strong connections. One strategy isn’t necessarily better than the other, in terms of leading to success. But each strategy is better suited for a different personality type. 

 

On saying “no” to invitations

It can be hard to feel guilt-free about attending to your own needs, especially when it requires explicitly saying “no” to another person. Sometimes it is in your best interest not to join your co-workers for dinner, or not to attend the social hour at a conference.

In these cases, be confident in your refusal to join. Don’t give flimsy excuses that could be misinterpreted or refuted. An extrovert, with the best intentions, might try to convince you to join anyway, robbing you of precious decompression time.

Flimsy response: No, I’d love to join, but I have to get enough sleep tonight.

Confident response: No, thanks, I’m going to take it easy tonight.

Try to attend to your social ties when you can, but don’t feel guilty about saying no when you need to recharge. When you refuse an invitation, reframe the idea that you are rejecting the person or the group. You are simply using your time most effectively according to your needs. And they are making the most of their time in their own way.

 

‘As if’ frame

We all have beliefs and insecurities that keep us from achieving our full potential. It’s very difficult to willfully overturn those beliefs. I’m not asking you to accept overnight that you can be an excellent networker, even though you feel desperately under-connected right now. Don’t let these beliefs hold you back. When you find yourself in a networking opportunity, behave as if you believe yourself to be a confident networker. Behave as if you believe that asking thoughtful questions will lead to a reliable node in your network. See if the results prove you right!

Another way to use the ‘as if’ frame is when you’re feeling anxious about whether you’re in the right place or talking to the right person. In the networking strategy for introverts, it’s very important to connect with people who can become close, lasting contacts. What if you’re talking to someone who isn’t going to reciprocate the contact, or whose interests turn out not to align closely with yours? If you’re constantly worried about that, it will throw you off your game. Instead, act as if every person you meet is the right person for you to be talking to.

 

Life is a networking opportunity

So far, I’ve mostly talked in terms of networking in organized situations, such as networking events and conferences. But the truth is, you don’t have to go to a specific event to find contacts. Networking can happen in unexpected places. You could meet the editor of a science magazine on a plane, or a research director in line at the grocery store! Your friends, co-workers, and even your family, are points of contact as well. The brand new rules for networking that you learned during this blog series, apply in these situations as well. Unexpected opportunities can be difficult because they are more spontaneous, but on the other hand they are usually one-on-one. Be open to taking full advantage when life sets you up for accidental networking.

 

Hopefully you were able to take away some useful tips from this blog series. Since there is a wide spectrum of personality types, not every piece of advice might apply to you. Try out some different strategies and see what feels right and what produces results that you want.

 

10 Point Summary

  1. Use networking strategies that match your strengths
  2. 3 P’s: Prepare, Process, Pace
  3. Accept who you are and work with your temperament
  4. Use positive self-talk that is reflective, realistic, encouraging, and pragmatic
  5. Reframe failure as an opportunity to learn and improve
  6. Say “and” instead of “but”
  7. Say “no” with confidence without making excuses
  8. Behave ‘as if’
  9. Take advantage of unexpected networking opportunities
  10. Evaluate for yourself which strategies do or don’t work for you

 

Happy Networking!

 

** *Try a different networking strategy and let us know what works or doesn’t work for you! ***

Share your thoughts below by clicking the “Leave a Reply” link or by clicking the chat bubble in the top right of the post.

  

Resources:

  1. Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  3. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
  4. Self-Promotion for Introverts: A Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, Nancy Ancowitz

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking IV: Pace

In Part III of this blog series, we abandoned the conventional advice of maximizing mingling and self-promotion, and adopted several strategies to Process a networking event in order to gain meaningful connections. The networking process for an introvert requires a more deliberate approach: prioritizing a small number of people to focus on forging lasting connections. Connect instead of collect. Replace quantity with quality.

During that post, our focus was mostly on what actions to take, based on your specific skills as an introvert. However, I want to repeat a sentence I wrote in an earlier blog:

Playing to your strengths means understanding fully and with honesty what you can excel at and where your limits are.

In this week’s post, we’re going to pay special attention to our limits. For most introverts, social interactions are draining. From our earlier discussion of the characteristics of introverts, recall that introverts typically enjoy few stimuli, energize alone, and are inner directed. Networking events, noisy environments with lots of people and little time to yourself, are practically designed to drain an introvert’s energy resources.

A phrase that Devora Zack likes to repeat in her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, is “a drained introvert is an ineffective introvert.”

In order to stay focused on effectively Processing your networking experience, you have to Pace yourself.

 

Breaks are mandatory!

While the extroverted networking strategy benefits from spending as much time around people as possible, introverts should not approach their networking experience this way. Spending several hours meeting and chatting with lots of people is exhausting. For example, if you are a strong introvert like me, small talk feels particularly draining.

The strategies that I described last time don’t only make good use of our focus and listening skills; they also allow us to take care of our need for alone time. With your priority list of networking targets and your realistic measurable goal of how many people to connect with, you’ve opened up a lot of time. Don’t fall into the trap of reverting to an unsuitable networking strategy during these time gaps!

Don’t think of breaks as optional, or something you only resort to if you’re truly overwhelmed. As an introvert, you have to deliberately build in breaks into your networking schedule. Breaks are mandatory.

This piece of advice has done the most to improve my own networking experiences by removing a lot of the guilt and anxiety that I used to associate with networking. Now, I’m much better at using my energy effectively and being on my game for people I really need to talk to.

 

You need time to yourself to refuel. Here are some ways to get time alone during a networking event:

Go to the bathroom: Whether you actually need to go or not, do a little “freshening up.” Check yourself out in the mirror. Make sure you haven’t spilled food on yourself. Touch up your hair. Practice your posture and your smile in the mirror to feel confident that you’ll make a pleasant first impression.

Get some fresh air: If possible, take a moment to step outside. It’s ok to antisocially check your phone out there. In situations where appearances matter so much, it can feel like everyone’s judgment about you is terribly important. But the truth is that everyone else is busy meeting other people too, and no one will notice or care how many times you leave and enter the event.

Filler strategies from last post: Hang out near the food, stand in line, or check the nametag and info tables. These strategies can set you up for easy conversation openers with strangers. But they can also give you a time out where you don’t have to feel obligated to talk to anyone.

Talk to a good friend: Talking to someone you know well is much more relaxing than talking to strangers. If your friend is also an introvert, you can commiserate about your experience and encourage each other to reach your networking goals. Just make sure you don’t spend the entire night talking only to each other.

 

Explicitly plan for down-time

Make sure to schedule breaks during the planning phase before an event. Again, prioritization is key. You don’t have to attend every networking event out there. Pick ones where the attendees truly interest you and where the event format might be more structured and well-suited for introverted networkers.

If you’re going to a conference or a longer series of events, don’t be overly ambitious with your schedule. You don’t have to fill every minute of your time with seminars and social hours. Devora Zack recommends making a list of the events that look interesting to you, and then cutting that in half. Save your energy to be at your best for the really exciting stuff. Don’t waste your energy on lesser things just to feel productive, and then end up drained for the things you really care about. You’re not slacking off, you’re prioritizing and being efficient!

 

Reflect

After you’ve completed a successful conversation, and made a positive and memorable impression by asking thoughtful questions, now is a great time to take a moment to pause. Seek a relatively quiet spot and take a few minutes to reflect on the interaction you just had, another skill that introverts excel at.

Write down a few tidbits of information about the person you met. Here are some items you might consider including. The back of their business card can be particularly useful for this purpose:

  • Name/nickname
  • Position and place of work
  • How they can help in your career
  • Details about their appearance
  • Details about their personal life

This moment of pause allows you to better remember the person you’ve just connected with and also gives you a little bit of time to recharge and get ready for the next confrontation.

 

Follow-up

Since the introvert’s goal of networking is to create a compact network of reliable contacts, you need to follow-up with your contacts after the initial meeting and nurture the connection you’ve started. One conversation at a crowded networking event won’t be enough to make that person think of you when they come across the next job posting, no matter how wonderful your conversation was. Consistent follow-up is crucial.

Ideally, send them a note or follow-up email within 48 hours. Here, your introverted nature comes in handy again, because where introverts are hesitant in talking, they are often excellent at writing.

Make your note professional but personal. Don’t worry about using very formal language; you don’t want to sound stuffy and dry. Remind them about who you are, something you talked about or something you have in common. Finish off with a personal touch. If they mentioned any personal details, mention them here.

Example: It was great to talk with you and I hope to discuss this topic with you further. Good luck with your daughter’s soccer game this weekend!

Make yourself useful. Professional relationships are two-way streets. If you expect to gain something from the other person, it’s nice to offer something in return, even if it is something simple like sharing information through relevant articles or links. Small favors can go a long way in solidifying connections.

Example: In regards to the role of diversity in biotech companies that we talked about yesterday, here is an article I saw recently that I thought was very insightful.

If the person doesn’t get back to you right away, here’s a good rule of thumb for being persistent but not obnoxious: wait 2 weeks and then send them a cheerful check-in email. If you don’t desperately need something from them, just leave it at that. If they don’t respond, perhaps this person is not meant to be part of your compact network. If you do need something desperately, it might be best to pick up the phone. I know phone calls are scary, but they are very effective.

 

Know when to leave

Just as you don’t have to feel obligated to spend every minute at the networking event talking to someone, you also don’t have to feel obligated to stay for the entire duration of the event. Don’t let yourself burn out by struggling through to the end.

You can have a specific time in mind as your personal curfew. Make it something reasonable, like an hour or two, during which you can accomplish some serious networking. Since you’ve thought of a specific goal for whom to talk to, after you’ve reached this goal is also a good time to think about heading out. Don’t worry about what other people think. Most likely, no one will notice when you leave.

 

Reward yourself

Once you’re done with the event, congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished! Treat yourself to some ice cream, a glass of wine, and some well-deserved alone time! Not only do you deserve it, but this positive reinforcement will make you feel better about the next networking event. With this productive experience under your belt, continue the momentum by gathering more individuals into your compact, reliable network, and strengthening the relationship with your contacts.

With each successful experience you can go a little further outside your comfort zone. Consider joining your co-worker for dinner, as you hone your listening and conversation skills. Slightly increase your networking goal for the next event. Grow the courage to approach someone you previously found intimidating.

 

These tips for Pacing yourself should make your networking experience more manageable and enjoyable. In fact, many of these strategies are applicable for your social life in general. Think of a party with lots of people, where it might be helpful for you to take occasional breaks outside and to have planned a predetermined time to leave.

 

10 Point Summary

  1. Breaks are mandatory
  2. Deliberately plan down-time
  3. Prioritize interesting events and people
  4. Don’t feel guilty about taking time to yourself
  5. Recharge in the bathroom, outside, in line, or with a friend
  6. Reflect and write down details
  7. Personalized follow-up with your contacts
  8. Leave after you’ve reached a predetermined time or goal
  9. Reward yourself
  10. Expand beyond your comfort zone

 

Check back in two weeks for final installment of this blog series, in which you will learn how to change your perception and build a positive outlook on networking as an introvert.

 

** Try taking breaks during your next networking opportunity and let us how it changed your experience! **

Share your thoughts below by clicking the “Leave a Reply” link or by clicking the chat bubble in the top right of the post.

 

Resources:

  1. Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  3. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
  4. Self-Promotion for Introverts: A Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, Nancy Ancowitz

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking III: Process

In the previous post of this blog series, we discussed how to Prepare before a networking event. Preparation can make a big difference for an introvert’s comfort level. Introverts tend to do better in well-defined roles, with a predetermined plan for whom to talk to and what to ask them, and with a good dose of practice and mental preparation.

 

However, the harder part starts when you actually enter the networking venue, are surrounded by a large number of people, and are expected to interact and make conversation.

At this point, the typical advice for an extrovert would be to meet as many people as possible and self-promote as much as possible (stopping short of overt arrogance, of course.) This advice does not work for introverts. Recall from Part I that introverts tend to be inner directed, go deep, and prefer one-on-one discussion. A heightened sense of privacy makes self-promotion awkward, flitting from one person to the next is uncomfortable, and group conversations (especially interrupting group conversations) can be difficult.

Introverts should follow a radically different approach that makes use of their characteristic strengths. Instead of trying to promote yourself during the event, focus on processing during the event (again borrowing terminology from Devora Zack’s book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking.) As the word “process” implies, this approach is more focused and prioritizes deep connections over broad transient encounters. Here are some tips on how to Process effectively during networking:

 

Connect vs. collect

There are two networking strategies:

  1. Collect: cast your net as wide as possible. The more people you know, the more likely that one of them will pass along the right information or recommend you to the right job.
  1. Connect: curate a small but personal network. The more deeply you know people, the more likely they will think of you when the right information or job comes along.

Number 1 is the conventional wisdom of extroverted networkers. Number 2 is what introverts should do.

A major positive characteristic of introverts is their ability to focus. It may seem that networking requires an expansive personality that switches easily between different people and different situations. But this is only necessary if your strategy is to interact with as many people as possible, regardless of the quality of that interaction. Instead, focus on meeting just a small number of people, but making those connections meaningful and memorable. Replace quantity with quality.

This certainly takes the pressure off of having to do extensive mingling. But it doesn’t let you off the hook completely! Have a realistic number in mind for how many connections you want to make at the event. A perfectly acceptable goal could be to connect with just 1-2 people.

To really make this small number count, you have to prioritize. Ideally, you would be able to choose and research the attendees of the event beforehand (as described in Part II). If not, company representatives often have info tables and pamphlets that can help you chose who to schmooze with. Focus on people and companies that sound truly exciting to you. Don’t spend your limited time on conversations that are far outside your career interests. Of course, it is ok (great even!) to chat with people outside of your priority list. But think of them as bonuses and don’t let them drain your energy.

Sometimes it can be difficult during a busy networking event to get enough time for meaningful exchanges. Arriving early and picking the right event format can be helpful. The connection that you have begun during the networking event should be nurtured afterwards, so be sure to get the person’s business card or contact information for follow-up!

Now you may be thinking, I don’t like talking to people, how do I make an interaction meaningful and memorable?


Strength in listening

While introverts usually prefer to do less of the talking, they tend to be very good listeners. Relying on this strength will be to your advantage and can decrease your discomfort during networking.

After giving a brief introduction of yourself, turn the conversation to the other person by asking questions. Let them do most of the talking. You may have prepared some specific questions before the event. If you run out, listen attentively and ask open-ended follow-up questions. Simply by listening well, you will show genuine interest and intelligence, make a positive impression, and build rapport. Plus you will learn lots of useful information about your dream job.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you could ask. Avoid yes-or-no questions:

  • What do you like about your job?
  • What challenges do you face in your workplace?
  • What skills are you looking for in a project manager?
  • How did you prepare for a career as a medical science liaison?
  • What advice do you have for an aspiring consultant?

For more thoughtful responses, replace “why” with “how” or “what”:

  • How did you decide to take a job as a data scientist?
  • What led you to change your career path?
  • What led your company to hire more editors?

Be careful not to let the conversation become too one-sided. Remember that the goal is to forge a personal connection. This means that you should offer some tidbits about yourself as well (revisit Part II for personal information that you can prepare for this purpose).

 

Self-promotion without talking

Selling yourself is not just about saying the most impressive words (although you should definitely put some thought into your pitch). People infer much more information about you than just the basic facts of your education and employment history.

Here are some other strategies to demonstrate your winning personality and intellect, that don’t require bragging or name-dropping:

Make eye contact: Focus on the person you are talking to. Looking at their eyes shows that you are paying attention. Don’t make it awkward; it’s ok to look away once in a while.

Smile: This is the easiest way to get people to like you. For greater effect, smile more slowly. The actual movement of smiling creates a warmer response than just having a smile plastered on your face.

Posture: Stand straight with a long spine, square shoulders, and chin parallel with the ground. Good posture makes you look confident, even if you’re not feeling that way.

Note the unusual: Compliment people on distinctive clothing or jewelry. This can be a simple way to start a conversation with a stranger and will leave them with a positive feeling about you – even if they know you only said it to flatter them! However, commenting on unusual facial features or personal appearance is probably not appropriate.

Learn names: Paying particular attention to the other person’s name always leaves a good impression. Repeat their name after they introduce themselves, try to use it during your conversation, and reiterate it when you say goodbye. If at this point you don’t remember their name, it is still polite to ask them again.

You don’t have to fake being a particularly cheerful, friendly, or outgoing person, if that’s not you. The point of this blog series is that you shouldn’t fake your personality. In fact, recruiters want to know what kind of person they might be adding to their team, and may be looking for diverse characters. But you should of course aim to impress. So don’t just be yourself…. be your best self.

 

Filler strategies

My worst fear about networking events is that I’ll spend the whole time standing by myself, awkwardly pretending to scan the room. Here are some actions you can take to defuse such a situation:

Check out the nametag table: Find out who else is attending the event and maybe add someone to your list of people to connect with.

Hang out near the food: People bond over food, so this is an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger. Hand the person behind you a plate, comment on the cheese selection, and go from there.

Stand in line: Regardless of what the line is for, this puts you in a purposeful location while allowing you a moment to rest. Or, if you wish, you can strike up a conversation with the person in front or behind you.

Offer help: Picking up a dropped pen, helping clean a spill, or just handing someone a napkin, makes you look good and can serve as a natural ice-breaker.

Be approachable: If you are standing by yourself, be sure not bury yourself in your phone or be otherwise uninviting. Be open for other lonely introverts to approach you for a chat.

Also remember that you don’t have to be talking to someone at every moment of the event. Your goal is to initiate a lasting connection with a small number of people.

 

10 Point Summary

  1. Connect rather than collect
  2. Prioritize a small number of people
  3. Create lasting contacts and build rapport
  4. Listen and ask open-ended questions
  5. Make eye contact and smile
  6. Stand straight to show confidence
  7. Compliment people and learn their names
  8. Be polite and helpful
  9. Look for simple conversation openers with strangers
  10. Be approachable

 

Coming up in Part IV is advice on how to pace yourself during networking events and what to do afterwards.

 

** Incorporate these tips during your next networking opportunity and let us know how it went! **

Share your thoughts below by clicking the “Leave a Reply” link or by clicking the chat bubble in the top right of the post.

 

Resources:

  1. Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  3. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
  4. Self-Promotion for Introverts: A Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, Nancy Ancowitz

 

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking II: Prepare

In last week’s blog, we explored the main attributes, strengths and weaknesses, of introverts and extroverts. Whether you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, hopefully you were able to discover some of your strengths and recognize some of their downsides.

Playing to your strengths means understanding fully and with honesty what you can excel at and where your limits are.

Those of us who identify as introverts often feel that we don’t have the right skills to be good at networking, which is such a crucial component of the job search. But this is absolutely not true! In today’s post, you’ll begin to learn how to use an introvert’s skillset to your advantage.

The first step draws mainly on the introvert’s ability to plan ahead and strategize. While extroverts find it easy to jump in spontaneously, introverts often need a moment to collect themselves. Remember that introverts tend to think to talk, need concentration, and energize alone. Devora Zack, in her insightful book Networking for People Who Hate Networking, calls this stage “Pause.” I find it more intuitive to remember it as “Prepare.”

Here are several tips on how to Prepare before an event in order to have a more successful and enjoyable networking experience:

 

Pre-register

Pre-registration has several obvious benefits. You ensure a spot for yourself at any space-limited events, and in most cases you score a pre-printed name tag, which will look much prettier, more professional and legible than one scrawled by hand.

But more importantly, pre-registration makes it more likely that you will actually show up. If you’re like me, it’s far too easy to back out at the last minute for anything that involves socializing. Registering means you’ve made a commitment to go – your name is now on a list somewhere – and that commitment is much harder to break. If you need an even stronger incentive, ask a friend to go with you. You wouldn’t want to let down your friend, now, would you?

While you are considering a networking event to pre-register for, keep in mind that some event formats may work out better for you than others. The spontaneous milling about and interrupting of group conversations can be very challenging for introverts. Unfortunately, most networking events are in this format. However, if possible, try to find events that include more built-in structure, such as table rotations or icebreaker activities. The double benefit is that structured events force you to talk to people, and introverts tend to feel more comfortable when given a clear role and purpose.

 

Mental Preparation

Now that you’ve pre-registered for an event and placed a reminder on your calendar, you can get mentally ready. You know what’s coming and you have plenty of time to plan for the big day.

One thing to plan is your outfit. First impressions are crucial and appearances matter (contrary to what your parents told you when they made you wear hand-me-downs in elementary school). However, pick comfort over fashion. You want to look clean and professional, but don’t wear something that is scratchy, stiff, or the wrong size. The more comfortable you are, the more confident you will appear.

If you plan to change into your networking outfit later in the day, hang it somewhere visible as a reminder. The more reminders you have, the more familiar you will be with the idea of going, and the more comfortable and mentally ready you will feel when you get to the event.

Save your mental energy throughout the day. Try to avoid scheduling many meetings or interaction-intensive activities. Have lunch by yourself in a quiet place. Draw energy from having time alone, and save your socializing reserves for the networking event.

If possible, end your workday early. Talking to the right person at this networking event could determine the next step in your career! The importance of a few extra hours of Western blotting rather pales in comparison.

 

Research the Attendees

Another thing to plan is who exactly you will talk to at the event. This is where being a focused and detail-oriented introvert really comes in handy. Research the people that will be there and the companies that will be represented.

Knowing something about a company or a person before talking to them is always a good thing. With this knowledge, you can prepare thoughtful and specific questions ahead of time. Your insights will make you appear truly interested and intelligent at the same time!

Furthermore, if you pick out people and companies in advance, you don’t have to go through the discouraging experience of talking to someone whose job isn’t remotely interesting to you. Such conversations can be difficult to get out of if you’re afraid to seem rude, and can feel like a waste of time and a disappointing failure – an additional drain on your energies. Instead, talking only to people that you could really get excited about will lead to much more positive and encouraging interactions.

 

Set Realistic and Measurable Goals

Decide in advance what you want to get out of the networking event. Frame your goal so that an objective measurement determines whether you have met it or not.

Bad goal: “Become better connected in the consulting industry

Good goal: “Talk to 2 people from consulting firms and exchange contact info”

If you walk out of a networking event feeling drained and insecure, replaying that awkward moment when you tried to say “sixth hypothesis,” your mood might make it difficult for you to feel “better connected.” But did you talk to at least 2 consultants and get their business cards? If yes – Success! Measureable success feels good and will encourage you to go to more networking events in the future.

Be sure to keep your goals realistic. It’s ok to start small. It’s ok to stay small, too! Aiming for 1-2 meaningful conversations is perfectly acceptable. Introverts excel at forging a small number of deep connections (we will talk more about this later).

 

Prepare your Story

While you were researching who will be at the event, you prepared several thoughtful questions. This takes a lot of pressure off because you don’t have to think of something to say on the fly. You’ve already prepared a part of your dialogue.

But unfortunately, people will expect you to talk about yourself as well. Introverts tend to have a higher bar for personal details that they care to share with strangers. Introverts also tend to take longer to respond to questions because they “think to talk.” But at a networking event, there isn’t much time for thinking. No problem! You can prepare your personal narrative in advance too. (As a matter of fact, interview gurus recommend this, even for extroverts!)

Most questions that professional contacts are likely to ask are very standard. Here are some topics that you can script for yourself before the event. Consider practicing your stories with a friend or colleague:

  • your current job and workplace
  • how did you decide to take this job
  • what inspires you about your job
  • your main professional accomplishments
  • your main skillsets
  • an interesting previous job
  • your professional goals
  • your educational background
  • where you are from
  • your hobbies or interests

Armed with these anecdotes, you’ll be ready for personal questions in various situations. As an introvert, use your excellent listening skills to eavesdrop on what sorts of things other people talk about.

 

Arrival

Now that you have prepared yourself mentally, picked a comfortable outfit, made a list of people and questions, practiced your personal facts, and saved up your social energy, you are ready to head to the networking event.

Arrive early. Fewer people will be around, which makes you more visible and makes it easier to approach people while they are not surrounded by throngs of pushy extroverts vying for their attention. Resist the urge to sneak in unobserved in the middle of a crowd. Hiding will feel easier, but it defeats the purpose of a networking event.

If you arrive early, you may have the opportunity to volunteer to help set up the event. This provides a structured role that makes many introverts feel more comfortable, and also allows for easy openings for one-on-one conversations. You could get a chance to connect with the organizers of the event, who are probably very well connected themselves.

Before you actually go into the event and approach the small number of people you are planning to speak to, take a moment to collect yourself. Go to the restroom and give yourself a confident smile in the mirror. Pause. Breathe. Give yourself an internal pep-talk if you need it. Now you are fully prepared and ready for networking!

 

10 Point Summary

  1. Pre-register and bring a friend
  2. Pick structured events
  3. Pick a comfortable, professional outfit
  4. Save your energy reserves during the day
  5. Remind yourself about the upcoming event
  6. Research the attendees and prepare questions
  7. Set a realistic and measurable goal
  8. Prepare and practice your personal narrative
  9. Arrive early and volunteer
  10. Take a moment to pause before entering the event

 

Keep your eyes peeled for Part III of this blog series, in which you will learn strategies to employ during the actual networking event.

 

** Incorporate these tips when you prepare for your next networking opportunity and let us know how it went! **

Share your thoughts below by clicking the “Leave a Reply” link or by clicking the chat bubble in the top right of the post.

 

Resources:

  1. Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  3. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking I: Strengths and Weaknesses

I. Every Weakness is a Strength

Whether it’s for self-improvement and self-acceptance, or to optimize employee satisfaction and productivity in your company, people have come to realize that different personality types require different environments and habits to function optimally. One of the traits under investigation lately is the extroversion-introversion axis.

You’ve probably heard a lot about this axis already and know that the main dividing characteristic between extroverts and introverts is that one likes to hang around with other people, while the other prefers to stay at home with their cat. What important career development tool requires hanging around with people? Networking!

If you find networking difficult, you may be in the staying-home-with-cat camp. Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself that if only you tried harder, networking would be easier. Or else you’ve decided you’re simply not designed for networking and have decried it altogether. But everyone is always telling you that the most important part of the job search is Networking, Networking, Networking! How are you EVER going to get a job??

Don’t worry. This short blog series will delve deeper into your introverted nature and provide some tips and strategies to make networking work for you.

 

On the spectrum

First, it’s important to remember that almost nothing in biology is binary. People don’t neatly divide into two camps, introvert or extrovert. Just like height or hair color, you can fall anywhere along the introversion-to-extroversion spectrum. While some people identify strongly with one of the extremes, others (sometimes called centroverts or ambiverts) belong somewhere in the middle. Some people might exhibit behaviors that seem extroverted or introverted, but don’t feel that they belong to that group at all. While you read this guide, try to identify which traits apply to you and which don’t. Even if you don’t entirely identify as an introvert, some of the advice could still be useful to you.

 

If you are an introvert, you might have felt like you are in the minority or somehow deficient compared to all the extroverts that you see around you. But that’s just because extroverts are loud and obnoxious* and hard to overlook. It turns out, though, that the distribution is pretty evenly split (according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).

  • 30% introverts
  • 40% in the middle
  • 30% extroverts

Your fellow introverts are all around you, you just might not see or hear them as much.

(*I was kidding about all extroverts being obnoxious. If you’d like to read more about common misconceptions about introverts and extroverts, check out the resources below.)

 

A double-sided coin

The second important thing to remember is that, when it comes to personality traits, every strength is a weakness, and every weakness is a strength. Everything that you think you do well, comes at the expense of something else.

Example: I’m good at striking compromises, listening to other people’s opinions and needs and finding a middle ground. But this means that I’m not very good at being assertive or pushing for my ideas over someone else’s.

Conversely, anything that you think you are bad at reveals a hidden strength.

Example: I’m usually very quiet during group conversations or meetings. However, this makes me a careful listener and attentive learner.

 

Intro vs. Extro

Borrowing terminology from Devora Zack’s book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, the main general characteristics of introverts and extroverts can be summarized in three words. Let’s see how these characteristics confer strengths and weaknesses to each type.

Introverts:                              Extroverts:

Reflective                               Verbal

Focused                                 Expansive

Self-reliant                              Social

 

Reflective vs. Verbal

Reflective: think to talk, inner directed, focus on thoughts and ideas

Verbal: talk to think, outer directed, focus on people and events

Extroverts are known for being chatty, while introverts are typically quiet. Make no mistake, however, introverts can become very talkative once you get to know them better.

The strength of the extroverts is that they engage easily in conversation, especially spontaneously and with strangers. This allows them to create a wide network of acquaintances. Their downfall however is in the follow-up, preferring in-the-moment interactions to forming in-depth relationships after the fact.

As an introvert, I have a harder time with spontaneous conversations and small talk. While extroverts often begin talking in order to work out their thought process, introverts usually think through their answer before replying. An introvert might seem more quiet and slow paced, but their contributions to the conversation are usually intelligent and meaningful. Also, since the introverts aren’t constantly talking, this makes them good and observant listeners, and able to pick up on more non-verbal cues.

 

Focused vs. Expansive

Focused: go deep, enjoy few stimuli, need concentration

Expansive: go wide, enjoy simultaneous stimuli, need diversion

Along with having a wide base of acquaintances, extroverts typically have a wide range of interests. Extrovert are likely to show interest in a wide variety of subjects and tend to switch easily to new projects and to try out new ideas. They are also more likely to multi-task, to talk, or to listen to music while working. However, this need for constant stimulation can become a nuisance to other people.

By contrast, I prefer a quiet work environment and sometimes migrate to the library when the extroverts around me get too chatty. Being very focused makes you an efficient worker, but it can also make it difficult to deal with interruptions or to be productive in a disruptive setting. Like many introverts, I usually focus on one task and concentrate on only a few deep interests. Unlike extroverts, introverts tend to be more cautious about jumping into a new project or idea.

 

Self-reliant vs. Social

Self-reliant: energize alone, prefer one-on-one discussion, value privacy

Social: energize with others, prefer group discussion, value public sharing

Perhaps the first image you think of when you hear “extrovert” is a person partying. Anyone talking about extroverts will tell you that an extrovert “energizes with others.” They do very well with group activities and teamwork, and are at ease in a crowded room. However, they need to be careful with their personal boundaries, since extroverts have a tendency to over-share personal information in ways that can seem inappropriate to others.

Introverts are said to “energize alone.” Although you may occasionally find me at a party, I tend to feel more relaxed during a quiet night at home. Large group gatherings, and especially small-talk, can feel particularly draining. I usually find myself on the sidelines, listening in on the animated discussion of the other members. An introvert’s strength lies in one-on-one conversations, especially if given some time to prepare, or at least a heads-up to get into the conversation zone. An introvert is less likely to connect with many people, but more likely to forge a deeper connection with a small number of individuals.

 

Playing to your strengths

To my dear introverts who thought your personality would make you less successful than your extroverted peers: look at the amazing skills you have! You’re probably very focused, detail-oriented, and good at planning. You are an excellent listener and attuned to the needs of others. You thrive in one-on-one conversations and you can forge truly meaningful connections with a small number of people. Being excellent at self-reflection, take a minute to think about some other things you are really good at, or some things you feel you are not very good at that come with a positive flipside.

Don’t try to change the personality you were born with. A young alto singer might wish to become a soprano, for those glorious arias and stunning high notes. But if they spent all their time trying to train their voice to reach a range it wasn’t supposed to, they probably will never become a successful soprano. But if they train their voice in their natural range, they could become an amazing, polished alto. An opera needs both altos and sopranos.

The world needs both introverts and extroverts. Don’t try to force yourself into a mold that doesn’t work for you. Playing to your strengths means understanding fully and with honesty what you can excel at and where your limits are. A lot of advice about networking has been written by extroverts for extroverts (which is ironic, because they naturally have an easier time with networking anyway). If none of that advice has felt right to you, it’s ok. Your software probably just runs a bit differently.

 

Keep a lookout for the following posts in this blog series, which will delve deeper and provide advice on how to adjust your networking strategy to be more productive and pleasant for an introvert.

Part II will largely focus on how to prepare before you even get to a networking event.

 

Resources:

  1. Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  3. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi

 

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