Tips for Grads: Making networking natural

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Networking can be intimidating (global pandemic that has trained us to avoid other human beings aside). But connections with people in your field, whether they’re within your current department or in the places you eventually want to be, are essential for gaining the insight you need to land the job you want. Here are some things to keep in mind whether you hate networking, love networking, or have no idea where to start:

  • Know what you’re asking for: Knowing what your goal is for networking goes a long way to clarify what steps you should take and how you should approach any given person. Before you reach out to someone, ask yourself: Do you just want to have coffee or a Zoom call? Do you want to work for them or with them? Are you asking to be connected to someone in their network? Of course, being open to whatever opportunities come your way is a great mindset, but having a hoped-for outcome will help you organize your thought process, structure your ask, and improve the interaction overall.
  • Have an online presence: Whether your field responds best to a LinkedIn profile, a personal website with your CV or work clearly displayed, or even a really engaging Twitter account, keep in mind that it may not matter how great of a conversation you had with someone at a conference reception if they look you up the next day and can only find your CV from five years ago. You don’t have to be all over the map, but be somewhere on the map!
  • Conduct informational interviews: In a recent workshop, Dean of Students Christina Olstad drove home the importance and impact of informational interviews. At first, the idea of doing this seems like an extra step if you already know what you want to do. But the reality is that even if you know where you want to be, you may not know how best to get there. If you have even a rough idea of what your ultimate career goal is, find two or three people who are already there and ask them if you can take them for coffee (if they’re in the area) or if they’ll join you on a Zoom call to talk about their career trajectory. You may be afraid they’ll say no. But honestly, if they have the time, it’s likely they’ll be happy to give it, because what is more flattering than being told by a graduate student that their career goal is to be you someday?

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.