In real estate parlance, it is said that the three most important factors in maximizing the value of your property are location, location and location. Networking carries a similar importance, especially for those preparing for a career beyond NIH, or your current institution. Many good jobs are filled by candidates who have been identified prior to that job being officially posted. Therefore, the more broadly your net of contacts can be cast, the better your chances of receiving advanced information on positions which are of interest to you.
Developing and cultivating your network of contacts is critically important whether your career plans are in the academic setting or in industry. For those of you at the NIH, who are planning a career in the academic setting, networking is more straight-forward in that the people with whom you are in contact every day are often key components of your network. For those who desire to move into a career in industry, networking will involve going beyond your normal day-to-day routine. In this case you will need to build a network of contacts that are working in industry and doing similar jobs to those of your interest.
There are some tools available that can help you establish and maintain contacts outside of your current work environment. LinkedIn can be used to identify and communicate with people in industries and companies that you have targeted. Your University’s Alumni Database as well as the NIH Alumni Database can be good resources for finding industry contacts as well. In addition, contacting these alums can provide insight on the issues associated with the transition from academic labs to industry. Once you have identified potential contacts, an informational interview is an excellent way to discover more about a company and develop a contact (hopefully an advocate) within the company when job openings occur.
Another way to bolster your network is through attending conferences. Not only do you have a chance to meet industry scientists who are in the same field as your area of expertise, but you also can take the opportunity to meet the business people from the companies who are displaying at the conference. Both the scientific and business people within the companies can help you navigate the HR policies and procedures when there are job openings. In addition, attending trade association get-togethers can also be a good way to build your network. These are the same conferences and meetings that you would normally attend; use them as an opportunity to meet the people from industry.
One final thought; start your networking today! So many people say that they want to get their next job now, so it is time to start networking. Networking should begin the day you start in your present position. Your network of contacts can take years to build and cultivate. It is often the case that a contact you meet for one particular purpose can play a role in your career months, or even years later.