IOP Institute of Physics

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Many people will tell you that networking is their idea of hell. All that schmoozing and sweet-talking can often seem false.

However, networking is about establishing contact with people who it might be mutually advantageous to know. And the key word here is “mutually” – they will want to talk to you as much as you want to talk to them.

This is important, because although networking can provide an “in” with some very senior people, don’t neglect people who are more or less on a par with you.As they advance in their careers, the contacts they make early on are the ones they’re most likely to keep up.

So just bear in mind the following tips and you’ll soon be networking like a pro…

Spread your network wide
You can network almost anywhere. The most obvious places are at drinks receptions and corporate functions, but think creatively. Networking can happen just as successfully at parties or in the pub.

Ask questions
The aim of networking is to find out who people are and what they do, and find some common ground. So your questions should revolve around jobs, career history and future plans. If you’re ever stuck for conversation, say: “that’s interesting, tell me more”. But don’t feel obliged to spend more than five or ten minutes with each person, unless you really want to. If you’re on your own at a reception, find someone else who’s milling around. And if everyone’s grouped up, ask if you can join in. No one, we promise, is going to say “no”.

More and more people network online through sites such as MyIOP, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Scispace and ResearchGate are networking sites for scientists and academics. E-networking is great, but don’t go overboard: it should complement rather than replace traditional face-to-face contact.

Twitter is also a valuable resources to identify and converse with useful people to know.

Get a business card
If you want someone to give you their contact details, the best way to do it is to offer yours first, so get a business card. If you don’t receive a card with your job automatically, ask your employers to get one made. And if you don’t have a job, consider getting a business card produced anyway. offer an affordable line of cards which you can design yourself.

Follow up
You’ve done your networking and you’ve gathered a sheaf of other people’s cards. So what’s next? Well, it depends what you want to get out of the situation, but a good rule of thumb is to follow up by offering to do something for the person you’ve met rather than the other way round. So invite them to an event, or send them a weblink or a press cutting which you think would be of interest to them. And if you’re asking for a favour, keep it simple.

For example, you could ask for the name of a key contact in their company, or to arrange a quick introduction by email. Bigger “asks”, such as suggesting that they set up a lengthy meeting or feedback in detail on your proposal are best saved for when you know them a little better.

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last edited: October 01, 2012

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