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Is it possible to network "at" someone?  

 

Dave Jensen
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February 23, 2019 12:57 am  

Today I had one of those calls from a scientist doing some job seeking that you could categorize as a networking call. I'm generally OK with that, and in fact consider that a key resource/ability for the job seeker. I use networking all the time when I make those "Who do you know?" calls to prospects for the job positions I am trying to fill. 

But this call today was a bit unique. In this case, I had very little that I could say. I answered the phone, someone asked if it was Dave, I replied "Yes," and for five minutes I couldn't get a word in. It was a non-stop verbal attack, with history that I am surprised didn't go back all the way to the first McDonald's job this young scientist had at the age of 16. Finally, when I did manage to get a word in, I promised to look at the CV but I was quite worn out from the call. It felt as if someone was doing something TO me, instead of attempting to build a connection. Wow, talk about a big mistake. 

You need a few lines under your belt for a networking call, things you are OK saying to introduce yourself and so on. But you do not need a 5-minute presentation canned and ready to go. Or, if you have to do it, you have that 5 minute pitch interrupted a few times with spots to let the person on the other line tell you they are still there . . . 

There's a line that I use when I call people to ask the recruiter's question. That line sounds something like "Hello Susan - I'm Dave Jensen, out of CareerTrax in Arizona, and I'm working on a Director of Microbiology search that I wanted to ask you about. Would you mind taking a brief moment for that, or am I catching you at a bad time?"

That bit of respect -- the offer to let the other party get off the hook, combined with the promise to be brief -- has an amazing effect on the tone of the call. That is, providing you don't launch from there into a 5-minute dissertation.

 

Dave

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TFinn
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March 4, 2019 11:03 pm  

It's like any other tool that people use for live communication---the more you do it, the better you are at it.  It sounds like the person you spoke doesn't have much experience interacting with people when it comes to non-science type interactions.  When I was starting out, I really didn't have a frame of reference for how to interact with people outside of talking about my research and personal interests.  I think it's less of a respect thing (from the other person's perpective) and more about being socially awkward/inexperienced. Networking and essentially cold-calling people is a bit of skill that not everyone is comfortable with.     


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Dave Jensen
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March 5, 2019 12:18 am  
Posted by: TFinn

It's like any other tool that people use for live communication---the more you do it, the better you are at it.  It sounds like the person you spoke doesn't have much experience interacting with people when it comes to non-science type interactions.  When I was starting out, I really didn't have a frame of reference for how to interact with people outside of talking about my research and personal interests.  I think it's less of a respect thing (from the other person's perpective) and more about being socially awkward/inexperienced. Networking and essentially cold-calling people is a bit of skill that not everyone is comfortable with.     

Very true. 

We're working on a search where the hiring manager told us that he was afraid one CV he saw would be someone who may "not be able to talk to non-scientists about his work." That's so critical -- the ability to just have a conversation with someone. You need to talk to business people, HR staff, sales and so on when you work for a company. . , It's one aspect of career success for sure. 

T Finn, how did you break out of that? For me, it was "Toastmasters" . . . I loved that group, which has chapters on most college campuses. They sit down once a week and just talk about better communication, and the emphasis on things like "table topics" -- topics you're assigned to talk about completely impromptu. Sounds tough, but it's fun!

Dave

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TFinn
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March 5, 2019 2:18 pm  
Posted by: Dave Jensen

Very true. 

We're working on a search where the hiring manager told us that he was afraid one CV he saw would be someone who may "not be able to talk to non-scientists about his work." That's so critical -- the ability to just have a conversation with someone. You need to talk to business people, HR staff, sales and so on when you work for a company. . , It's one aspect of career success for sure. 

T Finn, how did you break out of that? For me, it was "Toastmasters" . . . I loved that group, which has chapters on most college campuses. They sit down once a week and just talk about better communication, and the emphasis on things like "table topics" -- topics you're assigned to talk about completely impromptu. Sounds tough, but it's fun!

Dave

Moving from academic science to pretty much anything else can be an exercise in human interaction that many are not very well equipped.  However, it definitely depends on what you end up doing and the level of position.  But yeah, basic science folks who can clearly and concisely describe the "why should I care about your research" to a non-scientist are a big asset.  

I wouldn't say that I've broken out of it, but I have gotten used to it. I took/am taking a on-the-job training approach to things.  In grad school, I had to speak about my research once a year to the entire department, which got me comfortable (relatively speaking!) talking to groups of people about a topic. It forced me to prepare to throw my voice into a group of people, but also logically develop of a presentation.  I left research as soon as I graduated from grad school and frankly, worked in a writing position that had limited interaction with folks outside of the company---which was fine at the time, because I just wanted to learn the basics of the job. I slowly moved up the ladder and had interactions with people outside of the office, but it always made me uncomfortable.  Like---"tell me what I need to know and let's get off the phone, stop with the small talk."  

I took my current job precisely because it challenged my ability to interact with others, since I didn't think I had that tool in the toolbox.  Now, I'm required to develop relationships with top physician faculty, present data in poster form at medical conferences of all sizes, and interact with industry/biotech folks.  So there are now a lot of different stakeholders I need to figure out how to best interact with. It's such an important part of the job that I figured I'd either learn to find a way to adapt or I'd need to find a different job in pretty quick order.  But frankly, my (IMO) inability to comfortably interact with people was something I identified as a huge gap in my professional skill set.  I realized that if I was going to succeed and have the possibility of taking a high level position pretty much anywhere, I would need to figure out how best to communicate with people. 

I would say that although I am far from perfect, my job has required me to really focus on how I interact with others. How to develop and maintain work relationships with people who I would never interact with otherwise. I also work closely with the sales people at work and it's a real honor to watch these people interact with clients and address objections or challenges.  I love watching the back and forth and try my best to pick up little things here and there. It's been a fun ride.  My parents were right---I really can do whatever I set my mind to! Lol!  

 

This post was modified 3 months ago by TFinn

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Dave Jensen
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March 5, 2019 3:25 pm  

Great comments, thanks. It's clear this is a major element of the "transition issues" that many people face when they move from academia to industry.

There's a lot more to say on this topic and I hope our advisors will come in with some impressions as well,  Dave

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PG
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March 19, 2019 4:01 pm  

Just talking with any non scientist is useful for practicing. My wife claims that she helped to train me. One example being answering probably when she asked whether I could pick the kids up from daycare. Not surprising she wanted a yes or no answer while I was including the probability of my lab work finishing as planned, trafic on the way home etc getting to a relatively wide confidence interval.

I would however say that most of it has been on the job training and now I am getting the feedback that I do well also when presenting science to the manufacturing staff etc.


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