Career Networking Master Class
Discover the four levels to networking that will super-charge your career.
Everyone talks about the importance of career networking in STEM, but what exactly is it? Are you a good networker if you have gazillion email contacts? Does “networking” mean you can go to an event and come away with several game-changing connections to advance your career in STEM?
There isn’t one answer to this question, explains Gotara’s founder and CEO, D. Sangeeta. “To me, there are four levels to becoming an expert networker,” she explained during a recent TARATALK. “It starts with you getting to know others, and it ends with you using your network to help others and to have a meaningful impact. Networking is always a two-way street. You give, and you get. But one-way networking won’t get you anywhere.”
Let’s take a closer look at the four networking levels you need to master to progress in your career.
“Networking in STEM goes beyond just a social connection. Networking, when done well, can result in measurable benefit to all parties involved!“- D Sangeeta
CAREER NETWORKING LEVEL 1: Social networking
Get to know people in your field, in your industry, in your organization, and in your office. If you’re in the office, take advantage of informal moments between meetings or at lunch to chat with your co-workers. If you’re connecting virtually, set up drop-in Zoom coffee sessions and invite colleagues to join in for an informal conversation. More formal options include joining employee resource groups, platforms like LinkedIn, or technical forums like Women in Tech, Women in Data Science, and the Society of Women Engineers. And don’t forget Gotara! Members can join Gotara Constellations and connect with other members who share their common STEM career interests.
CAREER NETWORKING LEVEL 2: Get and Give Advice
This is the level where you’re establishing mentor-mentee-type relationships. They can be long-term, or only something as simple as one or two sessions. In many cases, the relationship can be reactive and/or proactive.
It’s reactive when mentees need time-sensitive advice from their mentors, either virtually or in person. “I’ve had mentee and mentor relationships that have lasted more than 25 years,” explains Sangeeta. “Recently, one of my mentees reached out to ask about leaving a company right after his promotion. We chatted about the pros and cons and what would be best for his career. I also continue to reach out to my mentors, especially since I launched Gotara.”
If a mentee is working on long-term career goals, the exchange is more proactive. “This is a session to bounce off ideas to see if you’re moving in the right direction. Also to talk about big steps and pivots you may have to make to reach your goal,” says Sangeeta. “Recently, one of my mentees wanted advice about moving into a product role, and she was afraid that it might not work out. She’s a top talent, so I encouraged her not to be afraid to experiment and to take calculated risks. Most people are grateful when they push themselves. When I look back at the inflection points in my career, I’m grateful for the times when I took chances. I wouldn’t have had the career I did if I hadn’t taken those leaps of faith.”
When you’re starting out, you’re likely more on the “taking side” of the mentor-mentee equation. But, you can quickly start to give back as well. Even in your early career, sometimes reverse mentoring can be a great way to make a difference in a colleague’s career. “When I was leading a data science organization, I always asked new college graduates to be my reverse mentors and teach me about things like Data Lake, Big Data, and Machine Learning. In turn, I was able to mentor them as they were starting out in their careers.”
CAREER NETWORKING LEVEL 3: Get and Give a Job
As a mentee, keep in touch with mentors who are growing into more prominent roles because they may have the opportunity to hire you one day. “Mentors should also stay in touch with talented mentees they might be able to hire to build their organization or to help some of their peers build theirs,” suggests Sangeeta.
Once you’ve reached this networking level, here are three other key strategies to keep building your network.
- Within your Organization Continue to meet new people and build your connections. They could become your potential future hires or managers.
- Networking Platforms Join platforms like LinkedIn and Gotara and build your network by connecting with leaders and individuals you admire for their skills and approach to problem-solving. This new network could also become your potential future hires or managers.
- Recruiters Connect with recruiters even if you’re not looking for a job. “You should seek them out or respond to them even when you’re not looking for a new opportunity,” says Sangeeta. “They may help you find a job one day or suggest new talent to you.”
CAREER NETWORKING LEVEL 4: Get and Give Business
This is the level where most people struggle, especially women. “Sometimes women are fearful of jeopardizing their position in their organization if they appear to be doing favors by hiring or helping someone in their network,” explains Sangeeta. “But that’s how business is done, and it’s not about doing favors. Employers are grateful if you introduce top talent to the organization. When you reach this level, you’re helping others—and in turn, your network is there to help you succeed as well.”
And sometimes, the help you offer may be a small gesture of generosity that blossoms. “One of the leaders in my network did a free keynote speech,” she recalls. “I later introduced her to another corporation that led to a big business growth opportunity for her. It was an inflection point in her business.”
In this process, we help our network by offering our services so they can reach their goals and in return get you the business you are seeking. This is a page out of the Sales Playbook of the most successful leaders. Salespeople not only understand customers’ needs well, and ensure the delivery is made, but they are also great at creating and maintaining networks to seek and offer opportunities! These skillsets must be nurtured and utilized.
Networking, like learning, is a life-long endeavor. Draw on your network—and be there for them—regardless of how often you’ve been in touch. “When I launched Gotara, I reached out to a former colleague of mine in my network, and he was there for me. He worked with me to build a new network of advisors, founders, angels, and venture capitalists to help me with my latest career adventure.”
Six career networking do’s and don’ts in STEM
- Remember that networking is a two-way street, not one-way. Always think about how you can help people in your network.
- Before you attend an event or meeting, do your research. Find out who will be there and then be prepared to have an informed conversation that sets you apart.
- Don’t go into the networking meeting without a problem or an ask in mind. And always be ready with an offer to help the other party.
- Always leverage mentors for their expertise. Don’t go to them with problems outside of their expertise where they don’t have the experience to help.
- Be proactive in identifying potential mentors, mentees, and important network events to attend.
- And finally, to succeed in your career, leverage networking to the fullest by unlocking your confidence to connect with strangers. Seek out people who are different from you, who you could learn from, and who can help you spiral up!
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