Career Development for Graduate School Students

Exploring Options: Networking and Resources

Without a doubt, networking is your most important career development tool!

Networking is the “literature review” of your career search; instead of collecting references to journal articles, you’ll collect contacts, career stories, and advice. It forms the necessary foundation you must lay before you can build a meaningful career. Networking provides information you previously did not know and guides your job search, just as a lit review guides your scholarly research. Notably, networking is central to the non-academic job search, but not the academic job search.

Networking IS: asking for advice, suggestions and contacts. It is the beginning of a dialogue. It is learning about careers from people in those careers. Most professionals recall that at some point in their career, someone offered them good advice.

Networking is NOT: asking for a job. If the question you ask is, “Do you have a job for me?”–the answer is likely to be “no” and the dialogue is over. It is also not asking for preferential treatment; you’re not asking anyone to pull strings for you.

Prepare

  • Create a resume; consider printing Networking Cards for in-person meetings (for less than $25, can purchase business card paper at office supply store)
  • Write and practice your Elevator Speech, a 30-second introduction of yourself that can be adjusted for each situation

Find Network Contacts

  • Vanderbilt alumni: VUConnect–create your profile, then Search the Directory for VU alumni with your degree, your major/program, who work for a company you are interested in, or who live where you may want to settle–or any combination of the above. No fee is required to join VUConnect.
  • LinkedIn.com:  professional network; contact individuals, join group discussions.
  • Alumni from your undergraduate institution:  many have similar directories.
  • Departmental contacts: professors, other students, newsletters–all may lead to contacts.
  • Campus staff: for information on alternate academic careers.
  • Attend events on campus with alumni, company representatives, or outside speakers discussing careers and career opportunities.
  • Create a spreadsheet to keep track of contacts and information.

Communicate with Potential Network Contacts

  • Emailing total strangers: keep the message short, direct and easy to answer. Ask 1-2 questions, not 10. Do not send a resume.
  • Conduct informational interviews:  request 30 minutes of time to ask about their career. Gather information about jobs that sound interesting to you. This is a low-pressure way to communicate about careers–the expectations of a job interview are absent for both parties. Ask about their job, skills they use, what they seek in new hires. See above handout for sample questions.
  • For examples, see Networking Emails and Informational Interview

Use Additional Resources to Learn About Careers

  • Versatile PhDVersatilePhD.com: career panels, discussions on non-academic careers (both Humanities/Social Sciences and STEM foci); Premium content: career profiles, successful job searches, archives of past panels (all VU students have Premium access). Job listings: non-academic.

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