Learning how to connect with others will give academic job seekers an edge—and serve you throughout your career
Networking isn't just about getting a job either, says Bonds-Raacke, although networking can give you an advantage over equally qualified candidates. Instead, she says, networking is about forging long-term, reciprocal relationships that can help you and your colleagues do your jobs better. "If you really want to do your job well, you have to know and work well with others in the field," she says.
Plus, networking is a foundational skill you'll need throughout your entire career, says APA President-elect Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, who urges students and early-career psychologists to learn this valuable competency early on. Academic psychology, she says, is a profession built on relationships. "It's part of the culture," says Daniel. "You cannot just isolate yourself and not interact with people; you need to interact."
Networking won't just help you learn how to strengthen your research and improve your teaching. It's also the route to success, says Daniel. Throughout your career, she points out, "You're relying on people for letters of recommendation always, be it for an award or a promotion."
How do you build your network? Bonds-Raacke, Daniel and other academic psychologists offer this advice:
Start early. Lay the groundwork for your future job hunt when you begin graduate school, says Emanuel Donchin, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. For one, pick a mentor "who has good connections, knows the field and is known in the field," Donchin says, noting that the most important factor is a faculty member's publication record. "Check Google Scholar to see how often, and how widely, the faculty member is cited in the literature," he suggests. "Also, the department faculty should know which faculty member is widely known in the field."
And think about which faculty members have the best connections when you form your dissertation committee, he adds. "You want people who have good connections all over the country," he says. "Sometimes that means putting someone on your committee who might push too hard, but at least it will make a difference eventually."
You should also try to attend at least one smaller meeting focused on your research area, say senior psychology faculty. "For example, I do more clinically oriented research, so the big one in my area is the Society for Research in Psychopathology," says Deanna Barch, PhD, chair of the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology. "If you do cognitive research, the big one is the Psychonomic Society."
Other examples include the Cognitive Aging Conference and the meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. While you're there, she says, seek out faculty from schools you're interested in, introduce yourself, and ask for information about a posted job or a heads-up for future job opportunities.
The kind of academic position you're seeking can also influence which meetings you attend, says Barch, who also chairs the psychological and brain sciences department at Washington University in St. Louis. "For an R1 or research-heavy institution, definitely go to the meetings in your field that are considered to be the ones where people present the best research," she says.
And don't just attend presentations or give poster sessions, says Barch. Instead, get your name out there by giving a talk or chairing a symposium. "Have a more prominent role, so that people become aware of your work," she says.
"Everyone is in small conversations, and you go over and just stand there, nodding along," she says. "For people who are just not into that kind of socializing, it takes a lot of energy." But, she says, learning to schmooze is an important academic skill. "It's a good habit to get into," she says, urging job hunters to adopt a "fake-it-'til-you-make-it" attitude.
Don't be too intimidated to approach even big-name psychologists, adds Sternberg. To calm your nerves, be ready with a polished "elevator speech" that includes what question your research addresses, why it's interesting and why it's important to the person you're talking to, says Sternberg. "If you can relate it to the person's work," he says, "you not only show you're a good thinker, but you flatter that person by knowing their work."
As you expand your network, tell people you're job hunting and be forthright about any challenges you're experiencing as a woman or minority getting started in academe, says Francine Conway, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. Women and minorities often do the opposite, she says, keeping their career ambitions and challenges private to avoid appearing needy or unsuccessful. But being open about yourself opens doors, she adds. "Share with as many people as possible what your goals are because you never know who has information that can benefit you," she says.
Joining the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity network is a great way to expose yourself to faculty from universities all over the country whom you can call on during a job hunt, adds NiCole T. Buchanan, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University. The organization offers courses and webinars on a wealth of topics related to transitioning from graduate school to academe, as well as discussion forums and faculty coaches who offer personalized advice to students and faculty.
All of those people are potential contacts you can invite to coffee if you see a job posted at their institution that you're interested in, she says. "People are always far more willing to do that than people think," Buchanan says.
But do use Twitter and other social media platforms to talk about your research and connect with other psychologists and researchers outside of meetings, says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist and director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. LinkedIn, for example, is a great way to disseminate your expertise and build yourself up as a subject matter expert, he says. And while some faculty frown on job seekers connecting with possible employers on social media, Rego disagrees. "I'm certainly in favor of more connections; they just create more opportunities," he says. "And I am not a fan of filtering, I pretty much accept any invitations to connect."
But only use as many platforms as you can keep up with, says Rego. "You don't want to have the dreaded ‘empty egg' picture on Twitter," he says. Equally bad are blogs with just a few postings or out-of-date LinkedIn accounts. Use a professional headshot for all your social media accounts, since potential employers will likely inspect those. "Present yourself to potential recruiters or employers the same way you would if you were sitting in front of them in their office for an in-person interview," says Rego.
Also ask your mentors to credit your work publicly, says Barch. When your advisor is giving a talk, ask them to give a shout-out to you if you contributed to the work, she says. Good mentors will not just acknowledge your contributions to the work they're presenting but will also mention that you're in the job market, she says.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 Monitor on Psychology