Archive for September, 2008

Build Your Professional Image When You Attend a Conference

Job Search, Networking 1 Comment »

(Part 2)

6. Network – think of it as “academic service networking.”

If you consider that your networking purpose is to help others – you will be far more remembered and contacted later than if you spend all your time talking about yourself.

If you think of research as being of service to others, networking can be re-framed as a pleasure. It then means talking to people about their research, offering to send them references that you think may relate to their work – and being generally interested in and helpful to others.

You’re not networking only into established networks of famous academics, you’re also connecting down the social ladder and establishing your own network. Taking younger students under your wing (small as it may be), will earn you thanks, trust and credibility that you can’t get any other way.

7. Before you arrive and while you’re at the conference, ask questions.

Use the opportunity to find the recent trends in the field and the funding situation, especially if you’re just starting in grad school. Most likely, some research areas are hot and others are cold. Know the difference before you decide on your thesis or dissertation topic.

Find out where your school stands in the pecking order of the discipline. What’s the competition like for academic jobs when you graduate? What do people in the field do outside of academics?

If non-academics attend the annual conference, how can you find them to ask questions? You may want to stay in touch with them if you’re planning for future non-academic work. Your world may be constrained back in grad school and these contacts may represent a lifeline, or at least another perspective of life beyond the walls of academe.

If you haven’t yet, try to discover your discipline’s place in the universe. Get an idea of your own relative place in the pecking order too (and check again at next year’s conference – seeing progress is its own reward).

8. Socialize with your peers from other geographic areas.

They may be your future colleagues and competitors for academic jobs.  Find out what they’re doing in the field and be aware of the potential for collaboration, especially with the ones who “click” with you.

Even if some of these individuals may be potential competitors, get to know them because you can’t contrast your own strengths with theirs if you don’t know them.

9. Set a goal of meeting at least 10 new people.

It’s a natural urge to hang around with familiar faces, but conferences are held to find out what colleagues are doing and to have a chance to discuss and exchange ideas. The more people you know (who are doing work you’re interested in), the more potential there is to publish joint papers with them. When you see that potential, suggest a collaboration.

This point is even more important for those looking to work beyond traditional academics, and in fields emphasizing cross-disciplinary work. Both industry and cross-disciplinary grantors look for a track record in teamwork, a trait that academics have generally not emphasized.

10. Have a good time.

Conferences are part of your professional work, but being able to combine pleasure with the focus makes the work itself more pleasurable. And you may be able to develop relationships with geographically distant researchers that will be both productive and pleasurable for many years.

Build Your Professional Image When You Attend a Conference

Job Search, Networking 3 Comments »

(Part 1)

Do you want to be remembered

  • •    with a chuckle – as that goofy guy who criticized the main speaker’s research design – while standing next to her?
  • •    with a questioning frown – as the shadow-woman who walked behind her advisor and was never seen to say a word to anyone?
  • •    with a frown – as the arrogant fool who endlessly told everyone what he was researching – but never even asked anyone else’s name?

Attending conferences while you’re in grad school can be seen as a waste of time or as an overdue reward for the hours of partying you gave up to study. But other conference participants (including those who may be able to hire you in a year or two) will form an opinion of you no matter what.

A little awareness can not only save you grief later, it can give you a head start on the right kind of visibility and credibility that upholds and extends your developing professional image.

Naturally, your goal will be somewhat different if you’re a recent grad student vs. ready to graduate. In either case, you are training to be a professional. Act the part, even if you have to pretend.

1. Decide what you want to know and accomplish before you go – and you’ll accomplish more.

Before you leave for the conference, especially if you’re new to the field, get an overview of who’s doing what and where they are. Know the names (and faces) you should recognize before you find yourself criticizing the work of a person – who you later find was standing next to you.

2. Get involved – and you’ll be remembered.

Especially if you’re not presenting a talk or poster session, volunteer to help.
(If you’re tight on funding, volunteer to the organizers several months ahead. You may be able to negotiate a discounted registration fee.)

Or, volunteer to help at the registration desk or in one of the hospitality suites a few hours before things get started, or when it’s really busy.

If the conference is in your home city, offer to staff an information booth at registration and help with directions and things for visitors to do/see while in town.

At the very least, take an ownership attitude and initiate conversations and introduce people who seem not to know each other.

A friend of mine says she looks for people who stand quietly in the background at receptions. She introduces herself and asks them what interesting things they’ve been doing. Several years ago, she met a guy who had been in a meeting with the President (of the United States) the previous week.

3. Schedule your conference time for maximum efficiency.

Review the conference program as soon as you get it and make yourself a schedule of where you want to be every hour – the important talks, your “free” time and who you want to connect with, including the receptions and parties where you can mingle informally with the “names” in the field.

4. Take business cards so you can present yourself as a professional.

Having business cards does not mean that you’ll be passing them out like a sales rep.

The real goal is to make it easy to be found later – and to avoid having to tear scraps of paper off your note pad to write your contact information when someone wants to stay in touch with you. You are training to be a professional – why not act like one?

5. Prime your mentor or advisor to introduce you.

You need to become known in the field, and even though you are you are still your advisor’s potential product at this point, you can ride that reputation until you are able to produce your own. Decide who you need to know, and who needs to know you.

Consider who is doing the work that’s most interesting to you, or related to yours, and either get introduced, or introduce yourself. This is especially important when you’re presenting posters and papers.

Resumes Have Changed

Resumes No Comments »

It may sound trite to say that resumes are changing because technology is changing, but here we are in 2008, and, daily, I still see resumes built for the 1980s.

Resumes changed significantly in the 90s, when online applications became common, but now, with Web 2.0, thousands of firmly established online job boards are out there and super-efficient resume-screening software are being used even by small companies. The need for resumes based on relevant content has never been greater, because you may now be competing with thousands of applicants around the globe.

Resumes used to be most acceptable when you described each job you had held, in reverse chronology, starting with your current work. One resume was enough and it could be broadcast widely, because your work history never changed, and hiring managers would guess whether you could do the job they had open, based on your previous work duties.

Naturally, that tended to keep people from changing careers, because the next job was supposed to be a continuation (and maybe an expansion) of the current job. So, what is an academic supposed to do when he/she decides to leave academics for another line of work?

Consider a functional resume, or at least, add elements of function. (Warning, it does make a resume more difficult, because you have to analyze your own strengths and organize them into a coherent statement of what you can do, AND it has to be related strongly to the job you’re applying to.)

I’ll assume that you’re applying for a job that 1) you know you could do and 2) you want to do because you have the skills and strengths to demonstrate that. “Demonstrate?” you say. “How can I demonstrate what I’ve never done?”

Begin with a thorough analysis of the job description. You may have to “read between the lines” to find the significant tasks, and list them along with the defined duties on one side of a 2-column page. “Job requirements” may be in a different section, but list all of them, too. Opposite each task, duty or requirement, list what you have to offer that answers or parallels that item. (For example, if the job requires managing employees, consider whether the way you managed a class or individuals doing projects or teams has parallels.)

The parallels that you see are very important. Even though you may see a parallel as obvious, you’ll probably have to translate it into their terminology before hiring managers can “see” it, to understand that you can “do” that task. To them, the fact that you have written a dozen research papers does not mean that you could write a marketing analysis, when in fact, you probably could.

It may take research on your part to find out what elements within the kind of research papers you’ve done has in common with marketing analyses, but it is vital for you to find out and make that parallel evident. It is your responsibility to demonstrate (i.e., explain sufficiently) that you have the skills and strengths to do that job, and to do it well. The hiring manager doesn’t have to do it, because that person has hundreds or thousands or resumes to pick from – it’s easier to just go to the next one.

For your own sake, demonstrate that you understand how resumes have changed.