Since FoodGrads is about supporting students/grads entering the food industry, it made sense to write my experience as a recent grad and a new professional. A lot of people have asked me how I networked or about anything I did differently, much like a new professional is always asked, so this is suggestion/advice based on my experience.
The advice you hear most often during your job hunt is to network. Now, if you’re a person dedicated and confined to your lab, the prospect of networking with random people to impress them, can sound extremely intimidating and scary. I thought so too, and still do. But there are ways to network without feeling completely out of your zone.
How to Network as a Grad Student:
- As a grad student with a mentor/PI or an industry sponsored project, you usually already have the contacts to a few people. It’s a good idea to start reaching out to them a couple of months before graduation. They might have a job for you or know people who might. It’s best to reach out and highlight your association with them and your project and mention graduation and the ability to work full time soon.
- Attending IFT events for students, IFT division events, company sponsored tours/events, short courses etc. really helps understand the networking game. Most of these are free of cost or at a reduced cost for students. Make sure to take advantage of those, because you could meet your future employer there!
- Anytime somebody visits your lab or gives a lecture at your university, share your business card and ask them if you could add them on LinkedIn (or do it anyway). This really helps expand your network and can put your profile in front of many many industrial professionals. Also, thanking them for accepting your request helps set you apart. They will remember you when you reach out for referrals or job requests.
- If you’re interested in a company, research it. Look for employees active on LinkedIn and talk to them. Ask them about the company culture, the teams, the potential openings. This might not qualify as “conventional networking”, but it has helped me make some great connections and land my current job.
The senior director of a company I was interested in, responded to my request on LinkedIn, took the time to schedule a phone call with me and give me GREAT advice about things I had not even considered. While I did not land a job there, I got in touch with many people through her, all of whom now are connected with me and have helped me in some way or another while looking for a job. This is just one example, there were many people at various posts.
- Alumni reach out: There will be many many alumni who have been through the same process as you at some point and are settled now. Look through LinkedIn, reach out to your grad administrator to find alumni working in companies you’re interested in. Most of them will be thrilled to help you or at least advise you.
A lot of the alumni I reached out not only told me what to do and what not to do, they also agreed to be my referrals for openings in their companies.
Why Should you Network?
If your qualifications are good enough and you have everything else you need, you might land a job without networking. But the phase of making connections right before you land a job could go a long way!
- Realizations: It was through talking to people at various different positions, and in different departments, different food type companies, I realized the kind of role I was looking for. Even though I knew I only wanted to be in R&D, I didn’t understand the breadth and scope of it until I’d spoken to a lot of people. Talk to anybody you might think will help you understand different roles. Exposure through networking is extremely important to fine tune the process (or ask FoodGrads to help, they will ask their network for you).
- Opportunities for the future: A lot of people I spoke to didn’t connect me directly to a job, but they did point me to many different opportunities. Since the food industry is a small and close knit one, experienced professionals are aware of opportunities. It is amazing how many people take the time to advise you and answer your questions. A lot of the same people still reach out to me asking if me or anyone I know would be interested in a particular opportunity.
- It could get you a job: You might just hit the jackpot and get in touch with that one person that could help you get your dream job.
I learned how important it was just to reach out and ask questions. The worst thing that could happen to you by reaching out, is someone might ignore you, and that’s not bad at all. Talking to people helped me understand the food industry better and also indirectly prepare me for upcoming interviews.
Written by: Shyamoli Gramopadhye – FoodGrads Career Partner
Did you find this helpful? Do you have any advice for networking? Did you miss part one, The Job Hunt: Planning Ahead?