Networking: making it work for you

Posted on: 17 August 2020 by Catherine Kennedy in Blog posts

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Prosper team members, Katie McAllister and Joanie Magill, take a look at the value of networking and how to do it well.

University of Liverpool staff can also explore this further through supporting content and resources on the Prosper portal linked throughout this piece.

As part of our initial co-creation activities for Prosper, we asked over 20 employers from a range of sectors the following question:

'What skills, attributes and mindsets do you need to build into your workforce to ensure the continued success of your organisation?'

Several key themes emerged from these discussions: leadership is vital, digital skills are more important than ever and people skills such as communication and teamwork feature high on the list of attributes most in demand. For University of Liverpool staff, you can read more about what employers think about each of these skills in the ‘Employer Insights’ section of the Prosper portal, but this week’s blog focuses one vital skill in particular – networking.

In our co-creation activity with employers, an ability to develop and maintain an effective network emerged as a highly-valued skill, important not only when you are looking for a new opportunity, but also essential in order to carry out any position well.

Networking is described as vital, not only by employers, but also by the many former postdocs whose career stories feature on the Prosper portal. Former postdocs have told us that effective networking helped them learn more about different sectors, identify new roles and prepare for successful interviews.

When done well, networking is all about creating authentic and mutually beneficial connections with others. This could be in person or - much more likely at the moment - online, via email or via platforms such as LinkedIn. Whether you are interested in improving your performance in your current role, exploring your career options, or actively seeking another role, networking is an extremely valuable way of enhancing your career success.

Here, we take a look at the benefits of networking, whatever career path you are pursuing, and we offer you some tips about networking effectively during Covid-19.

Defining your network

The chances are that your existing network will be larger and richer than you think. Using LinkedIn is a really easy way to map out your current network. If you haven’t joined Linkedin yet, make yourself a profile today. Make sure your profile is complete and include a photo. There are a series of videos on LinkedIn Learning on how to create a professional profile. On the Prosper portal, CVs beyond academia will help you structure and present your experience in language relevant beyond academia and showcasing your skills provides tips for identifying and highlighting your transferable skills.

Once your profile is professional and presentable, search for the people you know from your current role and previous roles, along with people you know personally or from activities outside of work, and add them as connections. Once they have accepted your invitation to connect, you will be able to see their connections. Have a look through these and add those that you know too. Aim to login to LinkedIn regularly to see what kind of content your connections are sharing.

Expanding your network

Networking is only worth doing if you’re looking for a new position, right? Wrong. Careers are long and varied and developing relationships takes time. It’s therefore important to always be open to making new connections – you never know when they may become relevant or open new doors for you.

The next time you take part in a training session, read a blog article or attend a talk that interests you, email the speaker or author, thanking them and referring to a couple of points that you found useful or interesting. If you have any follow up questions, ask them, or ask for a short call to discuss them. Not everyone will respond, but most professionals understand the value of building connections (and many will be flattered by your interest in their work) and you will get more replies than you expect. If you don’t know someone’s email, you could also try reaching out to them on LinkedIn. Be sure to add them as a connection too if the conversation go well.

If you have a particular industry or sector in which you’d like to expand your network in mind, joining a LinkedIn group associated with that field is a great way to listen in on the conversations taking place in a particular sector and offers you potential new connections. Following hashtags on LinkedIn is another way to gather insights into sector conversations.

Nurturing your network

Networking is as much about strengthening existing connections as establishing new ones. Different people will be relevant to continue conversations with at various stages of your career, but simple things like posting updates on the projects you are working on to LinkedIn is a good way to maintain connections with your existing networks. LinkedIn is increasingly used to consume content, so sharing articles you are reading or content that’s useful to your connections is also a good idea. As well as sharing your own content on LinkedIn, make the effort to comment on content posted by others in your network too.

Making your network work for you

So, you’ve spent a lot of time and effort building your professional network, now what? How do you make your network work for you?

If you are interested in learning about roles and sectors beyond academia but don’t know where to start, use your network to help. In her research into roles beyond academia, former postdoc, Dr Christina Chan says, “I just reached out to people that I knew, who were already in industry … as well on LinkedIn.” From here, you can connect with people in roles or companies that interest you. Setting up an informational interview will enable you to learn more about the company, the industry they operate in, or a particular role and whether your skillset and career aspirations are a good fit. If approaching people and asking for favours does not come naturally to you, it’s normal to be nervous about this at first, but as former postdoc turned IP and Commercialisation manager Shona Jones observes: “I’ve come to learn that most people are really open to giving postdocs a helping hand. Once I started asking, I realised people were really happy to help, and would go out of their way to make introductions etc.”

If you’re actively seeking a new role, ask your connections in your target sector what the market is currently like and whether they’re aware of any leads or opportunities. If you have no connections in your target sector, try to determine if any of your current network can make an introduction for you. You can also carry out a keyword search on LinkedIn. In her transition from academia to a role in IBM Research, another former postdoc explained how she started her search by using keywords - “I searched for “Scientist” and browsed everything that came up.” When she found a role in IBM Research, she used LinkedIn for background research. “The team was newly set up and in order to understand what the roles would entail and the team culture, I went onto LinkedIn and found people with similar positions and looked through profiles and skillsets. That gave me an indication of how and whether my skillset matched with the roles.”

Perhaps you’ve already found a role that you’d like to apply for? Your network can be a great resource to help you put together a job application or prepare for an interview. When former postdoc Matt Crooks found a Data Scientist role at the BBC, he used LinkedIn to prepare for the interview, “I’ve found most people are more than willing to help; reaching out to a connection on LinkedIn who works for the company to get a bit more information about a role can be really helpful.”

Do you have any networking tips that you’d like to share with other postdocs? What networking strategies have worked for you? What hasn’t worked? Tweet us @ProsperPostdoc or email

More about Prosper

Based in The Academy, Prosper is a new approach to career development that unlocks postdocs’ potential to thrive in multiple career pathways.

Our ultimate goal is to open up the huge talent pool that exists within the postdoctoral research community, to the benefit of postdocs themselves, Principal Investigators, employers and the wider UK economy. And this is of particular relevance now more than ever. Unlocking postdocs expertise and experience can be a vital part of how the UK moves into a post-Covid 19 world.

The Prosper portal

The prototype Prosper portal is now available to all University of Liverpool staff and can be accessed using your university username and password. The portal will be available at our partner institutions, the University of Manchester and Lancaster University, in summer 2021, with national roll-out in 2023.

The portal’s career development resources are designed specifically for postdocs and Principal Investigators. This initial set of resources are aimed at enabling postdocs to reflect on their existing skills and values and the career pathways that these open up, both within and beyond academia, and the action they can take to pursue these further. Similarly, PIs can find information to support them in their role in postdocs’ development and success.

We will be developing and expanding these resources based on feedback from postdocs, PIs and our employer partners as the Prosper model evolves.