Professional Networking

STEM Job Search, Part 3 – How to Build Your Professional Network

In Porter Gale’s book “Your Network is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age,” she suggests that the most valuable asset you can possess is the ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships. In part 3 of our STEM job search strategy series, we will cover strategies for systematically building and maintaining a high-quality network. Let’s begin!

What comes to mind when you think of networking?

From my observation, most people get stressed about networking. They know they need to do it, but it conjures images of attending networking events, passing out business cards, and engaging in awkward conversations, fake laughter, and cliched introductions with strangers.

Others think of networking as “using people” or “collecting people.” I’ve even spoken to someone who told me they think networking is rude. For most people, networking doesn’t come naturally. I include myself in that group, and I make a living talking to new people about their career purposes.

In her book, “Your Network is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age,” Porter Gale suggests the most valuable asset you can possess is building a network of authentic personal and professional relationships.

3 Main Reasons Why Your Network Is Important

  • Job security is dead.

Despite the media bombarding you with daily reports about how strong the economy is, most people self-report that their job quality has stagnated or worsened in every measurable aspect. Let me give you more.

A 2019 Gartner study surveyed employees across the US and found that only 13% expressed satisfaction with their work experience. That same survey found that 46% of employees are largely dissatisfied with their work situation.

An online survey by Zenefits looked at 1,101 full-time US employees at companies with at least 20 employees and found that 42% of employees became more worried about job security due to COVID-19.

Even if you’re one of the lucky few that likes your job or your company, you can, at any moment, find yourself unemployed. Younger generations, millennials and Gen Z in particular, learned this early on and have earned a reputation, primarily from older generations, as “job hoppers.” However, there are many valid reasons for this trend. In my conversations with millennials and Gen Z job seekers, most want to learn and grow within their organization, but most organizations are reluctant to invest in workforce development. On top of that, job-hopping is often the quickest way to a higher salary.

The bottom line? You are your own best solution to job security. Never assume that a company will reward you for your years of service and hard work or that anyone else will take charge of your career. Only you can do that. The greatest investment you can make in yourself is building your own skill sets and network and fostering your own continual learning and development.

  • Technology

Platforms like LinkedIn, Meetup, and other social media have reduced the degree of separation between contacts and how we connect. The Internet is full of niche online communities, which can be a great jumping-off point for building relationships and initiating meaningful conversations without attending in-person networking events.

  • Referrals

According to CNBC, it’s estimated that up to 70% of all jobs are NOT published. Additionally, research has shown that anywhere from 50% to upwards of 80% of jobs are filled through networking referrals. Yet, most people spend that much time scouring online job boards and applying to hundreds of jobs.

How Do You Create Networking Contacts

In this section, we will cover various efficient strategies for identifying potential contacts with whom you can set up informational interviews. One of my favorite job search books, The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton, covers these strategies in greater detail. I recommend this book to all of my clients and teach many of these techniques in my LinkedIn, job search, and networking coaching sessions.

Dalton takes a systematic approach to guide you in finding the right people to talk to who can provide insights about your ideal companies.

Before we get into Dalton’s techniques, I suggest starting with who you know.

This includes your friends, family members, former colleagues, and others you know and trust about your job search goals. Ask if any of them work or know someone who works at your target companies.

Even if they don’t work in the same field or department you’re targeting, they can still offer insight into the company’s culture and environment or potentially introduce you to someone they know who works in your target field or department.

I recommend this approach if you’re more introverted and haven’t played much in the professional networking space. Often, it’s easier to talk to people you know before you expand that to others.

Some sample questions you can pose to friends, family, and trusted acquaintances can include:

  • Why did you pursue a role with this company?
  • What led to your hiring (or advancement) to this role?
  • What do you like best and least about this role or company?

<strong>Use your list of 40-50 target companies as your guide.</strong>
Remember that list of 40-50 target companies you created in part 1 of our STEM job search series? That post covered 4 different methods for building your target company list: ideal employers, alumni associations, companies actively hiring employees, and trending employers. If you haven’t seen that post yet, I recommend checking it out because you won’t want to skip that step if you want to maximize your time and energy.

Once you’ve located that list of target companies, we will start with your first- and second-priority companies or ideal employers.

5 Strategies for Identifying Starter Contacts at Target Companies

We will now get into Dalton’s 5 techniques for identifying starter contacts at your target companies, from the most to least important. The end goal of this process will be to ask for an informational interview and establish rapport with people who can serve as potential sponsors or referral resources for new companies.

  • The contact’s position is functionally relevant to your job target(s).

Stick with people who hold the same position, or a similar one, in your field of interest. Outside of functionally relevant roles, your conversations will likely be more awkward because the person may not have a good grasp of your line of work. Even if the conversation goes well, they may not be familiar with recruiters in your field of interest or struggle to find people they can refer you to.

To identify functionally-relevant contacts at your target company, use LinkedIn’s search function. Let’s try an example below. The target job title is Senior Scientist at Unilever. Go to Unilever’s LinkedIn company page and click the People tab. We can see that Unilever has over 163,000 employees. Looking at each profile would be impossible and a big waste of time.

To make this search more effective, we will enter some keywords (i.e. target job title) and hit “Enter.”

Doing this narrows our search down to 572 employees. While this is better than 163,000, we can make this easier by filtering for employees in the United States, which brings our search results down to 225.

Scroll down to view the search results. Pay attention to the degrees of connection.

For example, the first 3 search results below are second-degree connections, which mean you share a mutual connection with that person. Depending on your relationship with that shared connection, they could be a good resource for making an introduction to that person.

  • The contact is a fellow alumnus or a member of another group you belong to.

Alumni refers to people who attended the same college or university as you. If you attended graduate school, enter the name of the specific graduate school instead of the broader university name. This approach will provide stronger and more relevant search results of alumni in a similar field versus a broad mix of people across different professions.

Using the same approach above, you can use the name of the university you attended as a search filter to screen for alumni. This approach is helpful if you get a lot of options and need to narrow down your search.

For example, let’s say you’re targeting research scientist roles at Nike. If we use LinkedIn’s general search function for “research scientist Nike” and search by People, indicated by the green filter, you get 455 results.

If we click the “All Filters” button, it brings up a menu where you can add additional search criteria. You can filter by 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree connections, location, and school. The menu will populate the school filter with a few schools attended by most employees. You can see if your school is listed, or you can click the option to + Add a school and enter the name of your university, graduate school, etc.

Adding this filter brings our search results from 455 to 15 results, a more manageable number of profiles to skim through.

What if I didn’t attend college?

Non-degree affinity groups are a great way to build your network. Some examples can include the military veteran community. Dalton recommends LinkedIn’s Veteran Mentor Network, which has over 164,000 members and focuses on supporting military personnel, spouses, and veterans to find their place in the civilian world.

You can also look for fellow members of non-degree training programs, which have exploded over the last few years to support people in lifelong learning and development endeavors. Examples include CompTIA Security+, Project Management Professional (PMP), and English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) programs.

Finally, if you’re an international job seeker, you can filter your search by employees from your native country or those that speak your native language if different from the location where you are conducting your job search.

  • They hold a position one or two levels above the role you aspire to hold in the future.

When looking for starter contacts, the next level is to aim for people who are 1-2 levels above what you aspire to hold. Dalton refers to this as the goldilocks zone. They are neither too senior nor too junior. Someone too high up in the company may not have the time to meet with you while someone too junior may be unable to share much insight about the company or the industry.

If you have to choose between a too senior or a too junior contact, go with the too senior contact. Reason? There’s a greater chance that s/he will be able to refer you or introduce you to someone else within the company, who, in turn, will likely feel enthusiastic about supporting you.

  • They have already been promoted at the company.

When looking at potential company contacts, look for internally promoted candidates or those who have held multiple roles through lateral movements or advancements. These people can have a unique perspective on navigating the internal recruitment and hiring process versus someone who has held the same role for 10+ years or a junior employee who has only just started.

In addition, this person has likely built up some robust social capital and confidence with people in the company by working in multiple departments or holding different roles. As a result, they are more likely to leverage those connections better than someone in a more junior role.

  • They have a unique name.

Finally, the last characteristic Dalton recommends is picking someone with a unique name. Reason? It is easier to guess their professional email address versus someone with a common name.

Most companies use consistent patterns when creating email addresses for their employees, such as the first and last name and company website URL. In fact, a study found that 49.9% of the companies surveyed used the following email pattern {first}

Email lookup tools are a non-traditional method for finding professional email addresses and conducting more direct outreach. They work by looking through the emails on a company’s website server and the likely combinations of the person’s name you provided and matching them with an existing email address on the domain.

Two of my favorite email lookup tools are:

    • helps you track down the emails of people at a specific company. A free account gets you 25 searches per month. It works by typing in a company’s domain name, such as, to generate a list of Nike employee emails.

    • is a trusted source used by 95% of Fortune 500s for sales, recruiting, and marketing leads. A free account gets you 5 searches per month. Type in the name of the person whom you found on LinkedIn to generate a list of personal and professional emails, phone numbers, and social media links. Once you find a professional email address, you can reach out to them directly. Do NOT contact anyone at their personal email address.

These 5 strategies will put you well on your way to building a professional network of high-quality individuals who can serve as potential sponsors in your job search. For many of you, this process may be completely new and may feel awkward and overwhelming. I don’t know many universities or schools that teach this technique to prepare graduates for the job market. If you’re new to this, I suggest starting with people you know. Talk to friends, family, and other trusted personal acquaintances about your job search goals and branch out from there. In part 4, we will cover techniques for leveraging those relationships to build new connections and sample messaging scripts you can use to take out (some) of the awkwardness in the networking process.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let's get you where you want to go, with greater results!




Kate Williamson

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