Thursday, May 5, 2016

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to get the most out of career events

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


Continuing with the career theme, we are going to look at career events today. While this post is written from the perspective of you, a prospective PhD student or post-doc, who is visiting a career event, you can also apply these tips and think about these elements when you go to visit the exhibition area of a conference and talk to possible future employers.

You might think that in the 21st century, your future job is something you will arrange all online. But good old career events are still a very popular choice for job seekers and employers to meet each other. One of the big advantages of going to such an event is that, while strolling along the stands and talking with representatives of different companies and universities, you might actually learn about option you would have never thought about.

I think back to the first career event I attended. While I was hoping to land a scholarship to go and do a second Master's degree in the United States, I was also keeping my options open to find a job. I signed up for a presentation of a company randomly, sort of thinking it would be not the type of company I'd be interested in. But their presentation was informative, showing cool construction projects, and they explained that in their company, engineers work on a project through all stages. Virtually every where, you pick your part of the construction process, such as design, and stick with that. But they had a different philosophy, their engineers work on the bidding, design and planning of the project in the office, and then put on their boots and go supervise the actual construction of the project. I talked to them afterwards, inquiring about international opportunities, and was happy to hear that they have offices all over the world, and would certainly consider sending me a couple of years to, say, Denmark. Even though I ended up getting funding for my studies and becoming an academic, this experience taught me to have an open mind and explore opportunities at career events.

So, say you are somewhere half-way your PhD program. You might have a feeling that you'll never graduate and that you still have a mountain of work to overcome, but in reality, it might be a good moment to just start informing about career events. There's not a career event every Tuesday on the town's market square, so you might want to inform about the interesting events in the upcoming year. If you've found a career event that you want to attend, don't wait until the day of the actual event to go play tourist over there - plan, and make sure you can get the most out of it!

Before the event

As I said before, if you want to get most out of the event, make sure you plan ahead. Don't just take the train and show up, but do these few things in advance:

  1. Revise your resume: make sure you have your full academic resume up to date. With full resume, I mean a resume that describes you in a paragraph, has your educational background, your work experience, your publications, your professional membership, your committee appointments, an overview of the journals you are a reviewer for, other service appointments, and perhaps something about your additional personal interests. Don't forget to mention your blog if you have one!
  2. Summarize your resume: A full resume can go on and on for pages - nobody who gets introduced to you at the first time would be interested in reading the entire thing. Put yourself in the shoes of the exhibitors at career events: they get stacks and stacks of resumes. So make sure you have a shortened resume - maximum 1 page, I'd say, but a resume that highlights your biggest achievements. Print a large number of copies of this document!
  3. Check your online profiles: If an employer is interested in you, chances are he might Google you. If you are months before a career event, you have plenty of time to revise your online profiles, see what Google finds about you, and course correct if necessary. Check out an earlier blog post about online branding for scientists if you want to change what can be found about you online.
  4. Read the descriptions of the employers and institutions in the exhibition: Learn who will be there. It might take an entire afternoon, so go somewhere comfortable, get a coffee, read through the descriptions of the employers and institutions and look online for further information about them. Take some notes (thank me later).
  5. Identify down the 10 most important booths to visit: Go through your notes, and see which are your top 10 exhibitors to go and visit. Check out the map of the exhibition area, if the venue is large, and highlight the booths you need to visit. If you think you'll be short on time, make an itinerary.
  6. Identify your networking options: Will there be a drink at the end of the day? Can you meet up with a certain group for lunch? Make sure you take advantage of your time at the event to network.
  7. See if there are presentations: I highlighted the importance of presentations in which companies can show what they are actually doing and give you a hint of their workplace culture. If there are presentations, make sure you can attend some of these. If you're interested in a company, don't be afraid to ask questions at the end of the presentation and follow-up with the presenter. You can't wish for more direct access to the company.

During the event
  1. Hand out your resumes: You printed a good number of your short resumes? Good! Now don't be afraid to hand them out to people at their booths.
  2. Hand out your cards: Your resume is not something you put into every one's hands, so make sure you also carry cards. If you make new acquaintances, it's good to have cards with you and hand out your contact information.
  3. Talk to people: You're at the event to shine. While for some of us, talking to people you don't know is very intimidating (for me that sure is!), conversation is nice. It can be awkward, but most often it is not. Just ask questions, and get people to talk about what they are passionate about, and the awkwardness will be gone soon. If you are scared, think of the powerposing trick.
  4. Don't be scared to have a quick chat with booths that might not interest you: You never know what you might learn from these booths. They might not directly be the holy grail for you, but they might have something interesting to share with one of your friends or colleagues.
  5. Politely walk away from booths that are a disappointment: If a company you were really interested in, seems to be a disappointment once you start to talk to them, you don't need to keep talking to them. Find a polite way to back off, and go. If a company, for example, seems to have different rules for women (i.e. tell you, as a woman, that they "can't" send women out to projects in the field), then you have no reason to keep talking to them. Just thank them for the explanation and back off.
  6. Enjoy the networking events: Enjoy the time of the drinks, meeting cool young people, and loosen up a little bit. A career event might be stressful (and trying not to spill your coffee all over yourself equally stressful), but at the end of the day you can take a breath, have a drink, have a chat with people in the same situation and stop holding your breath.

After the event
  1. Write thank you emails: If you had a nice talk with an exhibitor or with a fellow young job seeker, don't be afraid of sending a short email to thank them for the good conversation. When I get a thank-you mail after a conference, it always brings a smile to my face. There's nothing intrusive or wrong about sending a kind message
  2. Archive your information: Archive flyers and information of interesting companies. If you need to take action on something, do so before you archive the information. Thrash what you don't need anymore.
  3. Connect with new contacts: If you met new people, for example during the networking events, you can see if you can connect with them on LinkedIn, ResearchGate or Academia.edu.
  4. Follow-up: If you left your resume, and an exhibitor told you he/she would contact you, but you haven't heard from them, say, after a month after the event, it can simply mean your one sheet of resume got lost. Don't be afraid to send an email to follow-up and inquire if there is still interest from this company to see your possible future options with them.

These are a few elements you can think of the prepare for a career event, take full benefit of it while you are there, and then make sure you take the right steps when you get home. Good luck in attending events and finding your next step in your (academic) career!

No comments:

Post a Comment

UA-49678081-1