Networking your way to a better career in Market Research.
Networking is the use of both formal and informal connections between groups of colleagues and acquaintances to develop your career. It is very common in the market research sector where events to encourage networking have been prevalent for many years and online tools to develop networks are used by researchers who want to improve their career prospects. In today’s market, networking is vital for any researcher who wants to develop his or her career.
There are lots of places to network – MRS and sector specific conferences, research member groups (i.e. BIG, AQR, MRG) research social events (i.e. Research Club) and online sites (i.e. Linked In and Twitter)
Did you realise that many employers do not only consider your CV in a job application process but they will often look up your details online? A detailed Linked In profile page with a healthy number of contacts and recommendations is therefore essential.
Developing networks can help in the following career scenarios:
Job opportunities - perhaps you will be told informally of a job coming up and invited to apply for it or you may see jobs advertised that won’t feature on a jobs board;
Job interviews - imagine that you already knew an interviewer well and could understand what he or she was looking for. Alternatively you can use Linked In or Twitter to fact find about an interviewers background and interests;
As with your own social life, your career network will be formed of many different, sometimes overlapping groups, comprising for example of colleagues in your field, those in your own department or those who graduated from the same university.
Where do I start?
Getting to know fellow researchers, especially more senior ones, can seem very daunting. However, it is easier than you think to begin to develop your own career-enhancing networks. Your current boss, other senior colleagues and client contacts are a great place to start as they know your work and will work close to your sector of experience. If you have done a great piece of work for them, ask for a recommendation on your Linked In profile.
Networking communities like Linked In can be used passively when you can simply view them as a source of news about your field. However, far more productive is to become an active participant – join research or sector related groups and try to answer other peoples' questions and post your own queries. Any particularly fruitful liaisons can be continued outside the remits of the community, via private email or even by phone or in person. The benefit of electronic networking is that you do not have to worry whether the person is 5 miles away or 5000. Useful networks of contacts can be built up across the globe using this means.
Set up a work focused Twitter account and follow people or companies in the industry who interest you. Add interesting articles or opinions on the research sector and use the #mrx hashtag and you will soon build up a healthy following of your own.
If you are serious about forgoing your career in research, you will probably attend conferences on a regular basis. There is no right or wrong number of these, some stick to one or two a year, others seem to attend one a month! Conferences are a great way to network with other people in the industry, so do not miss out on these opportunities. If you are presenting a paper it gives others a chance to see what you are working on, and the informal sections of the programme (such as food and drink breaks) encourage mingling and further discussion.
Go along to a more informal Networking event like those run by Research Club or BIG, these tend to be very social evenings and are a great way to meet people in the industry outside of your own company.
Using your Contacts
Once you have made a connection with a group of people or an individual, how do you go about maximising your new network? You need to work out what your career development goals are and how each contact can help you achieve those goals. Everyone else out there will hope that you can offer them similar sorts of advice, so be prepared to share your pearls of wisdom if and when you acquire them. Also, some contacts do become genuine friends, so do not worry that you are all simply ‘using' one another to get ahead in your career.
When Networking goes wrong!
There are hardly any circumstances in which networking can damage your career opportunities. The worst that will usually happen is that you spend a long time cultivating a connection only for that person to ignore you when their circumstances change.
Crucially, try to be polite and restrained at all times when networking. If you are lured into criticising, for example, your workplace or your colleagues, do not be surprised if this is soon reported back to them. In both face-to-face and electronic networking, as with a job interview, try to be positive and present yourself in the best possible light at all times.