It was Porter Gale’s book that made the term “Your Network is Your Net Worth” a memorable phase, and Porter was right especially in biotech and pharma. Building connections is human nature, we are best suited to work together and collaborate with the people around us (after all, how do you think our ancient ancestors survived all those years?) but in biotech and pharma it is particularly important.
The process of working on people skills and building a network is essential for aspiring new biotech and pharma entrants and folks with long established careers alike. In the following piece, I will share some of my experiences and thoughts on networking in this space and how to be successful.
First network outside the space
The most important part of networking is being able to professionally represent yourself. Often in biotech and pharma there is a heavy emphasis on knowledge – knowledge of biology, chemistry, pharmacokinetics, and many other topics. This can be a lot to handle, especially in the beginning of your career. While it is important to have some technical background, first make sure you can talk, present and make conversation with professionals not in your industry. Ask yourself, “could I simply explain my PhD thesis to a real estate agent in a way they can understand?” If you can master networking and interacting with non-industry folks, then you will be better suited to transition your skills to industry related connections. A local “beers and referrals” or your schools’ alumni meetings are great places to start here.
Get out there!
Once you have sharpened your skills in representing yourself, get out there! Biotech and pharma are lucky to offer a MASSIVE breadth of conferences, tradeshows, events, showcases and in person meetings. Some of the recent ones I have attended include AACR, SOT, SLAS, and local user group meetings. There are endless opportunities to attend events. Googling your research area with “conferences” is sure to result in plenty of relevant events for you to attend. Leverage LinkedIn to see when and where folks are going to events. If possible, make every effort to be in person at these events, nothing connects more than face-to-face interaction.
Don’t expect too much
I personally think that a lot of people go into networking with the sole goal of ROI. Maybe it is a sales quota or needing a new job. From experience, it is obvious when someone has intentions for themselves as their reason for trying to have a conversation or connect with you. Go into networking with the expectation of nothing. Meet people with a genuine curiosity for their work. You may even find that often the best networking conversations may have nothing to do with your profession. Focus on getting to know people, not on trying to get something from them. If you are at a conference, make an effort to go to every booth, as you never know where the next career changing connection may come from. You could miss a great connection if you are picky or only want to talk to “certain folks.”
Always represent your best self
I think this is the most important piece of advice. In biotech and pharma, the space is incredibly small. If you attend a conference two years in a row you will already see familiar faces. The people you work with, the clients you have, and companies you compete with are all connected. Your name and brand are the most important things to you and your success. Meet everyone with a smile, truly listen to what they say (don’t be on your phone, unless you are reading this article again…). You will be surprised to hear how many folks will come to you through a connection, or a recommendation if you are someone that, simply put, people like.
I think biotech and pharma offer a great place to grow one’s career. The range of skills in the space is vast but the networks are small – focus on your representation to the world, get to where the networking is happening, and you will see the rewards of your efforts. Maybe not overnight, but throughout the course of your career.