Even scientists need to build their online brand

By Alec Masella, The Science Advisory Board contributing writer, and Samantha Black, PhD, The Science Advisory Board staff writer

Maybe you entered science because you were more interested in the pursuit of knowledge than in business applications like sales and marketing. But even scientists need to market themselves by building their online brand. Fortunately, today's social media tools can help you do so easily.

A wealth of online and social media tools are available -- from LinkedIn to Twitter to custom websites -- to help scientists create an online persona for themselves that will generate interest from recruiters, companies, and even academic employers.

Getting started

First, how to get started building your brand? It can be a good idea to begin the process of online networking by filling out an online personality identification questionnaire, such as this one from the Science Advisory Board. Also, take a close look at the skills you have developed in your scientific career so far.

Networking is an essential component of building your scientific brand. Networking can be a combination of personality identification and skill development. Since job seekers referred by a company's existing employees are three to four times more likely to get hired by a prospective employer, it is essential that you form tight relationships with the right people.

Online networking with LinkedIn

You are a life scientist in 2020, so it only makes sense that you build professional relationships online. LinkedIn is one of the best sites for online networking for a number of reasons. It offers resume building tools, interest groups, and advanced job search functions.

Mastering your LinkedIn profile

Moving away from the satin paper, the LinkedIn resume does a lot more to boost your professional persona.

Let's start with the headline. This single phrase underneath your headshot appears not only on your profile but also wherever your name is on the site. Think of it as an extension of your photo. Use it to either state your current role or to state what you are actively looking for.

For example, this would be the perfect place to write: "Molecular pathologist actively searching for consulting role." Alternatively, this is a great place to state your current position ("Experienced postdoctoral fellow, driven to improve therapies for rare orphan diseases") or your personal statement ("Passionate scientist with experience in molecular diagnostics"). Anyone on LinkedIn, no matter the connection status, sees this.

From there, LinkedIn helps you with the rest. Do yourself a favor and build it out. List, in detail, your past work experience, the professional organizations you've been or are currently a part of, and your publications, and show that you care by uploading a cover image.

Bear in mind that employers and recruiters search for candidates using keywords. Make the most out of your profile by stepping in their shoes and ask yourself, "If I were searching for the perfect candidate for _____, what would I type into the search bar?"

If recruiters and passersby do happen to skim your resume, they will come across your "Skills & Endorsements" section. List your skills so that these people can see at a quick glance where your expertise lies. And remember, don't be afraid to reach out to close connections, such as friends or past professors, asking them to endorse your skills.

Leveraging LinkedIn Groups

The Groups function on LinkedIn allows you to become a member of niche professional communities.

A few perks to joining LinkedIn Groups are that you can message other members directly without having to be officially connected with them, and you have access to exclusive content from group admins. The LinkedIn Group run by the Science Advisory Board, for example, provides members with first looks at features on new findings across all areas of the life sciences.

Here are a few groups you may be interested in:

Also, see if your alma mater or any organization you participate in has any relevant groups. Similarly, you can search on your general research interests because there are often groups available depending on the topic area within the life sciences. To search for LinkedIn Groups simply click in the search bar at the top of any LinkedIn page and type in a topic of interest. Make sure you filter by Groups. Review the list for groups that are relevant or interesting to you.

Since you can message any member of the group, including the admin, you might consider writing a LinkedIn article and asking your admin to share it to their network outside the group. Sharing your own ideas, stories, and objectives with those who have similar interests will get them excited to share to a wider audience, giving you more exposure to employers. Some people in the group might even be employers themselves and will be impressed at your passion for a certain field. Groups are also a great place to see what other members post, from events to sponsorship opportunities to job positions.

InMail

Let's say you're ready to strike up a conversation over LinkedIn with an industry insider. Maybe this person is a member of one of your groups, or maybe they are a recruiter who messaged you first. The latter is easier to work with since they're the one who began the chat, and all you have to do is follow suit. But what if you're the one who wants to initiate? Is there LinkedIn messaging etiquette?

InMail is unique because the user interface has the look and feel of less formal social media apps such as Facebook Messenger. On top of that familiarity, however, is a professional tone you need to uphold.

Unlike a normal email, InMail messages should never be long. Keep in mind, the text box is relatively small, and the recipient doesn't want to be scrolling for days just to understand the point you're trying to make. This isn't a cover letter; it's not even a letter of inquiry. It is a connection message.

If you see that a company you are interested in has recently posted a job, you may be able to reach out to the job poster directly, depending on your degrees of separation from them or your use of LinkedIn Premium. Here's what that message could look like:

Hi, Ms. Williams,

I recently came across your job posting for clinical study manager at Beckman Coulter Diagnostics, and I wanted to let you know that I have applied.

If possible, could we chat a little more about the position? I know how important this role is to Diagnostics sales, and I have a few questions about the day to day operations of the position itself.

Looking forward to hearing back from you,

Joe Smith, MBA

Notice that this message is short and to the point. It's barely two paragraphs, and it doesn't require much of the recipient. The worst-case scenario is that Ms. Williams doesn't respond. Similar to a follow-up interview email, the Connection message is all about optics. Yes, ideally, the recipient will message you back, and the two of you will begin to forge a relationship -- but showing additional interest in the role demonstrates that you didn't just submit a drive-by application. Like the cover photo you've uploaded, it shows you care.

Here are a few templates for different types of InMail messages.

Connection invite for someone you already know:

Hi, [person's first name],

I came across your profile and would like to connect.

Best,

[your first name]

Connection invite for someone you don't know but who works in an industry of interest:

Hi, [person's title followed by last name],

I came across your profile and would like to connect. I noticed we have a few mutual connections, including [person who is most relevant]. My work focuses on [area of research or scope of work], which happens to be [similar to/related to] your work. I'd like to connect in the hopes of expanding within our network. Let me know if you have any questions!

Best,

[your first name]

Connection invite for someone who works in a different industry but who is also an alum of your school:

Hi, [person's first name],

I am always trying to expand my network with fellow [plural of school mascot], and since we already have a few mutual connections, I thought I'd reach out and connect.

Thank you!

[your first name]

InMail to a connection about a job search:

Hi, [person's title and last name],

As you may know, I am looking for a new position in [industry], specifically in [specific role or a few roles you are interested in]. I thought you would be a good connection to reach out to because of your work with [person's past or current company/organization/individual].

If you have any knowledge of who is hiring or who to speak to, I would greatly appreciate chatting with you either on here or offline.

Sincerely,

[your first name]

'Is LinkedIn my only choice?'

Of course not. It's just the most popular platform for professional networking and job hunting. If you're feeling a little less formal in making connections, feel free to also use Twitter. The Science Advisory Board, for example, has a following of over 7,500 individuals and organizations that interact with our content regularly. Why not start a thread about the latest news brief or featured report and see what kinds of conversations you can have with scientists and prospective employers across the globe?

Dr. Sudhir Putty Reddy, a member of the Science Advisory Board, believes social media is one of the key ways to stay in tune with a certain industry:

Social media has played a vital role in recent years in helping people find suitable jobs of interest. Sites such as Linkedin are very much useful to find jobs in research, software, or any other fields because members have the opportunity to showcase their skills, and job hunters can easily recognize them as having skills of interest. Additionally, people are able to find the companies that fit for their background by following the recent trends and developments throughout the industries they are looking to work in.

Several other notable methods of building your online brand can help you expand your network. First, you can contribute to a niche blog or online publication within your area of expertise. As a scientist, your knowledge and experience are desired among publishers and the general public. Online publications are great practice to get you ready for the next job interview or live event. If you are nervous about getting started, ask a lab mate or friend to read over your materials before submitting; this will boost your confidence and help you develop your communications skills.

You may also want to consider developing a personal website that highlights your accomplishments and emulates your personal scientific brand. Your own website can an extension of your work and your goals. Without the structural limitations of LinkedIn or Twitter, you can personalize the pages and sections within your site to highlight your background, academic achievements, publications, and interests. Several companies such as Wix and Squarespace offer free options to easily create your personal website. This is also a great place to send recruiters and hiring managers when they ask you for more information about yourself.

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