At its core, networking in industry is the same as networking in academia: find people who share interests and skills (or who have complementary interests and skills), develop relationships with them, and learn from them. However, without the infrastructure of conferences, collaborators, co-authors, and labs, networking in industry will look very different!
As someone new to industry, your goals for networking should be to connect with people who can help you:
learn about particular companies, even if their own roles are pretty different from what you aspire to. After all, you'll be working alongside people like them in the future!
learn about particular roles, the kinds of roles you might land in the future
connect to others, at their company and/or in the field
understand trends and conversations happening at their company and/or in the field
Networking in industry might feel less comfortable than in academia, where you can rely on alumni networks, your advisor's advisor, reading papers of interest, and learning about scholars' backgrounds before you even approach them. How do you do that when you're new to all of industry??
In this section, you'll be advised to send a lot of "cold" messages to people, especially on LinkedIn. If this feels weird or like online dating, you're right. But it's standard in industry! There are other ways to engage with people as well (also covered below), but finding people on LinkedIn, connecting with them, and messaging them to request an "informational interview" or to get some questions answered is normal. You have to jump in!
Build your network.
Here are some resources for building your network outside academia:
Your academic network
It might be easiest to start with what you know best - your academic network! Who in your department has gone on to jobs in industry?
Think also about related departments, your undergraduate department, and your advisor's and committee members' alma maters.
Graduate and postdoc networks
Many universities have professional organizations for graduate students and postdocs, and both are likely to offer networking opportunities either formally (literally for "networking") or informally (by virtue of being a space that brings people together from across departments and disciplines).
Exhibitors at academic conferences
These are people who work closely with academics and the research community but who aren't themselves in traditional faculty positions!
Find out if their companies hire people with backgrounds like yours, what kinds of roles people with your expertise might work in, how the exhibitors themselves interact with those roles, etc.
Campus networking events
Some colleges and departments (e.g., computer science, engineering, business) regularly organize networking and recruiting events, which are like large career fairs or poster sessions for companies. Find out when they're happening and attend!
While the prepared information will be very targeted to students in those disciplines, what's important for you is to talk to the representatives about the work happening at their companies and whether people with your background work there.
Often the representatives might be a recruiter from human resources and an alum or other person with the target role (e.g., a software engineer at a computer science event). This means you can learn about hiring and interviewing practices, open positions, company and team structures, and how this different role (e.g., software engineer) works with people in roles of interest to you.
Campus career center
Many universities will have free resources available for current students, so take advantage of career centers while you still have student status!
The career centers can help with many parts of the job search process, including connecting you to networks (especially of alumni) in a range of industries.
Community networking events
In many towns, groups and individuals will organize networking events. Some will be open to anyone and others might encourage attendance from people in particular industries.
You can find community networking events on sites like Meetup.com and Eventbrite.com, as well as through general searches.
These are typically happy hours or mixers where people are encouraged to connect to each other explicitly for career networking.
Online networking sites, like LinkedIn
There are a number of ways to use LinkedIn, and you should use them all!
Connect with people you already know
Connect with companies you are already familiar with
Connect with new people and new companies by using the search tools for keywords and hashtags. This will lead you directly to new profiles, but also to posts on a Facebook-style timeline, so you can see who is engaged with topics of interest to you.
You can also connect via social media (or at least, via Twitter) to build your network; look here for both individuals and companies.
Search also for company names or keywords in user profiles - people advertising their connection to a company are likely people who will be posting about professional topics.
Engage with your network.
As you build your network and add connections, make sure they know who you are!
Keep your profiles (e.g., on LinkedIn) complete and up-to-date, share updates, and have individual, personal interactions.
For example, it's not enough to follow someone on LinkedIn or Twitter; be sure to also engage with their posts, ask and answer questions, share your perspective and experience, etc.
Since you won't be seeing your network at academic conferences, sending them manuscripts for feedback, or serving on committees with them, this is how you will build your professional community and share your updates.
Engaging with your network can also happen in more private venues, including the messaging feature on LinkedIn.
Reach out to individuals when you first connect to tell them how you learned about them (e.g., from a mutual friend, read an article, saw a post, watched an interview) and to say a bit about yourself.
After connecting you can also message to maintain the connection and have more targeted conversations around specific questions you will ask. These may be questions you ask about very specific topics ("I read the article in the NYT about your company's decision to X...") or to have a more general conversation in an informational interview.
Conduct informational interviews.
An informational interview is a brief conversation (~20 minutes), probably via phone, during which you learn more about your connection's role, team, projects, and company. This is a conversation you will lead, so prepare beforehand!
While it's not an interview in the sense that there's not a specific, open position on the other side of it, you will be leaving some kind of impression on your connection, who is presumably in a role or company of interest to you, so be professional, respectful of their time, and demonstrate that you have done preliminary research about them, their role, and their company. You don't have to know everything about them or their work, and it's ok to tell them you are considering a career change, which is motivating these questions.
Here are some possible topics for an informational interview and for other conversations with your growing network:
How did you prepare for your career? What is your background and career experience?
What are the responsibilities of your current role? How have your responsibilities changed or grown over time? What projects are you working on now?
What are your teams like? What kind of roles do you work most closely with?
What has been the most challenging part of your role/project? (Or your own career change, if relevant)
What opportunities are there at your company for professional development and growth?