Volume 91 Issue 7 | p. 53 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: February 18, 2013

Networking Is Even More Critical Than We Thought

By William F. Carroll Jr., Chair, ACS Board Directors
Department: Career & Employment
Keywords: ACS Comment, employment, jobs, networking
William F. Carroll Jr., Chair, ACS Board Directors
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
William F. Carroll Jr., Chair, ACS Board Directors
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

As a volunteer American Chemical Society career consultant, I teach that one of the best things anyone can do for career advancement is to develop a personal network, including membership in ACS. I’ve always felt that a good network greatly increases the chance of finding a position and being hired—and now there’s documentation to support my conviction.

Applying for jobs is different now from the way it was last century (yikes), when I got my degree. In those days, you wrote letters to companies or you’d give a résumé to friends or acquaintances in the hope it would land on the right desk. But with the rise of the Web, most of that personal interaction seemed to have disappeared.

Today, job openings are posted online at sites such as Monster.com and Indeed.com. Even individual companies post openings on their websites. These postings have democratized the application process. But because it’s so easy to apply online, the number of applicants for many job openings has increased, and the process has become chaotic and of dubious quality. To handle the volume, companies use electronic algorithms to screen résumés for key words and phrases. Much of the process is untouched by human hands.

So how can a job seeker improve the odds of passing this first hurdle? One way is for the applicant to write introductory text and a résumé that incorporate key words and phrases from the job specification. Almost like search engine optimization, this technique boosts the chances that the employer’s algorithms will find the applicant’s résumé and send it along for further action.

But applicants need to do more than just figure out the résumé-screening algorithms. A Jan. 28 article in the New York Times, “In Hiring, a Friend in Need Is a Prospect Indeed,” explains the hybrid new-and-old process by which a large number of positions are filled today. Companies—including my own, Occidental Chemical—offer incentives to employees to identify and recruit viable candidates for open positions. Maybe it’s not a surprise that if someone inside a company invests his or her reputation in you and moves your name forward, your chances increase. What might be a surprise is how much.

At the accounting company Ernst & Young, as an example, “employee recommendations now account for 45% of non-entry-level placements at the firm, up from 28% in 2010,” the article reports. Deloitte, another accounting firm, places 49% on the same basis. At a third company, the probability of getting an interview doubled with a referral.

And sometimes the referral doesn’t even have to be active. Online at LinkedIn, for example, company recruiters can find connections between applicants and their own employees. It’s a simple matter to ask the employee for an evaluation or recommendation.

In some ways, this process is disturbing. You may wonder, “Do I really need to know somebody to get a job? What happened to merit?” Although disturbing, it’s also understandable. Deloitte receives 400,000 résumés per year. If a résumé gets just seven seconds of attention, human prescreening of that many résumés would take more than 100 person-days per year. It’s simpler, cheaper, and more reliable to sort by keyword and get referrals.

Diversity is an issue, however. Companies recognize that people tend to recommend people like themselves. That’s one reason why many limit the percentage of people hired via referrals and recruit entry-level personnel differently.

So why am I telling you another disturbing story about jobs? Because there’s a take-home lesson: A network is even more important than we thought it was.

Even if you don’t realize it, you have a network. It’s made up of fellow students and colleagues at work, current or former. It’s neighbors and friends. It’s anyone you know and who knows you. The Times article documents the network in action.

I preach the network to groups of grad students and postdocs. I say to them, “Do you know everyone here? Turns out, most of you will have successful careers—some of you will be in C&EN. Here’s a chance to meet stars early, become colleagues, and later brag that you knew them when. Imagine how far you’ll go with each other’s network.”

I believe the central benefit today of a professional society such as ACS is networking. We have more than 163,000 members and 100,000 nonmembers connected on the ACS Network. That’s 263,000 people who understand and are committed to chemistry, just as you are. There is a world of referrals out there if you get involved.

So here’s my advice to build your network, enhance your career, and increase your chances at job search time: Volunteer at an ACS local section or division. Give some time and show what you can do. Meet people. Solve someone’s problem. Help them or send them to someone who can. They naturally will reciprocate. A network doesn’t happen immediately, any more than a garden grows in a day, but if you plant the seeds and cultivate diligently, it will grow. I’ve seen it happen.

If the adage “All of us are smarter than one of us” is really true, then the more people you know, the smarter you are. There are a lot of smart people in ACS, and you never know when one of them is on the inside of a place you’d like to be.


Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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Chad (Thu Feb 21 19:35:30 EST 2013)
Of course, then you get laid off, and your former coworkers are barred by corporate policy from saying anything about you other than that you worked there at such-and-such position between such-and-such dates. Seriously, that's how the game works now. When this happened to me, my previous several years of work became a black hole in my resume, only documented by a patent and two minor external publications. In order to get referrals for my next job, I had to tap people I hadn't worked with for close to a decade. It's almost as if you have to leave at least one job on your own terms, so that you can use your ex-colleagues there as references in the future.

Marquita M. Qualls, PhD Entropia Consulting & Coaching (Sat Feb 23 00:42:25 EST 2013)
Bill, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You raise a great point that is often misunderstood when we refer to networking--"It's anyone you know and who knows you". That is a pivotal distinction between a member of your network and a mere acquaintance. You have formed a relationship with people in a network. They know something about your interests and capabilities, work ethic and overall character. As a result, they can and are willing to expend their credibility capital to vouch for you when needed.
Social media is a fantastic way to connect and reconnect with old friends and colleagues; however, it seems to have ignited a misconception that simply "connecting" or "linking in" to someone's social network equates to being a part of that person's professional network.
Networking is a hot topic these days. There have been several articles and blogs that have come out this week, and ironically it's also the subject of my February videoblog (http://youtu.be/IFdzSW4_d28). Hopefully, the readers will take heed your suggestions.
Samsu (Tue Feb 26 15:42:16 EST 2013)
Rediculously, you study so hard and and these people have random just key word selection in resume. So these days all I am seeing is pick the word and hire someone to make your resume. Resume writing is one profession and they are making money for nothing.
Bill Carroll (Wed Mar 20 14:29:02 EDT 2013)
Thanks to all three of you for your comments.

Chad, I understand the problem, and sometimes that's true--maybe not always. Even if it is, it reinforces the need to branch out from your place of employment and build an independent network of people who know your work outside that context. For me, I found it in working with our trade associations and ACS. There are a number of other ways, but that kind of networking has to be a part of what you do to develop a CAREER, not a strategy to get a job right now.

Samsu, Hiring a resume consultant is, of course, one way. On the other hand, ACS has Career Pathways workshops that are given at the National Meetings and at some Regional Meetings. I'm doing one at a university this week. Part of the workshop is assistance in writing a resume. Such a thing might be of use to you. Additionally, there is extensive help on writing a resume that can be found at www.acs.org/careers.

Marquita, you're the real expert here, and thanks for emphasizing that important point. It's about people you know and who know you; now imagine ways in which people could get to know you. I recommend your videoblog to anyone with an interest.

We live in a world where recommendations are king. Even a Faceboook "like" is a recommendation. We ask friends for recommendations on movies and restaurants; given the commitment of time and money, why would employers not ask people they know and trust to recommend potential employees?

Students ask me for recommendations, and I have to tell them that I don't know their work and cannot be an effective advocate. On the other hand, expending the effort to work with an organization like ACS or NOBCChE--and the people in that organization--helps develop credibility for you. And don't forget the old story--Androcles removed the thorn from the lion's paw FIRST; and later the lion was happy to return the favor that saved his life. There's a reason that story has survived for 2500 years.

Bill Carroll
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