Networking Know-How | October 6, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 40 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 40 | pp. 59-61
Issue Date: October 6, 2008

Networking Know-How

It's not just about finding a job, it's about building relationships
Department: Career & Employment
Credit: American Chemical Society

JENNIFER PETOFF'S move from manager of technical recruiting and university relations at specialty chemical producer Rohm and Haas to university programs specialist at Google wasn't as big a leap as you might imagine. She uses many of the same skills in both jobs, such as interpersonal and communication skills. It's how she made the move that's more interesting. A recruiter found her through her profile on LinkedIn, an online networking site. What's more, Petoff was a "passive candidate," meaning she wasn't actively seeking a job.

"I built the profile more for fun than anything else," she says. "I had attended a networking boot camp then started linking up with people I knew. Through my work at Rohm and Haas I had met a vast array of people. LinkedIn turned out to be a great way to keep in touch with others."

Petoff's story offers a good lesson in career management: Prepare for your next move long before you make it. Networking is a great way to manage your professional growth, both at your company and in the industries that interest you. That way, when you begin a job search your network will already be in place.

Experts say that having a network can lead to information about industry trends and the variety of jobs available. Members of your network can also help you brainstorm job-search strategies and serve as resources for you. Most important, they can offer you support and encouragement.

Networking is an effective job-search strategy and, when done well, can yield dividends for you. The problem is networking is often mistaken with asking people for a job, and job seekers become frustrated as a result. Some might think, "I can't network. I'm not a people person. I'd sound like an idiot." Everyone is capable of networking because it's all about getting to know people and building a rapport with them.

"Networking is about teaching and giving," says Lynne Waymon of Contacts Count (, a consulting and training company that specializes in business and professional networking. She is also the coauthor of "Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know How for Cash, Clients, and Career Success."

She continues: "It's teaching people about what you're good at, what problems you can solve, and what people can count on you for. It's also listening so generously that you can give introductions, information, resources, and ideas to others." Anyone can do that—even the shyest of the shy—and Waymon offers tips to help nurture your network.

Credit: Istock
Credit: Istock

1. Join a professional association.
The best place to start building your network if you don't have one is by joining a professional association like the American Chemical Society, Waymon says, especially if you're just out of college or changing careers, because associations are "the lifeblood of your professional life." ACS has just launched its own social network,, to help members connect with colleagues and meet others through those connections (C&EN, Aug. 18, page 12).

"That is where the cream of the crop hangs out, and it's a prime opportunity to pick up information on the latest trends and job openings," she says. Joining a professional association is the best money you could spend, she adds.

Associations also present opportunities to volunteer. Petoff has volunteered at a variety of events and says she met people she would not have met in the course of her everyday job. It helps, she says, if you don't look at every opportunity as a networking opportunity. It takes the pressure off and allows you to broaden your circle through a natural camaraderie.

2. Network with an agenda.
Be prepared for any networking opportunity, Waymon advises. Make an agenda of what you're looking for. If you're looking to move to Seattle, look for people who are from Seattle. If you want to move to a certain application of your skills, look for people who can give you some direction.

When asking a question at a networking session, introduce yourself, say where you're from, and mention that you're looking to connect with others. If people want to connect with you later, they can find you. Don't forget to introduce yourself to the person presiding over the session.

Having an agenda also means being prepared to give information on topics that you're enthusiastic and knowledgeable about or have some expertise in, she adds.

"Too many people attend conferences without an agenda and are reduced to small talk, which is just conversation without a goal," she says. "True networking is goal-oriented."

3. Give and you shall receive.
Building networking relationships is based on "the reciprocity principle." People feel obliged to reciprocate when they are given something. If the giver acts without the expectation of reciprocity, then the receiver is more likely to return the favor.

In order to give something meaningful, you need to know what someone needs. And you can know by listening. When the other person knows you listened and met their need, even if it's something as simple as sending them a journal article, he or she may be more likely to reciprocate.

"It's what makes networking work," Waymon says. "The feeling of reciprocity feels so good."

Credit: Istock
Credit: Istock

4. Talent + Testimonial = "What do you do?"
Striking up a networking conversation can be challenging, so be prepared to start a conversation with someone and have some questions ready to ask like, "What was the best presentation you went to today?" "What did you think of last week's cover story in Science?" It could even be as simple as "What looks good in the buffet?" Any question that helps you strike up a conversation with someone is useful material.

Being prepared also means knowing how to answer the "what do you do" question. All you need, Waymon says, is a two-sentence answer. "The first sentence is a talent or skill that you want this person to remember. The second is about a time that you used this skill to solve a problem," she says. For example, "I'm an inorganic chemist. I've just discovered a way to store extra solar energy for later use that is simple, efficient, and inexpensive." Look at the conversational topics that have opened up: inorganic chemistry, solar energy, clean energy, fuel cells, and climate change. Mentioning a talent plus a testimonial gives a real flavor for what you do and who you are.

What's most helpful about this tactic is that anyone can use it. "You may not have a title but you do have talent," Waymon continues. "Then you're able to work in what you're looking for, and people can learn about your character and your competence."

5. Make networking a way of life.
To make networking a regular activity rather than something else on your "to do" list, go back to your agenda, Waymon says.

According to Waymon's research, it takes about six contacts with someone before they know you and have experienced your character and competence, she explains. The key is to always be prepared to make good conversation. If you're a regular attendee at your child's soccer game, for example, you can easily create those six contacts with other parents who attend because you know you will see them.

Also, get into the habit of carrying business cards with you everywhere. "It gives you something to hand to someone and invites reciprocity," Petoff says. "Be sure to mention that you hope to stay in touch and see this person in the future." Think of it as a little ritual to cement the relationship, she adds.

6. Prepare!
Lots of networking situations are awkward, but with some preparation you should be able to get past them with little trouble. Waymon offers a few examples.

If you're worried about how to start a conversation, the best way is simply to say "Hello." Networking takes physical energy, so set aside all the things you're worried about. Be ready to listen, ask and answer questions, and work off your agenda. It makes the conversation much more purposeful.

End a conversation with the future in mind. Listen to what the person is telling you—and mention it to someone else. Waymon says that over the course of an hour-long event, you should expect to talk to six or seven people. Invite someone to do something with you or refer to the next time you'll see them like, "I'll look for you at that green chemistry session. Think you'll be coming?" or "I'll drop that book off next week."

Want people to recall your name easily? Waymon recommends using the "Forrest Gump rule." In the eponymous movie, the lead character always introduces himself with, "I'm Forrest, Forrest Gump." It gives the other person two chances to hear your first name. Reinforce the introduction with a tip to remember your name: "It's Forrest with two r's."

When you learn a name, say it back. The third time you hear it is when you introduce that person to someone else at the event, which good networkers do.

7. Be an "A" student.
At some point you may wonder how a particular person fits into your network of contacts. Waymon says that if you know how someone fits, there are things you can do to strengthen the relationship.

Picture your network as a bull's-eye. In the outermost circle are Accidents, people you meet randomly, such as someone you meet on an airplane. If you see they're reading a journal that you also subscribe to, strike up a conversation, ask for a business card, and make plans to keep in touch. The odds are you'll never see that person again unless you exchange information and contact them in the future.

Next are Acquaintances. These are people you could find again if you had to because you both know someone in common, but they are not people you see often. Getting in touch with an Acquaintance adds diversity to your network. Think of the instrument sales rep you met at a friend's daughter's graduation. If you're interested in learning more about a particular microscope his company sells, you probably want to get this person's name in your Rolodex. If some time later you're looking to make a career move, vendors can be a good source of information.

Associates are people who belong to the same group you do. That means you see them regularly—daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly—and you have regular contact with them. However, you need to develop those relationships. Otherwise, you'll only become members of the group, not resources for each other.

Actors are people you actively trade information, resources, and tips with. In the exchange process, people see your character and competence, and you build trust with them. They can count on you and know you're good at what you say you do. It's also at this point that the reciprocity principle kicks in.

Advocates are in the next inner circle. These people are so clear about who you are and what you can do that they will recommend you anywhere at any time to anyone. Their antennae are up looking for opportunities for you.

At the center are your Allies, "the board of directors of your life," Waymon says. These people span your personal and your professional lives, and your relationship with them is marked by a high degree of confidentiality.

The idea is to continually nurture your contacts. If they're an Associate, the only relationship is you belong to the same group unless you call to introduce yourself. If someone is an Actor, Advocate, or Ally, then you want to keep in regular contact to help them act on your behalf.

Networking is an activity that is critical to your career development and growth, and is more than just the occasional phone call. Think of networking "as a way of being with people," Waymon says. "There are always places to have rich conversations with people if you know what's on your agenda and if you have good questions to ask."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society

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