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Networking Is Even More Critical Than We Thought

by William F. Carroll Jr., Chair, ACS Board Directors
February 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 7

William F. Carroll Jr., Chair, ACS Board Directors
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
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 and 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.



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