One of the best ways to build your career is to form a large network of colleagues with whom you have developed personal relationships. But how effectively you tap into this network can make the difference between knowing a lot of people and knowing people who can help you advance in your career. Here are some ways you can make the most of your community of colleagues.
Ideas. Let’s face it, your mind can get stuck. You may have been doing things the same way or following the same path for so long that you can’t see a way to change. But if you explain your situation to others, they may be able to help you identify alternative directions or opportunities that you haven’t considered. Your colleagues can offer suggestions and help you explore possible solutions. The simple act of discussing and evaluating the options will help you see that change is possible, and the best solution may be a combination of ideas from multiple people.
Information. Even if you know what direction you want to go, you may need a guide to help you get there. Of course, you can find just about anything on the Internet, but that also means that everything is on the Internet. Unless you know where to start and the proper search terms to use, you can waste a lot of time looking through irrelevant and outdated information. Terminology changes over time, so you need people who can tell you the current terminology. This is especially important when investigating a scientific or professional field that’s new to you, because you don’t want to be seen as an outsider or outdated because you’re using antiquated terms.
Insights. The best way to learn something is by teaching it to others. Similarly, having to explain a situation to someone else will often make your options clearer in your own mind. The other person will ask questions that will get you thinking, and that might help you figure things out. By forcing you to question and defend your assumptions and traditions, this exercise will help you better understand the parameters of your own situation. You may realize that this particular situation is a special case, requiring you to make an exception to your usual rules. On the other hand, you may realize this situation is just another example of something you’ve done before, and you can use the same solution.
Introductions. By far the best way to meet someone new is to be introduced by a mutual friend, who can provide a bridge to the new relationship. Whenever you ask someone for advice, consider ending the conversation by asking if there’s anyone else they know who might have expertise or advice on the subject. Each person will have different experiences and opinions and will offer different advice. After talking to multiple people, you will get a better sense of the big picture, which can help you make a more informed decision. You’ll also find that you’re growing your professional network.
Data are good, but information is better. While you can gather facts from any number of places, things like ideas, information, insights, and introductions are best obtained from other people, who will be flattered to be asked. By asking others for help, and actively looking for ways to return the favor, you can build and strengthen your professional network.
Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).