Networking In The Age Of Social
Some thoughts around this elusive activity
When I was first starting out as a career scientist in 2009 I had no network. The economy was in shambles and I needed a job. Whenever I would read an article about getting a job (cause I didn’t have one) there was ultimately some advice about “reach out to your network,” or “attend networking events like career fairs.”
My network at that point was some chemistry majors in the same boat as me and some non-chem majors. Some people went to grad school and others moved back in with their parents because job offers got pulled. Some of my friends actually had jobs, just not in the field that they had studied. The internship I had been working at for years told me they had no money to hire me full time due to lack of funding.
No one I knew could get me a job or even get my resume in front of someone who could get me an interview. I would have loved to have a network, but as an undergraduate this can be difficult if you didn’t work the right internships. I had no one telling me what to do and I was just trying to figure it out as I went along. I eventually got a job at a little glucose sensor company called Senseonics.
After 13 years of being in various states of employment or being in graduate school I have started to recognize that I do have some sort of network and this network has at times delivered and recently it delivered in a big way. I got my new job through networking. I wasn’t even really looking for a job, but when opportunity comes knocking I usually answer the door.
On Building A Network Of Anchors
My strongest network is from my former coworkers. These are people who know me in a professional sense. My professional life is often completely separated from my personal life except maybe here. The people I’ve worked with can vouch for my knowledge, skills, abilities, and hopefully my tendency to be a good teammate. I would (and have) vouch for any of the people I’ve worked with in the event I found them to be moderately good and overall likable.
Sometimes in a professional setting people will say things like, “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to do a job.” Sometimes those people can be brilliant and key members to very technical teams, but they can also be horrible co-workers at times. In the physical sciences and engineering it can be easy to encounter people who just care about doing the work and everything else including your feelings don’t matter.
If you’ve worked with this person and they were suddenly looking for a new job would you help them? You’re a human and if this person made your work life difficult it’s unlikely that you would vouch for this person no matter their talent. Well, maybe you would if you had ulterior motives? This is because we are humans and not robots.
Being a pleasant co-worker and being a work friend is the best advice I can give you for building a strong network. This has happened for me primarily by being in offices/labs with my coworkers and getting to go out to lunch or have coffees with them. I think of these people as the anchors to my network.
Being in person and on location early in my career was helpful and necessary since I worked primarily in a laboratory.
Casting A Net
Having an online social presence is what I would consider casting a net and trying to make some connections. I’ve got some great people within my network who I’ve met through the internet (never actually met them in person) that I would never have gotten if I hadn’t been on LinkedIn, Twitter, or writing this newsletter.
Yes, this newsletter is a form of networking for me, but it could be for you too. There are comments that people sometimes post to here, there is a LinkedIn page, I’m on Twitter. Investors, start-up founders, and other professional chemists hang out here reading this stuff too.
You can search and find 1000+ people on the internet who are doing what you want to do or who might be working in the area that you have been training for in school for years. Why not cast a net out and see if you can get someone to talk to you.
The Art Of The Cold Ask
Imagine a total stranger wrote to you and wanted something from you. What is a message you would respond to? Here is a good example of what I would use:
I’m writing to see if you might help me out. I’m [whatever you want to call yourself] and I’m looking to get a job in the field that you are in now. If you’ve got a few minutes I’d really like to talk for 10-15 minutes about your career.
It’s surprising what people might do for you if you just ask, to be clear most will not answer you, but you only need a few. Some people don’t want to talk and that’s normal. Others might want to talk, but you can never agree on a time, and others might just have time for you right now. I think they key is getting that first contact and not asking for anything than you have already.
For instance if I work at a company where you want to work and you just wrote the message above. We speak for 15 minutes about my work life and then you asked me to help you get a job it’s not going to go well because I don’t know you. How does a 15 minute conversation translate to me putting your resume in my manager’s inbox?
I might do this for someone that I worked with for a year, but a 15 minute conversation is a tough sell. I might even do what you want, but when someone asks me the inevitable “is this person any good?” I might not have a good answer. In some ways this might hurt more than it helps.
If you are able to make a genuine connection to someone let it linger and don’t press to hard. If you do then you are likely going to be thought of as a transactional person and the value this person brings to you is what they can deliver now as opposed to later. To me, it’s all about the long term value.
I don’t even think I’m that great of a social networker, but try treating these people who barely have any connection to you as you might a stranger out on the street. If they can help you out for 15 minutes that’s great, but I wouldn’t expect or ask for anything more unless they signal that they would be happy to go the extra mile.
Building a great network takes time and after 13 years mine is just starting to resemble an actual network. I haven’t seen anyone write about the length of time it takes to build a real network that actually functions. Just remember that as your network grows it helps to drop a message to the people you actually know well to see how they are doing. Maybe you could be in a position to help them out during a tough time or maybe they would be willing to help you. Often it’s not about what your network can do for you, but what you can do for your network.
This is the way (I couldn’t resist!)