The Principles of Networking

Experts say that having a robust professional network is one of the best ways to learn 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. Most important, they can offer support and encouragement.

Networking is an effective job-search strategy and, when done well, yields large dividends. Everyone is capable of networking, because it's really just getting to know people and building a rapport with them.

Networking is about give and take. It's letting people know what you're good at, what problems you can solve, and what people can count on you for. It's also listening so that you can provide introductions, information, and ideas to others. The following tips will help you nurture your network.

  • Membership in professional associations such as the American Chemical Society is the best place to meet fellow professionals, especially if you're just out of college or changing careers. The ACS Member Network is an online network designed to help members connect with colleagues, and meet others through those connections.  Associations also present opportunities to volunteer, and meet people you might not otherwise meet. Don't look at every opportunity as a networking opportunity, and force connections. Volunteering for things you truly enjoy takes the pressure off you and allows you to broaden your circle through a natural camaraderie.
  • Do know what you're looking for, so you're prepared for when the opportunity arises. Make a list of information you're seeking. For example, if you want to move to Seattle, look for people who are from Seattle. If you want to move to a certain field, look for people who can work in that field. In addition, be prepared to offer your expertise and experience to information that others are looking for. Having an agenda will help you avoid falling into aimless small talk that leaves job seekers feeling discouraged about networking.
  • Networking is based on reciprocity. People feel obliged to reciprocate when they are given something. In order to give something meaningful, you need to know what someone needs, which you can learn by listening to them. When the other person knows you listened and met their need, even if it's something as simple as sending them a journal article, they will be more likely to reciprocate.
  • Want someone to remember your name? One technique is the “Forrest Gump rule” after the eponymous movie character who always introduced himself as “I'm Forrest, Forrest Gump.”  Give people a way to remember your name: "It's Forrest with two r's." And when you hear someone's name, say it back as a way to reinforce it in your memory. Reinforce it further by introducing that person to someone else.
  • Be prepared to start a conversation. Have some questions ready to ask like, "What was the best presentation you went to today?" or "What did you think of last week's cover story in Science?" Any question that helps you strike up a conversation with someone is useful. Having a conversation also means knowing how to answer the "what do you do" question. Experts recommend having a two-sentence answer ready. The first sentence is a talent or skill that you want someone to remember. The second is about a time that you used this skill to solve a problem. 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." That answer can lead to more conversation about inorganic chemistry, solar energy, clean energy, fuel cells, or climate change, depending on the other person's interests.
  • Make networking a regular activity. Research shows it takes about six contacts with someone before they get to know you. 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.  Always carry business cards with you. It gives you something to hand someone and invites reciprocity. Add that you hope to stay in touch and meet this person again in the future.  If possible, use their contact information to send them information on a topic of interest to them.
  • End a conversation with the future in mind. Invite someone to do something with you or refer to the next time you'll see them, such as “I'll look for you at next month's local section meeting. Think you'll be there?”