Networking: Making Key Connections, Obtaining Critical Insights

In networking shared interests are used to develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with others. Networking is also one of the most effective ways to find a job in today’s highly competitive market. At any particular time, most jobs are not posted on job boards or advertised in print publications. The best way to find out about these “hidden” job openings is through networking.

So how do you get started?

Begin Networking Early

Networking is most effective if you begin building your network before you begin job hunting. A three- or four-month lead time is not too early to begin. Start with people you know. Contact friends and professors from undergraduate school, former and current graduate students, postdocs from your research group, and your professors.

Prepare Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a 15- to 30-second sound bite that briefly and memorably introduces you to others. It should spotlight your skills and accomplishments as a chemist and focus on the benefits you can provide to others, particularly prospective employers. Know exactly what you want to say, but don’t recite a memorized statement. Deliver your elevator speech in a relaxed, conversational manner.

Wrap up your elevator speech by saying that you are looking for a job. Seek people’s advice; don’t ask for a job. Doing so can make people nervous.

Record and listen to your elevator speech. Do you sound confident? Sincere? Is your speech engaging? If the answer to any of these questions is no, tweak your speech accordingly.

Always Keep Business Cards Available

Business cards are your passports to networking. Have a business card prepared that provides your contact information and a brief description of what you do as a chemist. You can find inexpensive business card services online. For example, you might say “Graduate Student, Organic Chemistry” or “Postdoctoral Research Associate, Medicinal Chemistry.” Always have some business cards with you. Ask people you meet to trade business cards. Then you’ll have their contact information to use in your networking. If they don’t have a card, write down their contact information on the back of your card. Be sure to note when you met them.

Expand Your Network

Make an Effort To Meet Others

Now you’re ready to expand your network to individuals whom you don’t know or don’t know well. If you’re looking for a postdoc position, try to meet professors visiting your department to present colloquia. Chemistry departments often host receptions for their guest speakers where you can do this. If you’re nervous about meeting someone, ask your research adviser to introduce you.

Meet other chemists by attending ACS local section meetings. If you can, attend these meetings regularly. You’ll begin to develop deeper relationships with individuals you encounter repeatedly. Try to attend ACS regional and national meetings. You can meet people in technical sessions, the hallways, and at conference social events.

Interest Yourself in What Others Say

Be a good listener. Your networking conversations should be two-way interactions, not a monologue you deliver. Show an interest in the new people you meet. By learning about your contacts and their employers, you can direct your conversations and make them more meaningful. If someone talks about a current activity, offer to help.

Work Your Network

Communicate with the Members of Your Network

When you start job hunting, contact the members of your network. Begin by reminding them where the two of you met. Repeat your elevator speech. Then ask for advice on places you might find a job and individuals you might contact. Ask the person you are speaking with for permission to send those individuals your rÉsumÉ.

Periodically contact members of your network to update them about your progress and learn whether they have any possible job leads or additional advice for you. Know what you want to say before you pick up the telephone. Make a list of points you want to make or questions you want to ask. Keep this list in front of you when you telephone or send an e-mail. Telephoning is usually more effective.

Always Use Discretion

Don’t contact the members of your network too frequently; they may feel you are stalking them. Every three or four weeks is about right, unless you have something very specific you want to discuss.

Develop a networking plan and stick with it. For example, target making a specific number of telephone calls each day. Make these calls when your energy level is highest. Take notes during or immediately after each conversation. Review your notes each time you call that person. If you promise information, follow through promptly.

Give yourself occasional breaks when you can recharge your mental batteries. Don’t schedule a full afternoon of telephoning if you plan to network at an evening event.

Offer To Help

Even when people are willing to help you, they’re usually more interested in how you can help them. Networking is about mutual support, not just other people doing you favors. So stay alert for opportunities to help others. Is one of your networking contacts working on a committee or organizing something? Offer to help. Become active in your ACS local section or an ACS division that includes your professional interests. Volunteer to work on projects. You’ll meet more people and they will see you as a hard-working, dedicated individual—one they’ll want to help.

Networking: Make it Comfortable

Contacting strangers can be awkward. However, it is virtually essential to network in order to find a job. Practice networking with people you already know and with whom you feel less tense. Doing so can help you relax and reduce your fears. Role-play with friends and tell them about your interests, training, and accomplishments. This will make you less likely to become tongue-tied in real networking conversations.

Like an acquired taste, your comfort factor with networking will grow. When you start receiving the benefits in the form of the names of companies that are hiring people with your skills, you will become more eager to network.

Networking After You Find a Job

Let your networking contacts know when you get a job offer. Send them thank-you notes after you accept a position.

Above all, don’t stop networking. Remember, networking is not just about finding a job. Your contacts can be very helpful to you in your research and other aspects of your career. Also, few chemists work only for a single employer. So it is likely that you’ll be job hunting again later and will need the information and support your professional network can provide.

John K. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. He holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Rochester. Borchardt began his industrial career after a postdoc at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers, holds 29 U.S. patent, and has served as an ACS career counselor for more than 15 years.