Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How important is networking? How do you get good at it?

A recent post by Daniel Levy brings up the topic of networking, especially regarding job-hunting:
While the preceding paragraphs emphasized the value of a strong education, they did not focus on skills important to finding and maintaining employment. Among the most important is networking. Sure, while social groups such as Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter can provide some resources, the greatest networking activities involve face-to-face introductions/conversations. These must also be accompanied by diligent follow-up...

[snip] In closing, most of one's success will always depend upon a strong knowledge and skill base.  However, There is always a component that directly relates to who one knows and what opportunities are available at any given time.  The value of networking will not always be immediately recognized - but when it pays off, the dividends are usually significant.
This reminded me of a couple of posts by Lisa Balbes over at the ACS Careers blog, which lay out what that "diligent follow-up" might look like. To wit:
One way to test this is by looking at your list of connections, and asking yourself “Would this person take my phone call?” An even better question – “If I lost my job and called this person, would they merely sympathize, or would they go out of their way to look for leads and opportunities that matched my background and professional goals?

To turn it around, how many of the people in your professional network have you talked to lately? How many have you done a favor for, or passed along a tidbit that you thought might help them out? How many do make contact with on a regular basis? Or do you look your list of connections and try to remember where you met them, and why you wanted to connect in the first place? [snip]

For people you haven’t talked to in awhile, make contact. Send an email, write a card, or pick up the phone.
As I am relatively early in my career, I'm not quite sure what "good networking" looks like. At the same time, it seems to look like being a friendly, helpful person who remembers people and cares about them. I think the internet makes that sort of thing relatively simple; e-mails and LinkedIn notes aren't too fraught with nervousness, even if you're the world's most awkward, introverted person on the phone or face-to-face. As Levy notes, I'm hesitant to say that it's the cure-all for a tough time looking for work, but it can help.

20 comments:

  1. I remember sitting in a "help getting a job" talk once with a large crowd, maybe a couple hundred or so. The speaker asked those of us who found our last jobs strictly through the internet to stand up. I was shocked that only about a dozen of us stood up. Everyone else had had some sort of human networking experience in finding their last job. That made me an instant believer.

    And in hindsight, it makes sense. Everyone can find the same opportunities that you do looking at the various job and company sites. And unless you are a real introvert and/or arse, you come across better in person than as a sheet of paper. Networking? Amen brother! Amen!

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  2. This, unfortunately, is a skill that isn't taught to chemists and I think runs counter to our inherent nature. Many of us are drawn to the lab because we are somewhat introverted.

    When I worked in biotech/pharma about half of the research associates were unhappy with how little interaction they had with people. All of them left the lab to do something else (either medical, business, or pharmacy). Those of us that were happy either stayed or went to grad school, where our PIs were more than happy to facilitate our lack of desire to build interpersonal skills by requiring us to work many many hours.

    It's unfortunate that chemists (or all scientists for that matter) are being told that if they get X number of publications or "just finish this molecule" that they'll have no trouble finding a position when the reality is that if they just go socialize with the right people those things will become far less significant.

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  3. A crucial thing about networking is making sure you don't have an insular network. There's little value in being LinkedIn with 100 people if they're all your coffee buddies. Far better to really cast the net out wide and gets dozens of smaller, nucleated networks: chat to random people at conferences; email people in different departments or sites asking if you can have a lab tour/find out more about what they do over a coffee. Even better to network with people that move between sites and companies - service engineers and sales vendors are often the first people to know when a job opens up elsewhere.

    In other news, can I retract my forecast that we'll hopefully see 12-18 months stability in R&D...

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  4. LM, that is a great point. Just because someone isn't a chemist doesn't mean that they don't know what's going on.

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  5. It helps to be connected to Ivy league Old Boys network. I worked with a chemist in grad school who was rather dull, unmotivated, remarkably non-curios about chemistry. Like a zombie he had to be told in minute detail what to do. As he was a senior grad student whose project run into serious difficulties, his advisor (who is good looking after his people) gave him a successful project taken away from more junior members of the group, just so that this dude can graduate and leave. The stipulation for giving him a good job reference was that he must not go into any research-related field. So this guy, lets call him Steve, went to banking industry as a consultant.
    Ten years late our school had a translational research institute that spun off a startup and they were looking for a startup CEO who has a scientific background and you can guess got the job...

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  6. @milkshake: Yeah, the Harvard-Yale-Princeton connection worked very strongly for the positions I knew about. In fact, nearly all the chemists I've associated with from that pool of applicants ends up being pretty lazy, unmotivated, and selfish, believing that they were either "above" the work, or waiting until someone else got their hands dirty. Meanwhile, people see the word on their CVs and go gaga for it...life's not fair.

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  7. @Anon10:25PM - Hey, don't demonize everyone who went to Tier 1 grad schools. Although there are some who are relying on school/PI prestige to secure industrial or academic positions, most of the grad students (such as Milkshake) and postdocs from top chemistry programs are motivated scientists. Besides, it's hard to pass on an opportunity to have a high-impact brand on your CV/resume. Look at who's beem in the Supreme Court and the US Presidency for the past 20 years!

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  8. My Tier 1 pedigree doesn't get me a job, but it gets a foot in the door for interviews. It is my motivation and knowledge (and network) that obtained 3 job offers last year.

    People I know with similar backgrounds got interviews, but never got a job offer.

    Morally right or not, names get your foot in the door, but they hardly land you jobs.

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  9. A7:10a:

    I'm terribly curious, what's your CV look like re: papers? Just trying to get a bead on what you have to do to score 3 offers. Nothing detailed required, just # of papers, and maybe a count of how many were JACS-level or above. (To make it even more anonymous, you could invent your own scoring system (Sci/Nat = 4, JACS,ACIE=3 pts, OL=2, etc.) and give the total.)

    If you'd prefer, e-mail me at chemjobber /at/ gmaildotcom. Confidentiality guaranteed.

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  10. I'm curious about the guys with "similar backgrounds," whether they had similar papers. i think A7:10a may on paper look just as good as his co-workers but either sell himself better, have better/more contacts, or just have a reputation as someone people would like to work around. any of those things would be preferable to a productive number of papers that no one wants to spend their time around. i'm guessing we all know someone like that.

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  11. "(To make it even more anonymous, you could invent your own scoring system (Sci/Nat = 4, JACS,ACIE=3 pts, OL=2, etc.) and give the total.)"

    Some bitter guy around here says that for industry jobs, OL counts more than a jackass or andjewandte. Personally, I think I have a high enough score to get a job offer, but I don't think I'm nice to work around anymore, unlike what I was when I got my PhD. Ever since starting the postdoc, I haven't had a girlfriend and I can see that it affects the way I deal with people. I'm a lot meaner to them and I prefer to be on my own. I prefer to work at night in the lab now when my other group members can't bother me and the new grad students now ask others for advice when they know I'm more of an expert in a certain area.

    This might be a problem... I think it really is due to the fact that I don't have a partner currently actually. That would suck if I can't find a job just because my character changed due to that! Plus it might only be temporary after all. That's another one of those problems that crops up with moving long distances for postdocs.

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  12. @uncle sam/misanthrope: Have you tried online dating or perhaps religion?

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  13. Actually anonymous, I have tried neither. Yet. I imagine I shall have to move on to one of them in the near future for the sake of my sanity. Which I don't value all that much, but I would hate to disappoint the family and all that.

    These two things have been mentioned to me by other people. Seeing that I am a scientist, I may have trouble with organized religion and some of the philosophical leaps of logic that I don't agree with. I also don't feel comfortable bonding with my fellow humans over a system of values and beliefs inside a religious edifice if I can't bring myself to respect the average person outside of one.

    However, the systematic organization of online dating does have something similar to organic chemistry. It's as if you are choosing from many preps, for many different sorts of syntheses. And every date is its own reaction, that can either be a failure or a successfully synthesized substrate. Perhaps it will lead to a very pure product, or you might have to run a column on it at first.... Hmmm.... I'll definitely have to go with the online dating. Just as soon as I learn the local language well enough to navigate the internets in it and to use slang on my unfortunate female company for the evening (should be a couple more months; I've got basic conversation down).

    Yes. Definitely the online dating.

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  14. @Anon5:38 - I, too, went to a Tier 1 grad school, and then postdoc'd at a "Top 10" (hint: a newer one, not covered in Ivy)

    You are right that many people who attend these schools are hardworking, and I maybe came on too strong. However, at each stage of my professional career - I've worked in pharm, biotech, industry, and school - I've encountered at least one chemist from an Ivy background who got the job with two second-author papers and a good rec letter.

    These folks also tend to see broken equipment, nearly-empty reagent bottles, ordering, and floor messes as never their problem....I actually had one person tell me once "We pay people to take care of that, don't we?"

    Just sayin'

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  15. A work of caution with online dating. It's a high throughput screening process of some of the most desperate women on the planet. You may never meet a crop of more self-righteous entitled women on the planet. Sure there are gems ...

    Did I mention high throughput!

    They will also write you off if you are unable to do anything less than a lifelong commitment with children (your own if you are lucky). Logistics, career, relocation and student loan obligations be damned.

    Religion is obviously not that much better.

    Dating advice, you HAVE to swallow your pride, wear a nice a shirt, and go out and MEET people. Get involved in fitness, hobbies, outdoors, clubs. Go to a happy hour every so often. You are going to be more likely to find people more accepting of the transient lifestyle that has been crammed down us. It might offer you some networking opportunities.

    And honestly, maybe that's part of the problem with not feeling all enthusiastic about dating (and sadly my problem too) is that you were FINE before you moved, and you basically had to move, because you just HAD TO MOVE. You could have gone to Senegal and lived in a shack simply because they offered you a postdoc. At your core you are too old for this shit and don't really feel like putting in the work. At some point, this is no longer "character building."

    So ... feel like crap for as long as you need it, then go out, put a smile on your face and sell yourself like name brand cutco.

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  16. "you are unable to do anything less than a lifelong commitment with children"

    A5:08p: Possible to clarify?

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  17. Chemjobber, it's just really difficult to meet women who are in the postdoc age range that are chill with living in the moment and taking it day to day. They are often chomping at the bit to settle down (not that I really blame them ... but ... recession). The worst of them seem to gravitate toward online dating, and they are rather aggressive. Which is why online dating is a very high throughput endeavor where it pays to be as emotionally detached as possible.

    I don't think I'm alone here, it's not that I'm against settling down, but moving around every 2-3 years kind of takes it out of you. The best dating can offer is to take the edge off and make you feel more human and keep hope alive that if a situation does make sense, you can take the plunge and have a "normal" life. If not, well, it's exhausting to have someone that is going to passively nag you about settling down.

    This however was not the case in larger communities, but in smaller towns, the old fashioned way is surprisingly more effective, you just have to be brave.

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  18. Not like it's going to help you get a job (unless you want to be a stay at home scientist) ... but I figure I would throw in my two cents about online dating, it can be more exhaustive than regular dating. They have done studies, and making crap money and always moving, doesn't look great on an online dating profile.

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  19. Ohhhhh, sorry. I just completely misread that statement; figured it out now. Never mind, my bad.

    Dating while being a postdoc, I assume, is really hard. My sincerest sympathies.

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  20. 5:08/5:51: maybe part of your problem is lumping all women into the same "type". They generally don't like that.

    But back to the subject matter at hand: networking. Keep in touch with people who come and go from your lab. But if you're looking to meet new people and you're in the Boston area there is Biotech Tuesday. Sometimes it's better than others, but you do meet a number of interesting people there. And to bring it back to dating... some people there are looking for jobs and some people are looking for mates.

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