Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strengthen Your Career Through Networking

By: Stephanie Prosack
Education Assistant, American Chemical Society

Job searching and maintaining a strong career can be stressful. To help lower the strain, networking provides multiple advantageous connections to increase proactivity in your career (Science); building key acquaintances and gaining professional insights. This concept is well-explained by John K. Borchardt, ACS Career Consultant, who highlights major steps you can take to be preemptive about networking for your career in his article, Networking for Graduate Students and Postdocs, featured in the ACS Graduate and Postdoctoral Scholars Bulletin, November 2011. Advisors, job coaches, friends, parents, and professors chant the same mantra, “Network! Network! Network! It’s the best way to find a job, build connections and gain insights into your desired discipline.” The next thought you might have is, “well, sure, but HOW (The Washington Post) do I do that. How do I tell someone that I’m looking for a job, without eye contact avoidance and uncomfortable silences?”

I was in this same boat not too long ago, and I remember having similar anxious feelings and thoughts, in addition to, “if I don’t get a job, how will I pay my bills?” and “I have experience from school and internships, but how can I get a job if an entry-level position requires three years of previous work experience?”

Not to fret! The basics of networking are similar to a spider spinning its web. The goal of a spider's web is to provide a solid home and to catch food. Each time you network with a person, you expand your net, making the likelihood that a bug, err, opportunity, will be offered to you (Science).

There are multiple ways you could spin your web to make it stronger. Initially, you could use another web, the internet, to its maximum potential. Social media sites make it much easier to forge a connection with former bosses, family and friends (Science). Twitter allows you to connect, follow and interact with colleagues and organizations to obtain positive communication exchanges and job advice instantaneously. LinkedIn and Facebook are two tools which you can use to check in with these people and send a quick note saying, “How are you doing? I’m interested in your career field. Can you provide me with any pointers to obtaining a position? Would you mind keeping an eye out for any jobs you may see that you think would be useful for me?” A harmless and friendly message goes a long way.

Did you intern or work throughout your academic career? If so, send a quick e-mail or phone call to a former supervisor or colleague saying “hello” (Science). Correspond routinely with your former coworker to exchange polite small talk such as, “hope all is well with you” or “Congratulations on your promotion!” After a few exchanges add into the discussion that you’re interested in a career in their area of expertise, how much you would appreciate it if they could pass along any information they may know.

I contacted two former supervisors with whom I had a positive relationship with from organizations where I interned throughout college. Each supervisor took my information and shared it within their companies. I was called for interviews for two positions which were listed internally in the organization. Although I was not offered a job, it was a positive experience as I was able to practice my interview skills and vastly boosted my confidence in the job search process. I viewed these exchanges as gnats; bugs not sustainable for food, but promising. Bugs were beginning to be stuck in my web.

Another friendly, yet aggressive, approach I took to expand my web was following up with human resources departments. Once I submitted my credentials, I would call the human resources department about ten days after my submission, and inquire about my application. This allowed the recruiter to put a voice to a name, which led to my application being placed aside, and increasing the number of interviews offered.

On a few occasions, I even called the human resources department prior to my application submission to ask what specific traits the hiring manager was searching for, and tweaked my cover letter and resume accordingly. Many times there was one specific skill set that was essential to be hired and was not listed in the job description. On certain occasions, the human resources employee remembered my name and had passed my information to the hiring manager of opportunities not yet listed as vacant, or remembered my qualifications by referring my candidacy for other opportunities. Aggressiveness like this created a more positive outcome of more bugs, and not only gnats—flies, too!—to be stuck in my web, with concrete job offers.

Objectives for spinning a web can go beyond finding employment. Networking is not only useful in the initial phase of your career, but also in making a personal career and web stronger. The connections made while finding a new opportunity can provide new ideas, insights and even a different job further in the future. The benefits between contacts can be helpful to many aspects of your career, and go both ways between links. Your web will be strongest if you provide the same support which you are seeking from others.

The most important aspect of networking is to stay positive. Even when the job market seems gloomy, a position will eventually appear in your web. The contacts made throughout networking can end up being your food supply for your web, offering bugs to increase opportunities, connections and insights of the professional variety. Keep spinning!