A Tale of Two Layoffs – One Chemical Engineer's Networking Odyssey

Much has been said of the importance of networking. Personally, I've heard for years that it was vital that an engineer 'network' but everywhere I looked I was left more confused than enlightened. When I first graduated I was left wondering, how does one go about 'networking' and how does one make a 'network' work?

It wasn't until I was laid off the second time in my career that I finally understood the advantage of having a well established network. So here's my personal tale of how I handled getting laid off and how 'networking' made all the difference in the world in helping me find another job.

Layoff #1

The first time I was laid off, it was a shock to the system and a hit to my ego. I had no illusions I'd be working for that company my entire career but I was only a year out of school and I already lost my job. To make matters worse, outside of the company I worked for I didn't know any other chemical engineers that could help me. I must confess that I didn't do myself any favors either. I had (rather arrogantly too) felt that I didn't need a 'network' because I had a chemical engineering degree and that would be enough to carry my career. Once laid off, I literally felt like an island onto myself with online job websites being my only connection to the rest of industry which didn't yield many useful opportunities. Fortunately, nine months later my previous employer called me back and I started working again. However in those nine months I didn't have a single interview.

When I started working again I realized the only way to branch out and find out what was going on in industry was to be where a lot of other chemical engineers congregated. That's when I joined AIChE as a professional member and got active in the Young Professional Advisory Board. I eventually became chair and joined several national committees. I met all sorts of engineers from all over the country and in all sorts of industries. Through AIChE, I formed a working relationship with many of them even though we didn't work for the same company.

Layoff #2

Brian and his Network

It was a good thing too because I got blindsided when I was laid off the second time. In fact I wasn't even given a two-week notice so I had little time to make preparations. However, when I informed my network of colleagues what happened, a fellow YPAB member up in Chicago gave me a reference to a very good job recruiter who lived nearby me in Houston. By the end of the day I had four solid chemical engineering leads through that recruiter. The second time around I was only unemployed for about four months and had several good interviews before finding my next job all thanks to my network connections I established through AIChE.

How did I find my latest job? By running into an ex-coworker of mine at my local AIChE meeting.

So in conclusion, a network makes all the difference in the world when it comes to enhancing your career but the tricky part is in nurturing it and making it work for you in times of need.

Networking is more than just sharing business cards with another engineer or chatting with them briefly at a meeting; it's engaging those engineers later and often usually working towards a common goal.

That's what makes the engineering societies vital to your career and network building since it gives you amble opportunity to do so. Now get out there and network!

Any stories of layoffs and how networking helped you? Please share.


Nemoy's picture

great article

ehorahan's picture

Alot of great points! Networks can come from anywhere, not just AIChE - its best to get involved in groups that hold the same interests as you (including AIChE) and you never know who you could meet and who they know. A big part of getting interviews is just getting your resume in front of the right person - so many get lost in the online submission blackhole.

Brian Daly's picture

Actually, being in remote areas doesn't limit you at all in this Digital Age. There are several AIChE members who I converse with regularly who live in very remote areas. I meet with them once a year at one of the AIChE national conferences where they have a chance to chat with friends and make new contacts. My point being, anyone can network, you just have to have the desire to go out there and do it.

jvasko's picture

Yes Brian, but don't you think that living in a remote area might make it a bit more difficult to network in person? I find that networking digitally works much better when you can follow it up with that in-person contact. J

RC Ramaswamy's picture

I agree with John that inperson networking is more effective compared to digital networking. Toms case is really difficult. Being in Rural area, his networing opportunities are limited and he is not ready to relocate. With his MBA, he may be looking for non-chemical related job in his area. I think he should network with business communities in his town . The chamber of commerce may help them.Attend chamber of commerces regular dinner and you may get to know different perople The mayor office could help him with finding the contacts of local businesses or provide information to start businesses. It is a tough situation.

ehorahan's picture

If the area is extremely rural, an organized Chamber of Commerce may not really exist... but if it does, that is a great idea. Its hard to create opportunities when opportunities are hundreds of miles away and family must be considered. Lots of people find themselves in Tom's situation in this economy, which I know isn't comforting. The Online Network as previously mentioned could be helpful and could lead to online consulting work (maybe?)

Tom's picture

I agree - networking is critical in today's world - but there still needs to be opportunities in your area or an ability to relocate. I ended up in a rural area at a small company where I would be able to make a major impact. I got along great with my supervisor and other company personnel. I felt for certain this would be my last job change and it seemed that way as I was going on year 19 and in the last decade of my career. Well, the company sold a few years prior and new ownership was not as brilliant about running the operation, so financial troubles forced them to eliminate all high salaried employees and a few others in 2006. There are no other chemical companies within a 100 miles and only a couple of small operations further out, the papermills we supported have been shrinking and many have shut down - the few within a commute have not hired in years. There are no local chapters AIChE nor other appropriate groups with whom to network. I cannot really afford to relocate since my spouse now has a great position and we own a modest home in a small town, so real estate prices pretty much anywhere else is another huge obstacle. So, I went back to grad school and got my MBA, I network in other areas now, but with no history with these other groups and no experience in their areas of interest, I have not been able to find anyone to see the transferable skills and experience I can offer. Networking is great of you are in a region where there are opportunities in your field or if you are able to relocate and it seems to have become the de facto mode of finding new employees... now if there were only some willing to give those with less direct experience a chance!