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.
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.
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!