01 June 2003
For engineers to succeed, networking is key
One of the main issues surrounding an engineer these days is to learn how to become a businessperson as well as an engineer. An effective method of building business relationships is networking—something seasoned business professionals learn early in their education and careers. Yet networking is a skill many engineers are having to face now as part of their everyday activities in the new global economy. It's also the key in making career transitions or finding a job after you've gone through downsizing. What are some of the keys to effective networking? A few experts offer their advice.
"Networking requires a bit of finesse, a fair amount of discretion, and basic manners," said Amina Sonnie in IEEE's Today's Engineer article, "Networking: Getting to know you," (April 03, see www.todaysengineer.org). Sonnie suggests novices begin practicing their networking skills with their immediate work groups.
"Choose associates you don't interact with daily, but who are working on projects that interest you," she said. "Contact them or stop them in the hall and ask for a short, informal meeting . . . put together a list of questions, so you'll leave the meeting with the information you're seeking," she said. And while you're meeting, let the other person know that you have knowledge of the company and what you know about projects you're interested in.
"It's not what you know, and not so much who you know, but who finds you worth knowing," said Paul Gruhn, president of L&M Engineering in Houston. "Get involved with a local professional society that has ties to your industry. Volunteer for a leadership role, and get involved," he said. "You'll meet plenty of people, and they'll notice your willingness to serve and help others." The next step is to get involved nationally, Gruhn said. "Not only will you network with people and be a visible asset to many, you'll gain valuable leadership skills that will help you personally as well as professionally."
Don't be afraid to pool your efforts with colleagues in the same boat. Whether you're looking for a job or just looking to expand your network, friends and colleagues can be advantageous. "After a recent downsizing, three friends found themselves—each with their own pink slip—looking for new positions," said Lora Meisner in a thingamajob.com article, "Job hunting tips in a tighter economy."
"Instead of going their own ways, each decided to pass names, job leads, and other helpful information to the others. They went to job fairs together, and while reading job listings, they passed on leads and information to each other. It was almost as if each of them was looking for three jobs, and each job seeker found a job within two months." One friend found her position through local alumnae chapter contacts. One signed up with a recruiter to help in her search. And one worked as a temp.
It's not a sign of weakness to politely ask people for help, Meisner said. "Career surveys continually show that networking with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers leads to job offers," she said. Try your friends (at work and home), alumni from your university, members of professional associations, students you're taking classes with, former colleagues and bosses, and even relatives and neighbors.
"Try contacting college career centers and nonprofit organizations," said Meisner. Job fairs and internships are other likely sources to build contacts for future networking. Target companies where you would like to work and write to the head of the appropriate department, describe your skills, and ask for an informational interview.
The informational interview is a good way to get your foot in the door—even if no current opening exists. During the interview, you might want to ask how the person got their position initially, what skills they've found have worked best in the position, how they keep their skills fresh, what memberships have proven helpful, and who else you could interview for pertinent information, Sonnie said. IT
InTech assistant editor, Ellen Fussell, compiled information for this article from IEEE's Today's Engineer and thingamajob.com.
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