As I've traveled for work this year, I've been especially fortunate to connect with women all around the world and to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry. No matter where I go, it seems I'm always seeing a fresh face or being introduced to someone new. Our world is growing increasingly global every day, and sustaining a wide-reaching network of colleagues, peers and friends is one of the most important components of professional success. It's called a "network" because it should "work" for you.
Networking allows you to build job contacts, to develop credibility, and to enhance your professional expertise. Networking increases your effectiveness as a business person by forging the pathways necessary for you to learn the culture and politics of an organization, develop communication and leadership skills, and gain insights into a huge range of jobs, business models, and markets.
Is your network working? Let's find out . . .
1. Examine Your Network
When starting out on your quest to network – whether it be to bolster your current professional circle or build one from the ground up – make sure you're ready to give it all you've got. Focus your energy on improving your career environment. As I mentioned in my last column, when I first moved into a global role, I realized that what I lacked was a global network. The good news is that the power of observation and the willingness to act are all you need.
Make a list of all your current contacts through a search of your personal and professional e-mail accounts, desktop rolodex and networking sites to which you belong. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all great places to find comrades from years past. You'll be surprised at how many you'll find. If you're at a live networking event, actively seek out people you don't know -- but should.
2. Develop Your One-Minute Personal Elevator Speech
Don't be just another talking head – SPICE it up. (1) When you're getting ready to introduce yourself, remember to Shake hands firmly, Pitch yourself succinctly, project an Image of confidence, Connect with others and have a short Elevator speech memorized that gives a nice bit of information about your life and your career.
Your elevator speech should include the following:
• Role(s) and expertise
• Interests and goals
• An interesting tidbit about yourself or your personal experiences
• Your desired outcome of this interaction – a meeting, a potential partnership?
Be concise, articulate and memorable -- and you'll be growing your network in no time.
3. Find Your Audience
Once you have your elevator speech, it's time to find the right audience. Do your homework on where the kinds of people you'd like to meet are likely to be. Association meetings? Chemical conferences? Cybercafes?
Develop some personal goals before the event, such as adding three new contacts or meeting someone from a particular organization. Arrive early to events so you can get comfortable with the layout and take an opportunity to mix and mingle.
4. Deliver Your Personal Elevator Speech
With networking, being memorable requires great delivery. Shake hands firmly, maintain good eye contact, and don't forget to give out your business card.
Giving your elevator speech should of course include all the essentials – name, role and expertise, interests – but don't forget to throw in an interesting curve ball that will make your particular audience remember you. Are you speaking to someone who's based in Southeast Asia? If you have a passion for scuba diving and got your advanced dive license in Thailand – share that tidbit with your new connection. You and I both know is it's more likely she will later recall "the woman who scuba dives in Thailand" than "the woman from the product sales division." But better yet, it could help her remember you as "the scuba diver from product sales." Are you speaking with a chemistry educator? Mention your company's leadership role in developing a local science festival. Not only do you have an opportunity to connect on a personal level by sharing interests, but your new contact gets a better sense of who you are and whom you represent.
Once you've exchanged cards, feel free to jot down a word or two on their card to proactively capture a follow-up action. Thank each person for their time, their insights and maybe even their jokes or stories. In closing, make it clear what's next; you'll call to set a date, develop a program, pursue a partnership, or just keep the door open.
5. Follow-Up Effectively
Following up with new contacts is critical if you want to really lock in your new connections. When drafting up your note, mention your meeting and something interesting you remember learning during the conversation. Find a way to add value to your note by attaching an article or website link that might be useful to the other person. However, be careful not to send anything that feels like a "hard sell." End the note using the same steps you used to close your elevator speech – stating you hope to keep in touch with the person and will write again soon to share business insights or synergies.
It's always great to meet new people, but be careful not to overlook the wonderful network of current and former colleagues that you've already constructed. Keep in touch with them. Thanks to sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, this should be easy. No excuses, give it all you've got.
Here's a good first step: add me to your network. Find me on Twitter @KatieChemist and let's grow our networks together.
(1) Special thanks to Jody Kocsis and Amber Hinkle for introducing me to Speed Networking at the "Women in Industry" Breakfast at the ACS National Meeting (2007) and further introducing me to SPICE in (2008). SPICE was a project of the national Women Chemists Committee (WCC) of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Catherine T. "Katie" Hunt, Ph.D., is director, Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies, at The Dow Chemical Company and 2007 President of the American Chemical Society. Her bimonthly column appears exclusively on ChemicalProcessing.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieChemist.