Networking – Real World Examples

Derek Lowe, of In The Pipeline fame, recently reported on an early-stage deal between two big pharmaceutical companies to combine two of their products in development into a single Phase I trail. While certainly of interest for the science, the part I found most fascinating is that the whole deal“was driven by two scientists meeting at an airport security checkpoint“. The two scientists from different companies apparently recognized each other’s names, started chatting, and 18 months later a professional collaboration is underway. Amazing!

I actually had a similar interaction once – a fellow traveler and myself had identical laptops, and ended up booting them up together to make sure we had each gotten the correct one back. We were at adjoining gates, so ended up chatting for a few hours while waiting for our respective flights. This may be the only good thing to have ever come out of airport security!

Another time, on a flight back from an ACS meeting, I started chatting with my seat mate. She turned out to be a fellow chemist with a fascinating nontraditional career, and we have kept in touch and worked on several projects over the years.

More recently, I was in the grocery store when my cell phone rang. Turns out it was a colleague, who was in the checkout line of that very store and had seen me walk in. I went over to talk to her, and it turned out she had gotten a call just that morning from a potential client. She was not comfortable with part of the project, and seeing me reminded her of my expertise, and how we might be able to work together to meet the client’s needs.

Just a few real world examples of how you never know when you’ll meet someone interesting, or someone who can help you professionally. You need to always be on your best behavior, and act professionally – even when you’re just running out to the grocery store!

Things That Tick Me Off

I was reading an article today which shall remain nameless, for reasons you’ll understand in a minute. It was talking about how everyone should be proactive about widening their network and being prepared, just in case they are the next victim of a layoff. I pretty much agreed with him, until he got to this statement:

“Ask people how they are doing. Act like you really care what is happening to your friends and colleagues.”

“ACT LIKE” you care? How long do you think it’s going to take for others to see through that act. If you don’t care about the people you know, it’s time to find some new people. While you will certainly care more about some people than others, you should care on some level about everyone in your network. If you are faking concern just to get something out of someone, it just might work. Once.

Hot off the Press….

I am currently in Chicago, attending the AAAS annual meeting. While I will be presenting a talk tomorrow morning (special prize to anyone who attends that talk and tells me they read this), I arrived early so I could check out some of the other sessions.

The one I attended today was entitled “Beyond the Resume: How To Network and Market Yourself to Enhance Your Career”. The first half focused on traditional topics that I’ve covered many times in this blog.

The second half, however, moved on to talk about networking – both traditional networking and new electronic methods. Most of their tips were right on, so I thought I’d share them here.

First and foremost, remember that your network requires giving, not just taking. Ideally you will give before you need to take, but many people don’t do that. So, the least you can do is remember to thank people for the help they give you, keep them apprised of your progress, and maintain contact in the long term – hopefully because you are on the lookout for ways to return the favor, and not because you never know when you are going to need them again.

LinkedIn is a great tool, and it is becoming a necessity, not a luxury, for all professionals. However, LinkedIn works best when you use it actively. Solicit recommendations, and write recommendations for others. Seek out people, make real connections with them, then connect on LinkedIn. Finally, keep in touch with the people you connect to. Drop them a line and see how they’re doing, and what’s new with them.

Twitter is growing in popularity, as evidenced by the increasing number of mentions in the popular press. While it’s not sure how this tool is going to work out, right now one of the best things you can do is find out what it’s all about. Set up an account, and follow the thought leaders in your industry. Most of the tweets now (depending on who you follow, of course) are pointers to hot, interesting news articles. One more way to keep up on what’s going on in your industry and field.

Finally, Facebook. While this purely social network is not really used for business, many employers do search it before bringing a candidate in for an interview. Also, many people now have family, friends, and business colleagues as “friends” on these social networking sites. Therefore, the best plan is to not post anything that would bother you if it showed up on the front page of the New York Times. Failing that, you can set up “groups” for your friends, and only let certain groups see certain things.

Maybe the message is getting out?

I’m seeing a lot of blog postings lately on networking. With all the bad economic news, people are starting to realize that it really is other people who can help them, and meeting other people is called “networking”. I saw a great post the other day that said The worst thing about networking is the word itself“, and I agree with her. Everyone is constantly meeting new people – some you will quickly forget, others may become good friends over the course of time. “Networking” is no more than making sure

Purely professional online networking, Linkedin is the undisputed leader. Jason Alba just published a new version of his book I’m on LinkedIn — Now What?. If you’re not using LinkedIn, or not using it effectively, this inexpensive, quickly read book will get you started. You will learn not only how to improve your own profile and make yourself more “findable”, but how to use the new features and searches to connect to people who can help your career.

I’m also seeing more people, and more different kinds of people, on social networking groups like Facebook. Facebook is almost completely a social site, full of games, interaction, and fun. While it can be a way to deepen a connection with a professional colleague, it can be difficult to decide exactly what, and how much, to share.

And as great as electronic networking tools can be, they are not a substitute for meeting actual people in person, spending time with them, and finding things you have in common. That is what causes real connections, makes you remember them, and might make them remember you.

So make time to have coffee with a friend, lunch with a colleague, or contact an old employer just to catch up. You never know when a casual contact will provide you with a valuable nugget of information, or even better, will give you the chance to help someone else out. Reach out now, when you don’t need anything, and your contacts will be more willing to take your calls when you do need something.