Do Engineers REALLY need to network?

If you’re familiar with Pavi’s story, you know she’s a former Chemical Engineer, who got laid off in 2016 and decided to make a sharp about-face to pursue something creative instead. So here we are, one year into her transition. We’re sitting at Happy Hour reflecting on our journey and we start talking about networking, and it becomes immediately apparent that this is a sore subject for Pavi. Most people who know Pavi would find it hard to believe that she doesn’t feel comfortable networking. I mean, she’s a quintessential extrovert. But here’s the thing -- until 10 months ago, when she became an entrepreneur, she never knew that she needed it. Having been an engineer all her working life, and an international student at that, she had only ever learned to develop her technical skills, which were essential to the core functions of her job. Networking never came up as a legitimate job-searching or career-development tactic … and now it’s come back to bite her. 

And it’s not just ex-engineers-turned-entrepreneurs whom this applies to. She now wishes she was told about networking from day 1 of her undergrad. Imagine the job opportunities she must have lost out on! So listen up, dear engineers -- don’t let this happen to you. I know you’re probably still skeptical, but let’s debunk some myths today because you need this!

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Pavi: You know, as an Indian immigrant engineer, networking was almost unheard of. My idea of networking was pretty much like everyone else's -- you only need to do it if you want a job, otherwise, avoid it like the bubonic plague. Plus, I’d done fairly well with getting jobs off online portals, so where was the need to network, right?

Honestly, I was so clueless! A friend and I used to hit up 'InterNations' events around Houston. These were networking Happy Hours for expats and internationals like us. My friend went for the single guys and I went for, well, the drinks. I can easily say I knew the cocktail menu better than anyone there. I would just sit in the corner and enjoy half-off cocktails.

Did I look like a creep on the sidelines? Yes.

Did I go there just for the drinks? Yes.

What's wrong? You seem confused.

At the time, I didn't realize the valuable contacts I could have made, the jobs I could have been exposed to or even the friendships that may have come my way by meeting engineers like me, feeling stuck in their 9 to 5. Now that I am an entrepreneur I regret it even more. So maybe don't be the crazy Indian girl who looks like a total drunk in the corner of the bar drinking SnakeJuice (aka SnorkJuice - Parks and Rec for the win!)?

Nammy: So I put out a question out to my Facebook friends about what networking looks like to them and how often they do it. In the past, I know we’ve heard a lot of people, especially introverts, talk about how much they despise it, but I got a few other very interesting responses, many of which are myths that we’d like to address, so let’s get into it.

Pavi: Myth #1: Networking is dishonest and somehow it’s “cheating”.

Ok, yes, it is about “who you know”, or if we want to be grammatically correct, "whom you know" (Nammy's editing this), but not in the way you’re thinking about it. Networking is not something you do just when you need a job. It’s not about going to job fairs, handing out your business cards to as many people as possible and having completely useless conversations. No! Networking is about how you show up on a daily basis with your personal and professional networks. And it’s about building meaningful relationships and nurturing those relationships, and giving more than you get. It’s about taking a genuine interest in other people, and above everything else, it’s about being authentic, not calculating and agenda-driven. And yes, for the skeptics out there, we're not saying networking alone will catapult you to success. Of course, you still need to be competent and hardworking at what you do. But networking will definitely give you an edge over all those other competent, hardworking people.

Nammy: Myth #2: I only need to network when I’m looking for a job, aka Sending resumes to people & going to job fairs.

NO! Like we said, networking is essentially just relationship building on a daily basis, whether it's with friends, family, coworkers, or colleagues. Think about it -- if you have one interaction with a person at a job fair or send your resume to someone you barely know and ask them to pass it along to their hiring manager, why would they want to bet on you? What have you done to build trust with that person?

Instead, you’re far better off cultivating relationships on a one-on-one level through informational interviews and informal coffee chats. Or you could even join smaller networking groups or masterminds. If you’re a student, don't just start networking in your senior year when you're about to graduate. Start planting those seeds from day one - if you’re dependable, do good work, join organizations, and build good relationships with classmates and professors, you bet they’ll want to vouch for you when it’s time to start looking for jobs a few years down the line. And for those who are gainfully employed, you should be networking on a regular basis too. Maybe you could help mentor someone or utilize your network to find someone else a job.

Pavi: Myth #3: I’m an introvert, so I would naturally suck at networking.

Remember, the aim of networking isn’t to be Mr. Popular and slap people on the back as you’re discussing your golf game as you sip your Old Fashioned. We no longer live in the Madmen era, you guys. If you’re going to the right types of events or going the informational interview route, there is no reason you can’t have success with networking. Of course, you do need at least a basic level of conversational skills, so start practicing by joining a group like toastmasters, etc. Also, just start practicing small talk with a barista at Starbucks, or completely casual situations where even if it goes wrong, you have very little to lose. Or just email us and we’ll walk you through a few topics.

Nammy: Myth #4: Networking is a waste of time - if you do a good job, success will come.

So Pavi had mentioned that she got all her previous jobs through Indeed or other online portals, so she never saw the need for doing anything else. But as I was recently telling a coaching client of mine, you’re probably playing in the kiddie pool with that technique. Just looking online is the bare minimum, so the types of opportunities you’re getting are probably in line with that. Now imagine if you’re already getting interviews at decent companies putting in 60% of the work, what would your opportunities look like at 80%, 90%, or 100% of the work? And online portals are fine when you’re doing something very straightforward like going from one job to another in a very linear fashion. But what happens when something disrupts that like you getting laid off or wanting to switch industries, or even wanting to go after your dream company like SpaceX or Google. Do you think that same old formula will work then? In the words of Andy Dwyer (heavy on the Parks n Rec references today), will you be able to "spread your wings and fly"? I'm going to venture a guess and say probably not.

So guys, get out there and start building those relationships. Sure, you may not have success on day 1 or even day 22, but as with anything else, this takes practice, a little bit of experimentation, and a lot of patience. You’ve got this, and if you need any help along the way, we’re right there with you.

For more resources on networking, we have a whole section of blogs dedicated to it, or our excellent, FREE Informational Interview guide.

The BizLatte team is putting together a Networking Boot Camp to help you.

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