Being the youngest attendee (by about 10 years) at a recent conference meant that I spent a considerable amount of time observing the interactions between the more experienced engineers and businessmen. As with many social interactions, there seems to be a formula for such discussions:
- Exchange pleasantries, handshakes & (if appropriate) business cards.
- Ask where the other person is based or “where that accent is from.” [caption id="attachment_13279" align="alignright" width="201" caption="Image courtesy bucklava on FlickrShare "][/caption]
- Eventually get around to asking what one another do.
- Acknowledge that your organization needs their offering, can fill their need, or has similar technical interests.
- Make agreements to contact the other person to maintain a business contact, acquire their services, or provide them your own.
- Shake hands, and move away with a slight nod.
The formula for networking
The interesting thing for me was noting that, in order to discuss the business you are both there to discuss, you must first (a) indicate how experienced you are, and (b) show that you understand the industry. If you can't satisfy these steps, then you end up stumped at Step 2, which is inevitably followed by an awkward excuse, a gentle nod and a quick exit. The take home message here is that some reactions only go one way:
Tell me why I should listen to you, then tell me what you have to say.
We are constantly reminded about the importance of market knowledge and experience, so I got thinking about a business barrier I now refer to as The Credibility Threshold. Enter our beloved activation energy graph:[caption id="attachment_13362" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Image via Wikimedia Commons"][/caption]
Input enough energy and your reaction begins, but don't put enough in, and pfft...nothing. No bond can be formed, no product produced, and no (pardon the cheese) chemistry occurs.
But now replace our activation energy with activation credibility, and the interaction above makes a little more sense. We need to put enough energy into the relationship before it is going to produce the end product we are seeking.
In short this means that we need to 'talk the talk' in order to network effectively.
Gain industry knowledge to build credibility
Obviously ChEnected is a great place for finding out Chem Eng information, but for more industry-specific knowledge you may need to be more creative. Here are some of the methods I use to keep up-to-date:
- Going to local seminars through Engineers Australia and IChemE (you can do this through AIChE - check out your local chapter);
- Taking advantage of conversations with my colleagues and bosses who see different aspects of projects, have more experience, etc.;
- Reading industry RSS feeds on my daily commute (if you have a smartphone, then I recommend NewsRoom);
- Following Twitter users who post interesting industry information (e.g., I follow a number of oil companies, energy news outlets, and Chem Eng related posters);
- Reading industry publications (if you're an AIChE member, then CEP is a good place to start); and
- Staying in contact with previous colleagues (through lunches, phone calls, e-mails and LinkedIn – preferably in that order).
Yes, this takes some effort, but the payoff is the ability to break through the credibility threshold. This opens up opportunities to discuss interesting information, make business contacts or build good industry relationships.
Oh, and see how the use of a catalyst means that less energy is required? Find a good mentor or champion to be your catalyst. It’ll be the best career move you ever make.