Once upon a time, I had a friend who wanted to sell his house. He talked to a few realtors, and found one he liked. The realtor came to his house, and she started writing up a contract between the two of them. As she was nearing the end, she paused briefly to make a phone call. Just about the time she finished printing the contract, and my friend signed it, the doorbell rang. It was another couple with whom the realtor had been working, who were looking to buy a house. They toured the home, made an offer, and closed the deal shortly thereafter. My friend, while being thrilled that his house had sold for a great price so quickly, commented that the realtor obtained a quite hefty commission for “just a few minutes of work”.
I’m sure you have seen similar situations. One of your colleagues is laid off, and has a new position lined up in a matter of a few days, while it takes another months of searching to get their first lead. Is it simply a matter of luck, or is there something else going on?
In the case of the realtor, she had put in a lot of time before she ever met my friend. She had met with numerous home buyers, found out what they were looking for, took them on tours of available houses and neighborhoods, and so on. When my friend’s house came on the market, the realtor had a ready network of potential buyers, and called the ones whose needs most closely matched the new listing. While it seemed like she did nothing but make a single phone call, the most important thing is that she knew WHO to call.
It’s a similar situation with the scientist who finds a new position after a very short search. They are the ones who have laid the groundwork ahead of time, building up their professional network, reputation and expertise so it was ready when they needed something. They had a number of colleagues who knew of their expertise and interests, with whom they had built a relationship over a long period of time, by giving and asking for help with small isues. These collegues/friends were then willing to not only keep an eye out for appropriate opportunities, but in some cases even create positions, for someone they knew and trusted.
Building a professional network is not something you can do suddenly in a few days when you need something, but an ongoing part of your professional life that you need to build continuously throughout your professional life. Within your company, prove your expertise and value by being a proactive, vital member of your project team. Make sure you understand the priorities of your organization and your supervisor, and that your actions and results are in line with them. Constantly look for opportunities to add new skills and new knowledge to your repertoire. Outside your company, attend professional meetings and share your expertise and knowledge with others. Build relationships with other professionals, and be especially aware of opportunities to help others.
By putting in the time and effort, and building your network before you need it, you will increase the odds that you will be one of those people who can find your next position, or whatever else you need, with “only a few minutes work”.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).