Say Yes! to Networking

February 24, 2009

I recently finished reading “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Cialdini and Martin. I found it to be a quick, interesting read, and was impressed that each of the techniques mentioned was supported by actual research data. Many of their suggestions were small changes that end up having a big effect on how your words and actions are interpreted. This small volume will help you frame your arguments in the best possible way, to increase your chances of successful persuasion.

As I was reading it, several of the tips jumped out at me as possible explanations for why networking is such an effective way to find a job (or to find anything, really).

For example, one chapter points out that “there is little social obligation to cooperate with someone who offers you something only on the condition that you initiate the cooperative effort.” If one party says they’ll do A if you do B, that is a simple business transaction, with no lasting effect on the relationship between the parties. However, if you do something for someone else first, with no reciprocation required or expected, they are more likely to do something for you in the future. The example in the book showed that hotel towel reuse programs were 45% more successful when the hotel first give a donation to a non-profit environmental organization, then ask guests to re-use towels, rather than when they told guests the hotel would make a donation if the guests reused towels. This not only increases the level of compliance, but also builds a longer lasting relationship based on trust and mutual appreciation, rather than the weaker incentive system. I’ve always said that true networking is being out there looking for ways to help others without expecting anything in return. Then when you do need something, people will be more willing to help you out because you have pre-paid the favor. And if you’re really lucky, some of those people will be actively looking for ways to help you – by passing along information they think will be of interest to you.

Another interesting fact was that over time, the value of a favor changes. It becomes worth less in the eyes of the favor receiver, and more in the eyes of the favor doer. This means you must continue to do favors for others, to keep your balance fresh, and make sure you’ll have something “in the bank” whenever you need it.

The book also quotes research that shows if someone does you a small favor, they are more likely to later agree to do you a bigger, similar favor. So in addition to doing favors for others, you must seek out help, and allow people to do small favors for you. Not only does it help build the relationship, but by seeking out different perspectives on a problem you gain insights that you probably would not have come up with on your own, and in general tend to arrive at better solutions than if you had worked alone.

There you have it. Scientific proof that if you regularly help others without expecting anything in return, and let them help you, you will build relationships that will be there to support you when you need it. Sounds like networking to me!

This article was written by freelance technical writer Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).


ACS Industry Forum:

Join us for the next ACS Careers Industry Forum:

“It’s 2009 – Do You Know Where Your Networks Are?”

Date and Time: Thursday, March 12th, 2009, 2-3 p.m. EDT

Catherine T. “Katie” Hunt, Ph.D., is currently a Corporate Sustainability Director and Leader, Technology Partnerships at Rohm and Haas Corporate and Past President (2007) American Chemical Society. She began her career as a senior scientist in analytical research at Rohm and Haas after completing an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University. For nearly 25 years Katie has held positions of increasing responsibility, from research scientist to process chemist to plant laboratory manager to Director of Worldwide Analytical and Computational Competency Network and Technology Development. . Don’t miss out, Register in advance. For additional information about upcoming speakers, click on the ACS Careers Industry Forum tab located at the top of the ACS Industry Forum Careers Blog.
Please join us to discuss economic and employment trends with top industry executives in the chemical sciences. This is a free service via conference call.

Go Put Your Strengths to Work

January 21, 2009

Whether you are starting out in your career, jumping back into the market after being downsized, or considering changing jobs to something better, it is essential to know what you really want. In the book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham offers a six-week, six-step plan for mapping your road to a better career. The first step in the system is to inventory the tasks that make you feel strong—give you energy, as well as the ones that make you feel weak—zap your energy over the course of a week. The inventories of tasks are then further refined to yield strength statements and a list of tasks to stop or curtail. Buckingham points out that just because you do something well doesn’t mean that it should go to the top of your strengths list. Using his process you actually determine the items that you are both good at doing and which you have a passion for doing. It will be these passionate strengths that will make your job worth pursuing. Buckingham also acknowledges that we are not always given the liberty to choose what not to do. However, he outlines plans for transitioning away from these activities where possible.

The entire premise of the book is based on the assumption that we will produce better results, develop our professional aptitudes more quickly, and generally feel better about our situation if we focus on our strengths rather than spending all of our time trying to fix our weaknesses. The systematic method for honing personal preferences outlined in the book also takes away much of the stress and pressure normally encountered in career self-assessments. Online tools and videos are also provided through the website using a unique ID code printed inside the book cover. These videos can serve as a comfort and inspiration.


I found the book worthwhile and recommended it twice  recently to new graduates who were unsure of where they wanted to go professionally. I am hopeful that you will find the book of use as well.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.


Make Your Contacts Count – Networking Know-How for Business and Career Success

January 14, 2008

Networking is a necessary and often derided skill. To most, its rules are ambiguous and the concept overwhelming. In their fifth book, coauthors Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon explain the rules of the game.

I met with Lynne Waymon last week to discuss networking and her new book, “Make Your Contacts Count”. She told me a little about her background through an anecdote. Her story was short and sweet, but it gave me the basics of who she was. It highlighted her tenacity, adaptability and knowledge in the areas of training and group dynamics. After all, she was preparing to facilitate a training session later that afternoon for another association in town.

As she explained, “Your job is to teach people about who you are, what you need and what you have to give.” The best way to explain all of those things is through a story. You need to be able to tell your story at a moment’s notice, and it should demonstrate something about your character and competency straight away.

That’s when she turned the tables on me by asking for my story. I told her that I didn’t have anything prepared. I wasn’t ready. I was coming to interview her, not the other way around. With a gentle smile and a lilt of her head, she quickly put me at ease. She said, “That’s where the rules of engagement come into play. By following a few simple steps, you can easily move past your intimidation of talking to a stranger.”

Most casual conversations revolve around three basic questions, or moments as Baber and Waymon describe them. There will be a name exchange, “Hi, I’m Dave.” Someone will ask, “What do you do?—I’m a chemist.”, and then finally you’ll get the inevitable, “How are you today?—Fine.” Just as quickly as the conversation was initiated, it is over without a real connection.

The key to initiating a connection is to be ready to answer these questions in a meaningful way. “A good story gives your contact a vivid picture of what you do,” said Waymon. “It doesn’t have to be long, but it should give insight to your character and your competency.”

To compose your story, think back to your childhood. Children’s stories have four basic parts:

  • The beginning: Once upon a time…
  • The set-up: suddenly…
  • The turn-around: luckily…
  • The ending: …happily ever after.

For your story, think of a key moment in your life when you saved the day, served a customer, demonstrated commitment, or solved a tricky problem. These are the kinds of stories that will demonstrate your character and competence, and that is what will make you interesting to others.

According to Waymon, most people know about 250 people. However, few people have cultivated their contacts into the networks that they need to succeed. To help you, your contacts must trust you and know of your abilities, success stories and your challenges. Furthermore, you must know theirs. You have to realize that your network is an investment of your time and of yourself. It is really about getting to know people.

Among the other topics in the book, Baber and Waymon discuss the characteristics of the ideal network, conversation do’s and don’ts, stages of relationships, and the types of contacts.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.