How do I Prepare for a Networking Conversation and What Do I Say When I Get There?

May 7, 2012

There are several job searching strategies, but  few as valuable as building strong networking contacts. That means meeting as many people as you can who are willing and able to provide job leads, resources, and other contacts.  When you do get a contact, you’ll want to make the most of the opportunity.

That means treating every networking conversation as if it were a job interview – being prepared with information and smart questions to ask.

There are three main areas you need to research:

  • The industry (trends, main competitors) using sources such as Standard & Poor’s, and Hoover’s.
  • The company (strategy, structure and performance) using sources such as annual reports, analysts’ reports, news releases, etc.
  • The person (background, experience, interests) using the ACS Network, Facebook and LinkedIn to learn more — how long they have been at the company, job title, career moves, etc.

Based on your “due diligence,” you can plan good quality questions. If your conversation goes well, you will have valuable information, new insights, and new leads.  Achieving these results means you need to prepare more specific questions to draw out the kind of information you need.

There are four kinds of questions you can ask during the networking conversation:

1.  Questions about the company:

How does this company differ from its competitors? Why do customers choose this company?

How would you describe this company’s culture?

How has the economy affected the company?

Why did you decide to work for this company? What do you like and not like about working here?

2.  Questions about the job:

What does your typical day look like? What kinds of problems do you deal with?

What are your main responsibilities? What kinds of decisions do you make?

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?

3.  Questions about the person:

How did you prepare for this work? If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation?

What abilities and qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/job?

How does a person progress in this field? What is a typical career path in this field/ organization?

4.    Questions about your own fit for the job:

What are some typical entry-level job titles and functions?

What kind of advice do you have for someone pursuing a job in this area?

With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what would you say are my strongest assets for a job in this area?

What other fields or jobs would you suggest I research?

A well prepared conversation will provide invaluable information, relationships, and connections that will last throughout your career.  For additional resources to help you with your career planning, check the ACS Careers website ( and attend the ACS Onsite and Virtual Career Fairs ( offering opportunities to build your network.

Get Involved in the Discussion!

The Career Tips column will be published the first week of every month in C&EN.  The articles will be posted on the ACS Network and the ACS Careers website, where you’re encouraged to get involved in the discussion.  Tell us what you think, share your experiences, let us know topics you want us addressed.

5 Steps to Successful Networking

April 2, 2012

Welcome to the first ACS Career Tips column.  Each month, this column will provide advice and answers to career-related questions on a variety of topics, from job search to career development and transitions.

If you’re looking for your next job, there’s nothing more important than building your professional network. According to career experts, the best hires come from referrals or word of mouth. Employers rely on employees and trusted colleagues to recommend good candidates. This is why networking is one of the most effective ways of finding a job.

The good news is that you already have a strong foundation of colleagues, classmates, and friends, and social media makes it easy to create professional relationships outside your immediate circle.

Here are 5 practical steps you can take now to develop a valuable professional network:

  1. Reconnect.  Ever wonder where past classmates have landed? Or that favorite boss from your last job? It is likely that these connections can provide insight and access to ideas and opportunities. Between the ACS Network (, LinkedIn and Facebook it is easy to locate them and reconnect. When reconnecting, take the time to catch up and rebuild the relationship, whether you get together online or over a cup of coffee.
  2. Connect.  Add a personal element to your professional relationships. When people have a personal connection, they are more willing to share and lend a hand. Get to know the people you interact with professionally. Ask about their family or their plans for the weekend. Getting to know more about them will strengthen your network and improve your working relationships.
  3. Grow.  Your network can grow exponentially as you build relationships through social media or events such as ACS local section and national meetings. Set a goal to meet two or three new people at an event or every month online. Ask about what they do and what they are interested in, and try to find connections.  Trade contact information with those you’d like to get to know better, then make sure to follow up. 
  4. Respond.  It’s easy to get inundated with e-mail and invitations to connect online, but if you want to build a strong network, it’s important to keep communications flowing. Don’t ignore requests for help from others, and respond to those seeking advice. If you can’t help, refer them to those who can.
  5. Give.  Relationships are built on reciprocity. Provide information to others. To do so, remember what’s important to them. Refer back to your notes–where you met, interests, discussion topics, etc.  Share articles or papers you think would be of interest or reference a sport or hobby they follow. Keeping connected with your contacts builds valuable, lasting relationships.


Networking is one of the most successful ways to find a new job, and you never know when you might need to make a job change.

Get Involved in the Discussion

The Career Tips column will be posted on the ACS Network and the ACS Careers website (, where you’re encouraged to get involved in the discussion.  Tell us what you think about the articles and share your experiences.  Also, let us know what you’d like us to address in future columns to help you and your colleagues reach your career goals.–Brought to you by ACS Careers (

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.

Hydrogen Bonding and Holiday Bonding

December 8, 2008

In her November 24 blog entry, Liane Gould (Manager, Career Services, ACS) highlights the value of networking and recommends a documentary on network science.  I second her recommendation; “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer”  [ can now be found at: ]

is a fascinating documentary.  And I highly endorse the concept of networking as central to career development.


However, I can also feel my body tensing up whenever I say or write the word, “networking.” 


If that word—“networking”—pushes you out of your comfort zone, I can relate.  I’m a bit of an introvert, and I’d rather talk in depth to two or three people at a party than chat superficially with everyone in the room.   To put it in terms that a chemist can understand, I believe in a few strong bonds rather than a lot of weak ones.  I’m a “covalent” type of guy.


But I’m also a protein chemist, and my graduate research involved using NMR to investigate protein structure and understand structural fluctuations in solution. I learned that weak bonds and interactions, especially hydrogen bonds, are absolutely essential to the structure and function of enzymes. (Remember that biochem lecture about primary, secondary, and tertiary structure?) 


So what does this mini-lesson in protein chemistry have to do with your career?   


OK, close your eyes.  Then just envision your career as a complex molecule.  You’re going to need plenty of hydrogen bonds, along with those covalent bonds, to stabilize the structure of your career.  Your secondary and tertiary interactions with those around you—in your research group, department, organization, ACS local section, extended family, neighborhood, or social-networking internet community—can help you shape your career. 


And December is the perfect month to put this hydrogen-bond strategy to work. 

With office holiday parties, departmental outings, local section socials, and family gatherings, you’re going to find yourself floating in a sea of potential interactions.  You don’t have to bond covalently with everyone you meet.  Like a protein molecule, be flexible.  Stay open to brief interactions.  Connect with others, even if for just a few minutes.  Exchange some energy and information (i.e., a smile and a business card).


One of the best writing assignments I ever received developed out of a brief, hydrogen-bond-like interaction at a social gathering at an ACS National Meeting.  While grabbing some crackers and cheese at the reception, I introduced myself to a chemist I had never met before.  It turned out that the science writer at this person’s organization had recently retired, and the organization was looking for a new science writer.   Over the next few months, we exchanged business cards, then e-mails, then resumes, and finally writing samples and references.  Soon, I was flying to their headquarters for interviews and, eventually, a fascinating writing assignment.


Networking works

In the coming weeks, as you mix with colleagues, friends, and neighbors in those holiday gatherings, put your hydrogen-bonding skills to work.  (For more examples of how chemists network, see “Networking: How Chemists Form New Bonds,” published originally in Chemistry, Autumn, 2003.) [ ]


Oh, and here’s one little warning you might want to keep in mind at those office parties.  Carefully monitor your ethanol consumption.  As a protein chemist, I learned that increasing the ethanol concentration of an aqueous solution will destabilize the protein structure. It can even lead to denaturation.  If you’re going to be drinking alcohol at office holiday parties, titrate carefully.

Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science Fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (, in 1992.

Six Degree of Separation and Social Networking

November 24, 2008

“Six degrees of separation” suggests that everyone on Earth can be connected to everyone else in no more than six steps.  In that vein, the Australian documentary “How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer” traces the development of network science.  There are many implications that can be applied to this theory.  The internet, power grids, transportation networks, disease and the human cell all follow the same principles and design as our own networks of people.


This documentary is a powerful 60 minutes that should be experienced.  I suggest you take the time to watch the documentary as it make a compelling case that small worlds exist and the world is smaller than we think.  Everyone can reach anyone with just a few steps.  I suggest you take the time to watch the documentary and think about how this can relate to your employment situation. 


Networking is instrumental when conducting a job search.  It’s thru the networking process that you will have the most success in securing employment.  As a job seeker, you will want to find that job, that is not advertised or what is called the “hidden job market”.  About 75% percent of available jobs can be found in the hidden job market.  Employers are most likely to hire thru referrals or someone they know.    


You can increase the effectiveness of your job search just by reaching out to the people you know and asking for references.  Everyone knows at least 200 people with one degree of separation would allow you to reach 12,000 people and so on.  Networking sites such as LinkedIn and Face book are examples of networking thru association. 


A good way to start your job search is by making a list of everyone you know and let them know you are out searching for work.  You never know who those people will know.  By reaching out, people will instinctually want to assist and will make the effort. 


Studying networks will help you to understand that events are not isolated but the human race really does depend on each other.  We live in a society that is interrelated on many levels and yet we only notice when something goes wrong.  If you can understand this then you can understand network science is the foundation to the 21st century and our survival. 


The bottom line is to get out there, talk to your friends and relatives, and attend networking groups and association events.  Let everyone you know that you are looking for a job and ask for assistance.  Your goal should be to make at least one connection during the event that could be your ticket to a new job.  Remember, all you need is one job. 

This article was written by Liane H. Gould, Manager of Career Services of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

Technical Poster: Graphic Marketing Tool

February 25, 2008

Applying basic marketing concepts to your next poster presentation could make a difference between time well spent and a lost opportunity.

You know the drill. You work hard to represent your research with a series of text-laden PowerPoint slides, print them up, put them on a poster board, and then watch everyone walk past as they search for the shortest beer line, or their best bud from grad school. It is not a very fulfilling experience. What if this time you shook things up a bit? What if you tried something new?

At the many ACS technical meetings this year, there will be thousands of posters presented. Most will gain only a cursory glance, others may not warrant notice at all. In marketing, posters are used very successfully as graphical tools to convey concepts quickly and effectively. Applying basic marketing concepts to your next presentation could result in significantly higher retention rates for you and your poster.

Consider your poster as a marketing tool. Look around at posters that you have seen on your commute into work: movie posters promoting the latest flick, or billboards lining the highway. Think also of the illustrations in textbooks. The successful ones will feature one or two main points with a dynamic graphic and minimal text.

In marketing, text and graphics are two very different tools that convey different types of information. Graphical campaigns are designed to convey a single thought quickly—in a glance. Heavy text is seen as the kiss of death. People just won’t take the time to read voluminous text as they wander down an aisle.

As you design your next poster, think of the one concept that you want to convey more than any thing else. Visualize it and determine the best way to illustrate it without any words at all. The graphic could consist of two molecules docking, a transformational isomerization, a key analyte, or an exploded view of an instrument. Think beyond stick figures to 3-D representations, and use color for dramatic effect. The graphic should also imply motion where possible.

Utilizing these simple concepts you can make your poster much more attractive to passersby. The changes might even result in a conversation that you can use to make a connection for collaboration or networking. Whether you are looking for a job or a grant, you need for others to notice you and your work.

Secondary concepts can be illustrated through smaller panels surrounding the main graphic. For each panel, the relationship to the main graphic should be readily apparent, text should be minimal, and the secondary graphics should add to the primary graphic’s impact. In most cases, the primary graphic should dominate with smaller panels for secondary concepts.

Since people are most likely to search for your poster online, be sure to use keywords in your title and abstract that are common to your field. Consider names for classes of compounds or processes rather than more specific terms.

Lastly, be cognizant of your body language when you are standing in front of your poster. Avoid crossing your arms or legs. Try smiling—even if you don’t want to. You will be seen as more approachable.

If these tactics seem cheesy or trite, reconsider why you chose to present your work in the first place. If you want people to notice your work, and recognize its relevance, then you must first get their attention. In the end, you will have to be more attractive than beer or an old friend if you want others to say, “What’s this all about? I’d like to know more about your work.”

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.