As an engineer, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions why do I network? To me the answer is obvious. I found through the course of my career engineers either get networking or they don’t. A middle ground doesn’t seem to exist.
I thought I would take a minute to truly answer this question. First, I’m an extrovert. I recharge my spirit by connecting with other people. I enjoy getting to know others and learning about their lives. Second, as I learn about people I see opportunities to serve them. Engineers like to solve to problems. As a person describes a dilemma they are working to solve, I may know of someone with a solution. I know this potential problem solver through networking. I have the privilege of serving both people by introducing them. I get nothing out of the exchange except the joy of knowing I helped two people.
My third reason for networking is mentoring. I’m in the middle of my career. I still need and want mentoring as I figure out what the next steps on my career will be. Sheryl Sandberg said it well in her book, Lean In. Careers resemble more of a jungle gym than a ladder. You go up, down, sideways, and back again. This has certainly been true for my career. I also have the opportunity to mentor engineers’ junior to me in their careers. I’ve had some good luck and some hard lessons learned. Sharing these lessons with others and helping them avoid pitfalls I’ve fallen into is rewarding. I love seeing others succeed and even be more successful than me. This means I have done my job well!
Let’s be clear. Networking isn’t going to an event exchanging business cards and waiting for someone to call you. It is making genuine connections and developing relationships. These connections may start at a networking event, at the grocery store, or at your kid’s ball game. Networking happens all day long as long as you look up from your shoes and say hello to the person next you.
How do you become better at networking? The easy answer is just do it! It truly is as simple as saying hello to the person next to you on the elevator. It takes practice as does all things in life worth doing. I have yet to have anyone be offended with hello. Don’t be afraid! Some people will just smile and nod, others will pretend not hear, some will say hello back, and a few will strike up a conversation. None of these response are painful. Your action step – start saying hello to the people around you. If you get a positive response, ask a question such as who are you here to see, what brings you to this city, how is your son/daughter at this sport, etc. Just chose a question appropriate to your location such as the office, in a hotel, or a sports game.
Now GO NETWORK!