Networking is NOT Collecting Business Cards
Networking is critical to your success as an engineer, because a strong network in your industry and in your community will do two things for you:
1 – It will yield opportunities and/or allow you to create your own.
2 – It will help you to have a more enjoyable career because of the positive relationships you have built.
Before I give you a few tips on how to network, or as I like to say, build relationships effectively, let me start by explaining what networking is NOT.
Networking is not going to a social event, working the room, or collecting business cards. While these may be some of the first steps to building relationships, many engineers think that if they go to enough events and collect enough business cards, they will fulfill their networking quota for the year. They look at the stack of business cards on their desk and they feel a sense of accomplishment that they have done their share of networking.
Meeting someone at an event and getting their business card is step one in the networking process, but it’s what ensues after that initial step that’s where you really start to build a relationship. Now, I don’t want to downplay the importance of this first step of putting yourself out there by attending an event, because that is a big step in itself that many engineers fear; however, I want to make it clear that this step in itself is only the beginning of the networking process.
That being said, here are some tips for effectively building strong relationships in your career that will bring you both joy and opportunities:
Get to know people on a personal level. Beyond just asking someone what they do for a living or what kind of engineering they practice, ask them more personal questions, like where they are from, what they enjoy doing outside of engineering, and what made them decide to become an engineer. These questions will allow you to really connect with the other person and foster a stronger relationship.
Follow up with people after your initial meeting. If you do attend an event and collect 10 business cards, you most likely will not have time to follow up with each person individually; however, you should decide which of the 10 people you want to get to know further and then follow up with them. A phone call is a good start, and depending on how the call progresses, a lunch or breakfast meeting might be the next step. The point is, in order to build strong relationships, you will have to put in the time to really get to know people.
Be a resource to people. When building relationships with people, it’s important to remember that the goal of a building a relationship is not to get as much out of it as you can. It is also important to give to others. Share your knowledge with them and help them wherever you can. When I was a design engineer, there was an architect that we did a lot of work with. He specialized in green design of schools. Whenever I happened to find an article online related to this topic, I would email him and refer him to the article, telling him that I thought he might find it interesting. I wasn’t emailing him and asking him for business, I was being a resource first; however, nine out of 10 times when he needed an engineer, he would call our firm.