Never Stop Networking


They say public speaking is the number one fear of many, but networking may not be so far behind on the list. From being reluctant to bother people to just not wanting to speak up, many workers avoid it like the plague. The problem is this can plague your career, says Alan Frank, senior manager for product approval, Whirlpool.

"Networking has made a difference in my career," he says. "You can't afford not to do it." Frank sees the first value is that it allows you to bounce ideas off leaders in the industry. "You have to remember that engineering is a small community, a special niche, so building relationships can really pay off," he says. "But just to be able to ask someone, 'Have you ever run into this problem,' is helpful. They may know the answer or will ask around to find it out for you."

Frank also sees networking at conferences as critical since they are set up as an atmosphere to talk about trends. "I can remember it being a chance to find about solutions, to find out about new software and hardware, all the things are becoming cutting edge in your industry," he says.

You can even flip it around and be the source yourself. Even if it's early in your career, high school students interested in engineering will see you as a leader that they can learn from. But the opportunity here is still yours beyond giving back. When you consider that they may only be a few years behind you, they may even be a colleague or someone who's ascended higher than you down the road. If you were a mentor, they may help you when they're in a position of authority.

Networking is also critical because you may not be at the same job forever, Frank reminds. "My dad worked at GM for 33 years but that's not as common anymore," he says. "You need to have options open and be able to quickly find other job opportunities if needed, whether full-time or contract. People want to help if they can so the more people you know the better."

Social media is a more recent version of networking and Frank see LinkedIn as a standout. "It's something that can allow for an easy search for people's backgrounds in your industry," Franks says, "and is a great place to pose questions or see if someone might have a little time to mentor."

Maybe the greatest enemy of networking is shyness but Frank reminds again that you should understand that people want to help. "It's all in the way you introduce yourself," he says. "If you ask for just five minutes of their time when they have a chance, many times people will respond." Until you get comfortable, consider starting off with alumni from your university or someone you know through a friend because it may give you more confidence through already having a connection. "It can be hard at first but it's a necessary part of succeeding in our industry," Frank says.

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

You have to remember that engineering is a small community, a special niche, so building relationships can really pay off.

Alan Frank, senior manager for product approval, Whirlpool


January 2013

by Eric Butterman,