Networking: a necessary evil?

Frédéric* is feeling down in the dumps: “I’ve always been good at my job and my supervisors acknowledge my excellent results. But I feel I’m being passed over in favour of colleagues who are less competent than me, but know who to approach to further their careers. Do we really have to "network" in order to get ahead? Shouldn’t my professional skills be enough?"

Of course, CERN’s success is based on technical and scientific excellence. But, like everywhere else, the human element also plays an important role. 

When you arrive in a new work environment, your network will expand little by little, first within your own field and then, over time, more widely. Some people find building social ties natural and easy. For others, approaching colleagues is very difficult. It’s worth pointing out, though, that while extraverts certainly have a lot of contacts, they have more trouble maintaining and strengthening them.

Building relationships with people is more about attitude than strategy: it takes time and can’t be forced. Don’t expect immediate results, and don’t try to be clever about it. It’s not about playing tennis with your boss or going for drinks on a Friday evening with a particular strategy in mind. 

Instead, get involved in activities out of personal interest or with the aim of making yourself useful. For example, take part in projects or working groups on a subject close to your heart, get involved in social activities, or attend events or lectures. This will bring you into contact with colleagues outside your main field of work. Be yourself and be guided by what interests you personally. You’ll find that chance encounters are often the best.

Your professional skills are still your strongest asset when it comes to furthering your career. Nonetheless, if you’re not interested in other people, they won’t be interested in you. But don’t panic: unlikely as it may seem, it’s a skill you can learn. 

*Names have been changed

Pierre Gildemyn

If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.

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