Have you started building a professional network? No matter where you are in your health care career, it’s not too early to do so! Now is the time to start connecting with people inside and outside your field.
With today’s technology and social media, there are many ways to develop and grow a network, and they don’t all work the same. From the traditional networking events to using LinkedIn, health care students and young professionals have a variety of ways to begin growing their network.
Many health care professionals use their network to shape their career path. Often, available positions are shared through networks. References, qualifications and openings for trainings are also shared in this manner.
There are some professionals who chose not to utilize the professional networking opportunities available, often citing the high cost of professional association memberships, the lack of instant results, and the investment of time. But when the potential for growth is so strong, it’s hard to completely negate the value of a good network.
Why build a network?
Network professionals will give you a million reasons they suggest making this a solid part of your professional plan, but it comes down to just two things:
- People do business with people they know – When you need someone to cut your grass, do you Google landscapers or do you ask your friends who they use? This may be a simple way of networking, but word of mouth is very alive in today’s very social world. When a new opportunity in your health care field opens up, you want to be the first to know about it and apply for it, and your network can help.
- Professional development comes from networks – Learning never ends, especially in the health care industry. Professional networking groups and associations that utilize online forums are a great place to stay up to date on the news and rule changes that affect your position.
There are several other ways your network can help you, and you can help others in your field. From sharing job leads to learning best practices, the community that is a professional network is all about giving, and not about taking.
Ready to get started?
There are two ways to network: online and in person. While today’s health care students are already networking online using social media, they cannot replace face-to-face contact so easily. A good networking strategy includes both techniques.
As the leading online networking platform, there are many reasons all professionals should have an up-to-date and complete profile. There are many benefits to LinkedIn, ranging from sharing your professional accomplishments to joining groups with those in the same field to searching for jobs. Health care professionals in particular can benefit from LinkedIn in several ways:
- Showing your professionalism – LinkedIn is not Facebook and should not be treated as such. Keep the two separate! Use LinkedIn to connect with potential employers and co-workers. Focus on work at work and Facebook at home.
- Expand upon your resume – Traditional resumes max out at two pages. While CVs are much longer, they are formatted so precisely that it’s often hard to get the point across. Your profile on LinkedIn allows you to combine the two into a compelling story of your work, your education history and your goals and volunteer work.
- Publish knowledge – When you write a paper or journal article in your specialized field, you can share it with your LinkedIn network, allowing others to benefit. Of course you also get to benefit from their knowledge as they share the same type of content.
- Learn new things – As the people in your network share updates and industry news, you are able to keep up with the new things. Similar to your Facebook News Feed, LinkedIn brings the “latest and greatest” from the professional world together in one place.
There is simply no substitution for meeting someone in person, shaking hands and sharing a conversation. No amount of activity on LinkedIn can replace making eye contact with another professional. Networking events are crucial, but they don’t have to be time consuming or expensive.
These events happen at a variety of times and locations. Some are over cocktails, others may be over lunch. The best ones are where people can walk around and aren’t stuck eating a meal and trying to talk. Conferences, trainings and even quarterly company meetings can be a place to network.
There are, of course, a few things you simply must do to make the most of your networking time at these events.
Preparation goes a long way
Advance preparation is something you’ve been practicing for a while. You study for tests, you researched your educational options and you probably check the weather before heading out for the day. Preparing for a networking event is similar. There are several things to consider.
Bring your business cards
Yes, even with smartphones and LinkedIn, business cards are still a must. They are expected and still exchanged at these events. Simple and classy is the way to go here. Students can make business cards too! Include your name, your school, what you’re studying and your projected graduate date with your contact information. When you are seeking a job, include your name and the type of position that you seek. The important thing is that the people you speak with have a way to remember you and contact you later.
Check the dress code
While you want people to remember you, you don’t want them to do that based on your clothes. Professional appearance is important at all times. If the networking event is business casual, you can leave the tie and jacket at home, but consider the venue, time of day and industry. If the event immediately follows the work day, most people are going to wear their work attire, even if it makes them seem overdressed. A good rule of thumb is to dress for the job you want.
Make a goal for the event
Not everyone who attends a networking event is looking for a job. Some are going to share information and others to learn. You may wish to attend a few events before you graduate so you know what to expect and are prepared when your job search begins. Go into each event with a goal, such as “I want to meet 5 new people,” or “I want to learn about X.” Make a plan to achieve your goal and watch how your network expands in the process.
Practice your elevator pitch
When you meet someone new, you need to introduce yourself! This is harder than it sounds. Professionals don’t want to know about your parents, your dog or your favorite baseball team. They want to know what you studied, what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed. Now, you can throw in your favorite sports team or a book you’ve recently read to make things more personal if you’d like. Practice this 30-second elevator pitch so you are confident with what you are saying.
Now you’re ready to network! As you keep growing your network, consider ways to expand your reach and invite new people into the fold. In a few years, new health care professionals will be looking to you for advice.