Dr Kieren Bong shares his tips on effective professional networking
Networking is an important part of career advancement, and for some it may be the quickest path to success – particularly as a healthcare professional in the private sector. Knowing how to network successfully can be crucial if you wish to move up your particular ladder. When thinking of progressing to a role with more responsibility, networking with the ‘right’ people can make the world of difference.
This also applies if the goal is to move between the NHS and private sector. Whatever your actual career goals, networking can be seen as being one of the most important things that you can ever do for your career.1
It isn’t just about switching roles either, or landing a new job. Successful networking, with a view to advancing one’s career, can lead to invaluable resources, information and ‘insider’ knowledge that can in turn lead to taking that next step up. When it comes to moving up the ladder in your career, your employer will want that transition to be as smooth as possible – seamless, even. Networking with like-minded professionals can help you get there.
When networking, it is also important to note that the people you should be meeting don’t always have to be those in the same profession as you. If you are a nurse who just started venturing into aesthetic medicine, for example, meeting other more experienced and professionally advanced nurses can help – but don’t limit yourself.
In regards to business development, you need to be thinking in terms of complementary professions. A cosmetic doctor, for instance, may wish to network with plastic surgeons and vice-versa, as each can refer patients to the other. The same can be said of pharmaceutical representatives, staffing agencies and professionals such as marketers, web developers and graphic designers. Any professional that can help you, your career and/or your business grow are professionals that you should be seeking out to network with – especially if the relationship would be mutually beneficial.
While all of that is true, how do you go about networking successfully? There are two approaches to this: digital and ‘real world’.
Networking connections in the healthcare industry are often found by attending conferences, or by joining professional associations. Turning up to conferences, business cards at hand, is a good start but it won’t get you where you need to be – you also have to actually network, but how to do it properly and effectively?
Be easily identifiable. By leaving your lanyard or name tag/badge on, you make yourself more visible to other attendees even when away from the conference venue itself. If you nip across the street, or even a little further into town, for a bite to eat, chances are that other attendees will have had the same idea. This is a great way to strike up conversation with other professionals, away from the conference itself, and make a new contact. Even at the venue, being identifiable can present opportunities – imagine giving an elevator pitch, in an actual elevator?!
Get to key speakers, before they speak. This is a tactic that may require a little finesse, but can pay dividends. If one of the featured speakers may be a valuable contact, why wait until after they have spoken? Chances are, they will be very popular after their presentation and you will end up waiting in a queue. What are the odds of them remembering you as anything other than another attendee? Pretty slim.
Single out who you want to connect with and get to them before they get on stage. Take this opportunity to wish them luck, and, ensuring you have researched them prior to the conference, compliment them on something they have achieved. After they have spoken, and you see them again later in the day, congratulate them on their presentation or talk and continue the conversation.
If there was something that you found particularly pertinent then bring that up and provide your own insight. This serves three purposes: one, it shows that you were listening. Two, it shows that it resonated with you enough to motivate you to expand on it with your own input, and three – it massages the ego, just a little bit, and who doesn’t respond to that?
Be sociable. The vast majority of conferences are held in venues where there is a nearby bar or café, usually just a few rooms away. By basing yourself in this area for a portion of the day, you open up a lot of opportunities for meeting attendees as they head for refreshments. If you are in a bar, stick to soft drinks, of course, especially if it is early in the day – the last thing you want to do is create the wrong impression. Sitting at the bar or in a café may seem like the lazy approach, but you just might be surprised. This can be particularly helpful if there is a TV nearby that you are ‘watching’. If there is a topical show on, news item, sporting event etc., that is usually enough to get a conversation started without being obvious.
As a quick example, I happened to be waiting for lunch at a bar restaurant across the road from Grimaldi Forum in Monte-Carlo, where the AMWC congress is held annually. I got talking to a representative of a South Korean company that manufactures laser machines. We were talking about something that had happened outside the bar earlier in the day but the conversation inevitably turned to ‘so, what do you do?’.
Even though this wasn’t a ‘networking event’, the end result was the same. Always try to be open to opportunities and learn to say ‘yes’; as Richard Branson once said, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”2
What do you have to offer? When attending conferences, the key thing to remember is that it is a two-way street. Don’t think just in terms of what others can do for you, but think also about what you can do for them. Have a very clear understanding of what you do in your field, why you chose that profession and what makes you special or different from anyone else. If you are in a position to offer something, be able to articulate it without being too ‘on the nose’. Subtlety is key here; you want to be a provider not a seller. The very best salesmen will provide the result, not sell the product that gets the person there. People don’t necessarily care about the ‘how’ – they are buying the effect. How many people care about how an aspirin works? Not many. They just want to know it works. Be a provider, not a seller.
Follow ups. Finally, follow up on referrals that you are given and do so quickly – the longer you leave doing something, the more likely you are to not do it. Also, it is always better to act when your name is still fresh in people’s minds.
Emails are very much the preferred way of doing this, for a few reasons:
If you have been given a referral’s personal email address by a third party (this happens quite a lot), go out of your way to find the person’s professional email address and use that instead; these small courtesies can go a long way to creating a great first impression with your new contact.
In the event that you get a reply, you can suggest meeting for an informal chat over lunch or coffee to expand on what you can offer one another. If contact details have been shared, it’s safe to assume that there is an interest there.
Additionally, if you come across something your new contact may find interesting (or even go out of your way to ‘come across something’) share a link with a brief description, explaining why you thought they might find it interesting. The only rule here, really, is to keep it relevant and as potentially useful as you can; perhaps it’s a news article relating to a treatment both of you offer, or perhaps it’s another networking event?
Digital networking is a completely different process to the real world experience, but the potential rewards far outstrip those offered by more ‘traditional’ networking methods. That being said, the digital networking route can be a little trickier to navigate and get right – especially when there are so many outlets (social media for example) to choose from.
Many people, for instance have turned to LinkedIN to build a professional network but that may not be the best approach these days as outlined in an article on TechCrunch, which suggests that there is more than one problem with the services. Apart from the fact that LinkedIN share value dropped by more than half in just one month,2 its value as a business resource appears to be diminishing, which may mean businesses find fewer reasons to be ‘active’ there. As a result, regular LinkedIN users may ultimately find little reason to be there, or, at least, in the spirit in which the site was launched.
In my opinion there are far more effective channels out there, and professionals are likely already using them, albeit perhaps for personal rather than professional reasons.
Facebook, despite its recent run of bad press, with regards to political bias, social experiments, restricting user post reach, and deliberately restricting business post reach to ‘encourage’ paid posts,3,4 it is still an excellent networking tool, as is Google Plus. Google’s offering deserves an article all of its own to properly explain the massive networking opportunities that are available, however I have outlined a few basic points below.
There have been claims that Google Plus is a ‘ghost town’, with little or no active users.5,6 The ironic thing about these statements is that these people are not active on the site themselves, with no posts, no followers and no profile details beyond their own names. In short, it’s akin to reviewing a car when all you have is a photograph of it.
Google Plus is a community builder, literally. Where Facebook connects you to people you already know, Plus encourages networking with like-minded people that you haven’t discovered yet – the very essence of professional networking.
Google Plus Communities allow people with shared interests to find each other and share ideas, talk and generally get to know and learn from one another. When it comes to genuine link building and networking, in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Google Plus.
Ultimately, whichever channel or service that you decide to make use of, the basics for successful digital networking are pretty much universal.
Flesh out your profile. Whatever social channel you use, there is going to be a profile. Make sure that you fill out all of the relevant areas properly, and treat it as a part of your CV. Do you want other professionals to know that your proudest moment was chugging five pints of lager in a row, or that you have published journal articles?
Get a high quality headshot. Your profile picture is often the first thing people will notice, so a blurry photo of you at a birthday party just isn’t going to scream ‘connect with me’. A high quality headshot speaks volumes as to the potential professionalism of the person behind it.
Join relevant communities and groups. Channels such as Facebook and Google Plus have specialist groups and communities. Joining the groups most relevant to you and your career ambitions is one of the fastest ways to create new contacts in that field.
The biggest mistake many people make when joining communities is to post and run. That is to say, they simply share an article or something about themselves and then walk away. This is not how you build a relationship in the real world, and it will not float online either.
Interaction is crucial to successful networking, and the digital frontier is no different. Comment on other people’s posts, and reply to comments that others leave on yours. When sharing external content, preface it with your own introduction – don’t just post a link without saying anything. People are much more likely to take an interest in what you post, if they see that you are interested beyond simply sharing for the sake of it. The idea is to generate conversation, and the best way to do this is by providing your own insight.
Expanding on the above point, generating your own content is also a great idea and shows others just how knowledgeable you are in your field and how valuable your opinion really is. You should do this on your public posts also, not just within groups and communities, so that people outside of your groups can find you too – this casts your net much further afield.
Social networks are an excellent place to meet new contacts and grow your network, just remember to keep it professional and be consistent with it. You can still have fun with social channels, just be aware of who may be able to see your posts.
Networking should be fun, and if it ever feels like more of a chore than a joy then there is a good chance you are approaching it wrong and that in itself can damage your chances of making meaningful connections.
Go into the whole thing with a positive attitude, a bit of a spring in your step and confidence in your abilities. Whatever your area of expertise, follow the above advice and you will be networking like a pro in no time at all.
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