Professional networking can be a challenge. Here, a pharmacist discusses tactics she has used to be a successful professional networker. These may be just what you need for your next conference, mixer or other professional gathering.
Authored By: Erin McCreary, Pharm.D., BCPS
Whether you consider networking a dirty word or an exhilarating activity, it is an essential aspect of any professional’s world. Networking goes far beyond job offers and business propositions; it is an act that provides one with the opportunity to gain knowledge, mentorship, and friendship. Accordingly, it is an avenue for you to share your thoughts and even provide guidance to others, intentionally or unintentionally. Every encounter is a chance to foster creativity, develop collaborations, and build new relationships. I bet in your lifetime you have had a tremendous impact on someone without knowing it, just like there is someone out there who has had quite an impact on you.
The beauty of networking is that it can happen ANYWHERE! It does not just happen in a room full of people in suits. In fact… most people prefer to NOT meet people this way. In October, I was at the American College of Clinical Pharmacy Annual Meeting in Florida. In between sessions, many people journeyed down to the pool area to mix and mingle because, #sunshine. There were countless pharmacists in business professional milling around, but what caught my attention was a nice man sitting in the corner, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and a hat from my alma mater. I excitedly shared our institution’s battle cry with him (War Eagle!), and after quick pleasantries discovered he was quite an influential figure in the healthcare world. As soon as he said who he was, I was immediately backtracking in my head and freaking out over being so informal. But then I realized…wait…I think this is okay. This conversation is going well. I will definitely remember this man, and he will remember me. Boom. Networking. See, that wasn’t so bad!
With the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting (MCM) coming up and nearly 24,000 of your closest pharmacist friends gathering in Las Vegas, the concept of networking is on everyone’s mind. Incorporating these five little things into your conversations will make a world of difference, no matter if they are chance encounters at the fancy Taco Bell (yes this is a real thing) or planned interviews in the PPS booth.
I cannot emphasize the power of positivity enough, or the amazing impact a smile has on the world.
Think about it… are you more likely to engage in conversation with a happy person or mad person? If you are excited about something, you will naturally gravitate to people that are seemingly as excited. Smiling makes you approachable, shows you are ready to engage, and creates an atmosphere in which people are more inclined to trust you.
Sour looks and stiff body language have previously been described as detrimental, so try to maintain an open and positive presence as much as possible. Isn’t there science behind smiling that says happy people are healthier? Pharmacists love science, so don’t fight the force. Put a smile on your face. It makes the world a better place. It’s science!
2. Showing genuine interest
Just as your body language should be open, so should your conversation.
The best way to open conversation is by asking open-ended questions. One of my favorite things to ask new people I meet is, “What is your favorite thing about what you do?” I ask this because I absolutely love to learn, and I think people are the coolest. I am amazed at how many talented and passionate pharmacists there are and the depth and breadth of practice and research out there. What I’ve learned from this question is that people really appreciate it when you take a true interest in them.
People matter more than any other resource we have, and let me emphasize again, people are so cool. Asking open-ended questions not only keeps the conversation going but also allows you to explore deeper and show people you really care about them and what they are doing. You will quickly find common ground and perhaps even share creative ideas or passions.
The other most effective way to take a genuine interest in others is simply to listen. Don’t ask a question and then ignore the answer. We have all had those conversations where people are clearly distracted, lost in thought, on their phones, looking around, or something else to show they are either nervous or uninterested. Those are the worst. Listen intently, don’t interrupt others, put your phone away, and be authentic and sincere in your responses. Conversation is a time to let your personality shine and to let others share their passions as well.
3. Remembering people’s names
Do not be like the Starbucks barista that writes “Kelsey” on my cup after I say my name is Erin (yes, this happened).
One of the most important skills of effective networking is following up with people after you meet them, and to do that, you need to remember their names. I am horrible at this from both sides of the fence: I always forget to wear my nametag, and whereas I am excellent with faces I tend to be poor with names. Here are some tips to overcome this barrier:
- Always wear your nametag!! (Bonus tip: Wear it on your right side. When you shake hands, you extend and naturally progress the right side of your body. The opposite person naturally glances to your right shoulder.)
- Exchange business cards, and write down something memorable about the other person on the back of his or her card as soon as you have a chance. I bonded over fashion once. I met a stellar PGY1 at a conference when I was a pharmacy student. She had on this amazing red blazer. I wrote “red blazer” on her card, and when I followed up after the meeting amongst a stack of cards, I distinctly remembered her name and face. At the same conference the following year, we ran into each other and she stated, “I remember you! You wore those pretty shoes.” We are great friends and colleagues to this day, and she has served as an important mentor to me in professional organizations, residency training, and career development.
- Leverage social media. Add people on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter. A word of caution about Facebook friending: Facebook tends to be a more personal than business platform. Social media is an instantaneous and sustained connection, and allows you to share professional information consistently throughout the year.
- Try associating the person’s name with a celebrity name to help it stick.
4. Asking questions
We talked about the importance of open-ended questions in #2 to facilitate showing genuine interest. Here, I want to emphasize the importance of asking questions in order to ask people what you can do for them. Think about what you have to offer and what you can give to others.
The more you inquire, the more you can become a resource for others and build lasting and meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. These relationships can be personal, professional, or both! With shared interests and an offer to support, networking is not only easy, but also enjoyable.
- What are you excited about right now?
- What are you working on? What roadblocks have you hit?
- Can I help you with anything?
- Do you want to collaborate?
- Do you have students/residents/peers that want to meet anyone at my institution?
- How can I volunteer?
- How can I learn more?
5. Having a purpose
Networking will always be this nebulous, daunting task if you do not have goals and a defined purpose. Just “being” does not work when networking – you have to be effective.
There is no point in wandering a crowded room trying to insert yourself in random conversations or waiting for people to talk to you by chance. There is also no reward for the person that hands out the most business cards. Remember, quality over quantity.
When attending a national meeting, a school function, a social mixer, or any other possible networking forum, have a goal before walking into the event. This will make you more intentional, less stressed, and significantly increase your chances of success with networking. These goals do not have to be lofty and can include:
- I will meet one new person from my state.
- I will have my program director introduce me to two of his or her colleagues who practice in my areas of interest.
- I will introduce one of my friends to someone I already know.
- I will tweet at least 5 times and follow 10 new people on Twitter.
- I will talk to one person from the institution I want to work at in the future.
- I will share my ideas on research and find one person who wants to join me on a project.
- I will learn one new thing today.
Networking is an opportunity to learn, grow, and most importantly, share your passions with others. Go forth and conquer… and make sure you are smiling!