Every career development discussion inevitably emphasizes the importance of "networking"—widely recognized as necessary for career advancement. For many, networking can be daunting to initiate, difficult to measure, and time-consuming. However, networking can help advance your career by establishing connections with people locally, nationally, and internationally. Simply stated, networking is expanding the number and/or depth of one's professional or personal contacts, either face-to-face or virtually. Networking facilitates idea sharing and provides an opportunity to gain insight into recent advances and current trends. Perhaps more importantly, networking lays the groundwork for future interactions, including collaboration on research or job prospects. Here we describe five ways to achieve networking success to help maximize your time, effort, and outcomes.
1. Just Do It
One of the biggest challenges in networking is getting started. The reality is that everyone is networking every day—with colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. In fact, we are most influenced by those closest to us. To maximize the networking potential of close friends and acquaintances, do not be afraid to slip out of the "friend" realm and into "work" mode from time to time. For example, if attending a college or medical school reunion, spend most of the time catching up with old friends, but remember that old acquaintances now have careers and could be partners on future projects.
What about breaking the mold and meeting new people? Networking does not have to be a brief exchange of business cards between sessions at the ASCO Annual Meeting. Meeting in-person over a cup of coffee or talking over the phone can provide a more robust opportunity to connect personally. The bottom line is that most people enjoy meeting someone new, particularly from a similar field. Do not forget that meeting with you is also networking for them, too.
2. The Four T's to Make Interactions Meaningful
After making the leap into networking, think about these four "T's" to capitalize on your interactions any time you meet someone new:
- Timing. Often, there is not much time to speak in-depth at first meetings. A good approach is to propose to talk at a later date or follow-up with an email a few days later.
- Topic. Setting up a follow-up meeting does not require an in-depth issue for discussion, it could just be getting input on a complex patient case, discussing a potential research project, or even learning about a unique career path—any of which are great reasons to meet again. Be sure to have a few questions ready when you meet to guide your conversation, but even a brief sit-down is valuable.
- Tenacity. If you are trying to speak with a prominent person, expect that scheduling may be a challenge—you may have to send more than one email, you may need to figure out who manages his or her calendar, and there is a likelihood that your meeting will be rescheduled, maybe more than once. This is not personal!
- Thank you's. A great way to solidify a new relationship is to send a simple "thank you" email after meeting someone. It prompts your colleague to remember you, provides an opportunity to revisit key items, and allows you to propose an open-ended future collaboration.
3. Build a Village, Focus on a Few
There is no upper limit to the number of people with whom you can network, and you never know if a chance interaction will develop into a great mentor/collaborator relationship. That being said, setting up and attending meetings can take up immense time. One approach is to have a low threshold to meet with anyone once, but focus on establishing a smaller number of relationships that can endure over time. While positive interactions with thought leaders are often essential to maintain, fruitful interactions over common interests—even if the end-game is not clear—can be just as valuable.
Another time-saving way to network is to take advantage of networking opportunities online, such as ASCOconnection.org,the Society's professional networking site for the oncology community. The site features blogs by some of the top leaders in the field, and you can add your comments directly to their posts and get your name and interests out in front of the oncology community.
This "Build a Village, Focus on a Few" approach keeps the door open but prevents a never-ending stream of meetings that are unsustainable and that can become unproductive.
4. Signs of Life (Outside of Oncology)
You are allowed to have a life outside of work and should keep doing what you enjoy when you are not being a doctor. Continue to read online newspapers, your favorite magazines, and current fiction; keep up with box-office movies or new music releases; participate and watch your favorite sports; and if food is your love, have favorite recipes and restaurants at your fingertips. Discussing your interests outside of oncology provides an additional level of connection for any networking interactions and can make every conversation a little more interesting.
5. Maximize Opportunities at Every Meeting You Attend
You never know when your next networking opportunity will arise, but the most common place to network professionally is at an academic/professional meeting. But how do you maximize the multitude of potential interactions at these busy and sometimes overwhelming meetings?
While there will always be more interesting sessions than time available, taking the time to network is just as valuable. At ASCO's Annual Meeting, visit the Trainee & Active-Junior Lounge where you have opportunities to network with colleagues and leaders in the field. People you meet in these venues are likely to have similar interests and may spark new collaborations. Another approach is called "networking by extension," where you utilize friends and colleagues who seem to know everyone and have expertise at working the room. Find a senior friend or mentor and stick close by, you will be in a prime location to meet many new people.
While there is no single roadmap to networking, these five tips should provide some structure to an ambiguous, yet critical, piece of career and personal advancement.
Published December 16, 2013 online issue of ASCO Connection.org