Getting Started in Professional Networking
Recently, I was given the opportunity to present at the Paramedics Australasia Regional Queensland (PARQ) Conference. It was an honour, however, I was only able to create my presentation through seeking help and information from many of my professional contacts, to fill gaps in my knowledge on the presentation topic. In instances like this and on many other occasions, I have found that professional networking has been tremendously helpful.
Whilst many medical students recognise the value of having professional contacts, it is often unclear how to go about it and whether they should bother at all. I can assure you that even as a medical student, it is possible to make helpful and interesting contacts through networking. I have listed below a few of my tips for beginners that will help you meet people in the right situation and make a good impression.
1. Attend conferences
This may be an obvious one, but if you have not attended a conference before then you might not realise how incredible they are for building professional contacts. At conferences, you can meet many people with similar interests, including well-respected people in your field (who probably would have ignored your emails if you tried to get in contact with them through that way!). This face time can be a vital first step. Planning can go a long way and it can even be a good idea to have specific people in mind that you want to try to meet at the conference. For all of this to work, the standard rules for making a good first impression in a professional setting must be followed: Firstly, dress appropriately for the conference (if unsure, it is probably better to overdress than underdress), be confident in your initial approach, conscious of your body language and finally, ensure that you have a firm handshake.
2. Have business cards ready
It may sound like overkill, but it may be helpful in providing contact information whilst also demonstrating your professionalism. You can have simple, professional looking business cards made online at a relatively low cost. The business cards do not need to be fancy and only require your name and contact information. The main use as a student will be to exchange them with someone who you meet at a conference. It is also wise to keep some with you at all times as you never know when you may have an opportunity to meet a future professional contact. It will certainly leave a lasting impression when you, still as a student, can exchange business cards rather than simply taking theirs.
3. Build a professional Internet presence
As a medical student, you have probably already considered your presence on the Internet and what results appear when you Google search your name. However, for many medical students, this starts and ends with locking down your Facebook privacy settings so nothing can be seen publicly. Building a professional presence on the Internet should go far beyond this. As a medical student, it is not too early to set up a profile on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. It may also be helpful to set up a resume-based web page using a service such as re.vu. This way, the first hit when you search your name on Google will not be your locked down Facebook page, but instead will be a brief page about your professional background that includes your contact information.
There is much more to building a professional network than these three basic tips, but following them will set you on the path to success. Start building your professional contacts while in medical school and you are likely to find that this small investment now will pay huge dividends in the future.