Networking: Are You Connected?

by Corporate Relations & Business Strategy and Communications Staff

In today’s competitive health care marketplace, networking is a crucial way for psychologists to build relationships and connect with others. By expanding their contacts, psychologists can discover new professional opportunities and areas of interest, increase their knowledge base and enrich their career.

“Building effective networking relationships is vital to my business,” says Ann Evangelista, PsyD, MBA, staff consultant with Corporate Psychology Resources in Atlanta, GA. “Developing and sustaining networks with a wide variety of people should be part of every psychologist’s business strategy and professional development plans.”

Reciprocal Benefits

Contrary to popular belief, networking is not about aggressive introductions or asking someone to find you a job or promote your career. Rather, it is a process of connecting with others to discover common interests and develop mutually beneficial relationships. “Networking is a valuable activity if you think about it in terms of developing relationships, rather than in terms of self-promotion,” says John D. Gavazzi, PsyD, a private practitioner in Mechanicsburg, PA.

Networking can benefit your career directly by generating referrals and job offers, increasing your awareness of needs for your services in your community and helping you market your practice. It also can help your career in less direct, but still valuable, ways.

Getting out of the office and meeting other people can expose you to new viewpoints, as well as practice management tips and trends. It can also help to reduce the isolation of working in an office. “It’s important for psychologists to stay connected with each other,” says Dr. Gavazzi. “Networking can help practitioners feel a sense of social connection and even avoid burnout.”

The benefits of networking may not always be immediate, or readily apparent. However, when you expand your network, you increase the probability that you will eventually benefit, directly or indirectly, from your relationships.

The most successful networking relationships are reciprocal in nature, providing benefits to both you and your contacts. For example, you may be able to assist a contact by forwarding a referral that is outside your area of expertise.

A Multitude of Venues

Most psychologists already have an established network of colleagues and other professional contacts with whom they regularly communicate. These existing networks are vital to practice, but looking outside familiar circles to make other contacts is also important.

Networking can happen in a variety of settings, from professional events, conferences, and continuing education workshops to informal social gatherings and e-mail discussions. The benefits of networking can flow from psychology-related events, community events, and gatherings of other professionals, such as teachers, physicians, attorneys and industry leaders who interact with or serve your client base.

Dr. Gavazzi, a member of APA and the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA), is an active networker. He frequently attends conventions and workshops and speaks to professional and community groups through his participation in a local speakers bureau.

“Community organizations are always looking for people to speak on a variety of topics, such as child and adolescent development, ADHD, depression and Alzheimer’s,” he says. The 45-minute, pro bono presentations allow him to give back to the community and, as an added benefit, raise his visibility and expand his referral network.

Taking on voluntary leadership roles with professional associations, community groups and service organizations is one way to showcase your talents and connect with colleagues and peers in your community and across the country.

Psychologists can also expand their networks through involvement in public service activities. Bill Safarjan, PhD, staff psychologist at Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, CA, has made numerous and diverse contacts through his involvement with various professional and community organizations, including the California Psychological Association, Rotary International, United Way, and various health-related groups, such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-California. These connections in turn have helped him to build support for a variety of legislative advocacy and public education initiatives.

Making the Connection

Although networking comes more naturally for some, it is a skill that can be learned. For those who are less comfortable in networking situations or unaccustomed to integrating this activity into their day-to-day professional life, the following tips can provide some guidance to help you get started.
  • Identify networking venues. Identify opportunities to connect with the various individuals, groups and organizations involved with your client population and your area of interest. “If you want to extend psychology into the marketplace, you’ve got to associate with others who might use your services,” says Dr. Safarjan.

  • Establish your networking goals. Before you attend an event with potential networking opportunities, such as a meeting or conference, identify what you’d like to achieve. You might set a goal of meeting five new people who are actively involved with a particular group. Another objective might be to introduce yourself to a particular person, perhaps a potential co-author for an article in your area of expertise, or someone with whom you might collaborate on a project in the future.

  • Introduce yourself. Don’t be hesitant to initiate contact. For face-to-face meetings, if you tend to be less comfortable in social situations, think about what you will say ahead of time. Small talk and specific questions about the new contact and his or her line of work are both great ways to break the ice.

  • Take advantage of technology. Sending e-mails and participating in listserv discussions is another way to gain exposure to others with whom you might not otherwise have contact. Although email can be an effective way to introduce yourself and stay in touch with a professional contact, be sure not to avoid face-to-face networking opportunities.

  • Keep it brief. Develop a 10-second description of what you do. This will allow you to succinctly and efficiently present yourself when a networking opportunity arises. At social events where people are mingling, it is often appropriate to keep the conversation to 10 minutes or less so that you don’t monopolize the individual’s time. If you’d like to engage in a longer conversation, arrange a separate meeting or follow up with a phone call or e-mail.

  • Exchange contact information. When you discover a common interest with someone you’ve just met, exchange business cards. As soon as possible after the event, jot down when and where you met the person and what you talked about on the back of the card.

  • Stay in touch. Be sure to follow up with new contacts with an e-mail or phone call. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them, and, if appropriate, suggest a follow-up meeting. It takes some effort to maintain a relationship — put a reminder on your calendar to keep in touch with people with whom you aren’t in regular contact. Arrange to meet for coffee, invite a colleague to a continuing education workshop or chat occasionally via e-mail.

  • Keep it up. It is crucial that you approach networking as an ongoing process, rather than a one-time goal. Get into the habit of routinely incorporating networking into your professional activities. With practice, the process of networking will become a natural part of the way you bring psychology and your practice into the community.

Find Your Style

Networking is not a one-size-fits-all activity. Networking techniques that are effective for someone else may not work for you. “Networking is very individualized,” says Dr. Evangelista. “You have to define it in a way that’s comfortable and sensible for you and, over time, you will discover what works best for you and your business.”

Share Your Successes

Have you found a networking technique that works well for you? E-mail us and let us know.