“As a graduate student, I got the wrong impression of networking,” says Angela K. Lawson, PhD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and psychiatry at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “I thought networking meant how many receptions I could get invited to at conferences.”
Once she graduated, Lawson realized networking can get you more than free food, drinks and stacks of business cards. Done properly, say Lawson and others, it can lead to jobs, mentors, referrals, research collaborations, leadership opportunities and more.
“Networking isn’t about exchanging phone numbers or email addresses,” she says. “It’s about forming lifetime professional relationships so we can all help each other succeed.”
Lawson and other psychologists recommend these strategies:
- Stay in touch. People you already know can be great networking sources, says Lawson. When she went on the job market during the hard times of 2008, emails to graduate school, residency and postdoc colleagues paid off with a tip that Northwestern might be hiring. The university had just pulled its ad, so she hadn’t seen it. She’s been on the job ever since.
- Join professional groups. Get involved in your state psychological association, an APA division or APA itself, says Tyson Bailey, PsyD, a partner in Spectrum Psychological Associates in Lynnwood, Washington. “Find a place to call home and get involved,” he says. Bailey joined APA’s Div. 56 (Trauma Psychology) just to meet people, then became the website editor. Now he’s associate editor of the division’s journal and engaged in writing projects with division colleagues. Attending APA’s convention and other meetings and participating on listservs can also help you build connections, adds Angela Londoño-McConnell, PhD, president of AK Counseling and Consulting in Athens, Georgia.
- Give presentations. State psychological associations and other mental health groups are often looking for presenters or workshop leaders, says Londoño-McConnell. So are lawyers’ groups, houses of worship and physicians’ groups, all of which represent potential referral sources. Reaching out to health-care practices is especially important, says Londoño-McConnell, suggesting practitioners offer to give 30-minute presentations to practices or just drop off marketing materials. “Psychologists have sometimes been shy about saying, "I’m here and I can help you and the people you serve by doing what I do,” she says.
- Go online. Social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, are great networking tools, says Erlanger Turner, PhD, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Houston-Downtown. Turner’s blog drives traffic to his website and pushes his name higher up in Google searches. Turner’s social media presence recently attracted the attention of an organization that creates professional development products, which asked him to produce a webinar and continuing education program.
- Be polite. Don’t be shy about reaching out, says Lawson, noting that people generally like to help others. But do it right. When you contact someone, make it clear you only want to talk for 10 or 15 minutes so the task doesn’t seem daunting. Follow up with a thank-you. And remember that real relationships are two-way. Says Lawson, “Reciprocity is key.”