Magazine article American Nurse Today

Making Professional Connections: Improving Your Networking Skills Can Help You Climb the Career Ladder

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Making Professional Connections: Improving Your Networking Skills Can Help You Climb the Career Ladder

Article excerpt

Are you making connections that benefit your career? Are you comfortable starting a conversation at a networking session? Do you know how to exit a conversation gracefully when it's time to move on?

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These are questions and concerns many nurses share. Career success takes more than clinical expertise, management savvy, and leadership skills. Networking can be the critical link to success. This article helps you improve your networking skills by focusing on what to do before, during, and after a networking opportunity.

The value of networking

Networking is all about making connections and forming relationships. Business gets done through relationships. These relationships connect you to new colleagues, new opportunities, new information, and different practice settings. For example, at a nursing convention, I met a manager for a large healthcare organization, who told me he needed speakers and asked if I had an interest. This contact has led to more than 50 speaking engagements.

Don't make the mistake of thinking networking occurs only in professional settings. It can happen anywhere. Don't underestimate its power, either. Several years ago, I was at a yoga class when a friend told me her son was seeking a sales position at a laboratory and diagnostic testing company. I had a personal contact at that company, and through this connection, her son was able to get an interview that led to a job. So think of networking as part of your job, not just as an add-on to indulge in when you have time. (See Expanding your network.)

Getting ready to network

Before a networking opportunity, be sure to plan. Find out who will be there, and plan to meet at least several new people. You may be able to ask a colleague to introduce you personally to someone you've been wanting to meet.

Prepare by being well read. Read newspapers, magazines, and key journals or newsletters related to your conference or specialty. Determine what type of clothing to wear for the event. You'll have enough on your mind; why worry about your clothing? You don't want to show up at a dressy cocktail party in a business suit, or not attend because you didn't pack the right clothing.

I'm amazed at how many people I meet at networking events who don't have a business card. Handing out a business card is one of the best ways to follow up and stay connected. Many online businesses, such as VistaPrint.com, offer cards at a low cost.

But don't pass out your business cards as though you're dealing a deck of cards. You want people to ask for your card. To make this happen, ask the other person for his or her card. (See How to avoid networking mistakes.)

Networking in action

Networking is active, not passive. Always be ready to introduce yourself. Don't just stand next to someone waiting to be introduced; take the initiative. Put out your hand for a firm handshake and state your name in a confident voice. For example, "Hi, I'm Mary Balon. I'm a nurse case manager."

Small talk is an easy way to start a conversation until you find a commonality. It breaks the ice and makes people feel comfortable. If you have trouble getting a conversation started, use the acronym OAR. In the example below, imagine you're standing next to someone at an ANA convention in Boston.

* Observe. Make an observation. ("It looks as if there are thousands of people here.")

* Ask a question. ("Have you attended this conference before?"

* Reveal something about yourself. ("This is my first time in Boston. …

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