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Professional networking may sound intimidating, but it plays an important role in modern job searching and career development. When you network, you actively seek relationships within your industry to pursue your professional goals. You may form these connections in person, through an industry-specific organization, or online. No matter how you meet or mingle, it is critical to establish a personal rapport.
Why is Networking Important for Nurses?
Although you might associate professional networking with the business world and building relationships for sales, it's actually beneficial to anyone who wants to establish a dynamic, fulfilling career, including nurses.
Networking is more than just introducing yourself and collecting business cards. When done well, the meaningful relationships you can develop through networking offer a wealth of benefits.
Benefits of Networking for Nurses
- Uncover job opportunities: A Linkedin survey estimates that 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. In healthcare, referrals make up a key aspect of organizational recruitment strategies. Many hospitals offer robust referral programs with generous incentives designed to encourage employees to refer their contacts.
- Support career advancement: Your professional network can help you advance in your career. Establishing relationships with others provides crucial professional references. It also creates opportunities for mentoring, coaching, and additional support for reaching your goals.
- Explore different paths: Networking can expose you to different specialities and roles that you may not have previously considered.
- Develop a support system: Nursing is a demanding profession with a real risk of burnout. Studies indicate that a professional support system is instrumental for alleviating stress. Turning to your professional network for support can give you actionable strategies for handling both specific situations and general stress.
- Influence the healthcare system:Making connections throughout your organization and the healthcare industry helps create alliances. It plays a greater role in developing processes and policies that support better patient outcomes. Building relationships outside of nursing allows your voice to be heard.
How Do You Network in Nursing?
When you think of networking, you might picture events where attendees "work the room" to meet as many people as possible. However, networking that prioritizes quantity over quality is ineffective. Your goal should be to create meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships, which requires a variety of approaches. In nursing, that should include operational, personal, and strategic networking.
- Operational Networking: This means building relationships with the people you work with on a day-to-day basis. As a nurse, your colleagues can be valuable sources of knowledge and insight that help you perform your duties better. Good working relationships are also vital to securing professional references.
- Personal Networking: Your personal networks are social and professional interactions you cultivate outside of work. Your personal network includes friends, family, classmates, and those you meet through professional and social organizations, hobbies, volunteering, and community involvement. Broad personal networks are important for professional development and for gaining referrals. For example, a college friend may provide a job referral in their organization, or a fellow volunteer for a community organization may serve as a reference.
- Strategic Networking: As the name implies, strategic networking encompasses relationships developed with a specific goal in mind. For instance, you might reach out to someone working in a different specialty to get an insight into the roles and processes in that department. Or, you might seek out individuals in executive positions with the goal of identifying a mentor.
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Where Do Nurses Network?
While every day presents new opportunities to expand your professional network, nurses can take advantage of tools specifically designed for these purposes, such as events and online communities.
Nursing Conferences and Networking Events
Using networking to land a job in nursing requires effort and attendance. Networking events play a crucial role in the field, as nurses often gather at convention center nursing meetings, hospital or company-sponsored events, continuing education seminars, or conferences where they can work with their peers and meet other professionals. Networking events often focus on education with lectures, job fairs, or social events where nurses can bond with like-minded peers.
Once you arrive at the event, focus on connecting and establishing rapport with new people. Handing out your business card, LinkedIn page, or email allows new contacts to keep in touch with you. Sending a quick thank you email to your new connections is also a great way to make a lasting impression and potentially turn acquaintances into future references.
Social Networking Sites for Nursing Professionals
Online social networking sites like LinkedIn give nurses the chance to connect with other healthcare professionals who they may not otherwise meet. Here, nurses can develop a diverse network, access unique perspectives and insights, get advice, and share experiences and accomplishments. Online networking can also help nurses gain visibility in the field, especially when seeking a new role.
On the downside, social networking online can limit the authenticity of relationships. You may not experience the same level of connection with someone that you might when meeting face-to-face.
Being intentional about your online interactions and exercising good judgement with what you share can make the experience more beneficial. Being selective about where you network is also important. Choose sites for nursing or healthcare, such as allnurses.com, or communities associated with nursing organizations and networking, such as the American Nurses Association or the American Academy of Nursing.
Networking Tips for Nurses
Just like any skill, your networking abilities improve over time. With experience comes the knowledge of what works and what doesn't, what should be said and what shouldn't. The practice and patience required are worth it when you start making connections and forging friendships.
- Arrive Early: By showing up before the event, you can scope out the scene and pinpoint who you want to talk to. The calmer and quieter atmosphere offers a better environment for talking than if you were to show up late and frazzled to a much busier room.
- Share Your Passions: At a natural point in the conversation, demonstrate your passion for what you do. Give professionals a quick glimpse into your interest areas and clinical strengths, but don't overdo it and venture into the hard sell. Win them over with enthusiasm and involve them in the conversation by finding mutual focuses.
- Practice Your Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch is a brief introduction — no more than 30 seconds — that tells someone who you are and what you do, and asks for a connection. The idea is to convey one or two things that make you memorable and open the door to further conversation. Keep it brief and focused. You can share more information when you follow up.
- Ask Questions: People usually like talking about what they do. An easy question is a great way to start a conversation. Ask simple and straightforward questions, and then listen to the replies. Learn what they need, and you just might get a chance to show them what you offer.
- Follow Up: People remember you based on how a conversation ends, not begins. When you connect with someone new, get contact information up front and make sure to reach out to thank them for their time. If they mentioned a job opening, reiterate your interest. Highlight that you were paying attention to the conversation, and you enjoyed your time together.
Networking Event "Do's" and "Don'ts" for Nurses
Attending events helps you expand your network, but only if you approach the gathering with the right mindset and avoid a few common mistakes. To get the most from your time at the event, remember these do's and don'ts.
Networking Event "Do's"
Set Goals: Consider what you want to achieve before you attend a networking event. If you want a new job, prepare some questions. Research attendees and get ready to reach out to them. Being prepared and setting goals gives you a purpose and helps structure your conversations.
Dress Appropriately: Wearing professional attire sets the stage for future collaboration. You don't want to make a bad impression by appearing overly casual. A proper outfit also lends confidence, and you want to be self-assured when going into a networking event. Additionally, crisp, finely tailored apparel shows that you take networking seriously.
Bring Business Cards: Keep extra business cards easily accessible. This allows you to quickly give someone your contact information. You also appear professional and prepared for the event.
Be Concise: Don't spend too much time talking about yourself, as your listener may lose interest. Be clear and concise, and be sure to ask related questions. Focus on quality, not quantity, of conversation. Focus on building rapport rather than overloading with information.
Follow Up on Connections: Following up after a meeting remains one of the best ways to make a good impression. Mention something specific from your discussion, and work on fortifying the relationship. Concluding with a final thank you and a nice note makes you look professional and courteous.
Networking Event "Don'ts"
Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume: It is never a good idea to distribute your resume without being asked. It indicates that you do not wish to establish a real connection or gain new knowledge from the connection. Instead, it appears that you only care about what they can do for you.
Use a Shotgun Approach: Do not pass out your business card without forming a real connection first. By using a shotgun approach and distributing your contact information to as many people as possible, you fail to make any lasting connections. You miss out on the opportunity to make a good impression on a few key people.
Interrupt or Talk Over Others: Interrupting other people demonstrates that you do not care enough to listen to what others want to say or what they could teach you. Acting disrespectfully and talking over others does not encourage potential connections to support you in your career search. Instead, show that you want to listen and learn from them.
Be Intimidated: Never act afraid or intimidated when you talk to someone. People are just people, and they want to be treated fairly and with respect. People at networking events wish to develop their professional life and learn new things. If you feel confident and act composed, you can better guide the conversation.
Neglect to Follow Up on Connections: Neglecting to follow up on conversations may mean that those connections dissipate. Work to maintain rapport and grow a relationship. Following up shows the person that you want to continue the discussion.
Begin Building Your Network
When you first begin networking, it can feel intimidating and even awkward. However, remember that others are networking as well, and are likely to feel the same way you do. Realizing this can help you feel more comfortable and make it easier to start conversation with others you don't know.
One way you can start on your networking journey is to determine a set number of connections you'd like to make within a certain period. Following the advice in this guide, commit to making one or two connections this month. Building authentic relationships takes time, so stay in touch and nurture connections. As your confidence grows, so will your network.
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