Networking is crucial to career advancement, no matter what your long-term goals are. Connecting with others in hospital medicine, general healthcare, and business can build your knowledge base, your support system, and your reputation. But how—and why—should hospitalists present themselves to the influential people they need to know?
The Need to Network
You may think it’s not necessary to expand your list of contacts within hospital medicine. Put another way, why bother to network? Vineet Arora, MD, MA, assistant professor of medicine at the Pritzker School of Medicine at University of Chicago, points to a paper, “Strength of Weak Ties,” published in the May 1973 American Journal of Sociology by sociologist Mark Granovetter. In the paper, he presents a social science theory that says “the people who are most helpful to you are those who you don’t know well,” Dr. Arora says. Granovetter’s theory suggests that in marketing or politics, the weak ties enable individuals to reach populations and audiences that are not accessible via strong ties.
“It’s not your friends or the people you know the best who are most likely to help you get a job,” Dr. Arora says. “Those people have already helped you as much as they can.” The main lesson here, she says, is to “think carefully about reaching outside your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to a stranger; it’s to your advantage to cultivate these weak ties.”
To increase your number of “weak ties” in hospital medicine, follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Establish Goals
Consider why you’re networking in order to focus your efforts and target your contacts. Are you looking for a new position? Do you want to transform yourself into the go-to hospitalist in a specific clinical area? Are you looking to learn leadership skills?
Once you’ve determined what you want to get out of networking—and it might be more than one goal—outline a brief elevator speech. It’s a one-minute explanation of who you are and what you’re interested in. It will prepare you to open a conversation with a stranger. “You should present yourself in a concise way,” Dr. Arora stresses. “State who you are and what your interests are.”
Step 2: Make a Plan
Once you know your goals and are able to state them clearly and eloquently, map out your networking strategy. You may simply keep this in the back of your mind for the short term, or you may specifically plan on attending events that will allow you to network with the appropriate people, such as hiring managers, experts in your area of interest, or HM movers and shakers.
“Figure out who the people are in your field of interest who are making waves, and go where they are,” Dr. Arora says. But “don’t just attend the meetings. Be proactive.”
Choose your conferences wisely. For example, if you’re interested in leadership skills or a leadership position, consider SHM’s biannual Leadership Academy. “Not only is this a terrific learning opportunity, it’s a very strong networking environment,” says Russell L. Holman, MD, chief operating officer for Cogent Healthcare in Nashville, Tenn., and past president of SHM. “You’re sharing a room with 120 or 130 leaders or leaders-in-training.”
Dozens of annual conferences and courses are available for networking, including clinical CME courses offered by universities. “The American College of Physician Executives [ACPE] has advanced training courses not only in management, but in quality improvement and a variety of other interests,” Dr. Holman explains.
Networking at industry events may not have an immediate payoff, Dr. Arora warns. “You’re probably not going to land a job or land an opportunity at a meeting,” she says, “but you float your name and get to know people.”
Step 3: Let the Networking Begin
With your short speech ready to go, attend a conference or meeting with key industry leaders and simply approach influential individuals you’d like to meet.
“The way it’s done is even more important than where and when you do it,” Dr. Holman says. “You don’t want to come across as pushy, aggressive, or needy.” Simply introduce yourself with a handshake, rely on your elevator speech for a brief explanation, then give that person a chance to talk. Ask questions about how their career advanced, then ask if they know of any opportunities for you, he says.
If your initial conversation is rushed—say, you’re approaching a speaker after a presentation—keep your conversation brief. “At an event like an SHM meeting, it may be difficult to catch certain people,” Dr. Holman says. “If you can, at least shake their hand and exchange business cards, then follow up with an e-mail and ask for 15 minutes of their time. This is very acceptable; it happens to me all the time.”
Another key piece of advice: “Don’t ask them to contact you—you be the one to send an e-mail,” Dr. Holman says.
Step 4: Follow Up
Soon after the in-person meeting, send a follow-up e-mail. Carefully consider your subject line to ensure your message is read. Reference your encounter in the message (e.g., “We met after your presentation at the conference in Miami”) to remind the person who you are. Depending on your goals, you may ask for information to be forwarded, contacts for additional networking, or request a brief telephone conversation.
“A lot of speakers post their e-mail in their presentation,” Dr. Arora points out. “If you don’t get a chance to talk to them in person, send them a message after you get home. People love to get feedback. Comment on their presentation and introduce yourself that way.”
Hospitalists can strengthen their connections with an offer to reciprocate: “You want to be as helpful as you are helped,” Dr. Holman says. “End the conversation with the offer: ‘If there is any way that I can help you, let me know.’ ”
Set goals, practice your elevator speech, venture out and introduce yourself, and follow up.
These simple steps will help you in your networking efforts, and likely will help advance your career. TH
Jane Jerrard is a medical writer based in Chicago. She also writes “Public Policy” for The Hospitalist.