You might shudder at the idea of networking and consider it horrible business speak, but the truth is that developing professional contacts is important for your career progression, as well as being necessary to meet the new revalidation requirements.
Nick Simpson, CEO of nursing agency MSI Group, explains: ‘Under new regulations, nurses will have to obtain five pieces of practice-related feedback, discuss their reflections with another registrant, and take part in a variety of “participatory” learning activities.
‘Without a strong professional network medical practitioners may find it hard to gain the necessary supporting evidence in order to remain compliant.’
There’s another reason why networking is becoming increasingly important in today’s NHS.
Julie Watkins, Careers Adviser, at the Royal College of Nursing explains: ‘It’s worth getting to know the main providers and building relationships with relevant managers in the sectors that interest you. Even if you’re not looking for a new role just yet, you may find it opens up opportunities you may not have known about otherwise.’
Start small and extend outwards
It might be necessary for your career but networking can seem daunting, especially if you’re new to the profession or shy by nature.
‘Start by establishing strong professional relationships with your immediate colleagues and then expand outwards,’ suggests Nick.
‘Try also to build relationships with visiting professionals and contractors wherever possible, as it will give you an opportunity to expand your network in a familiar setting.’
If you don’t feel comfortable approaching new people, ask someone in your existing group if they can arrange an introduction with someone in a department that’s of interest to you.
The golden rule of networking is to help others. Take an interest in the career aims of the people you meet and do your best to help them, whether that’s making an introduction or directing them to an interesting piece of research. Do something for others, and they’ll be far more inclined to return the kindness.
Attend networking events
While building a core network is valuable, meeting new people is a crucial part of successful networking. The advent of online networking sites like LinkedIn makes it easy to broaden your contacts, but nothing can replace face-to-face meetings. You’re far more likely to be remembered if someone has met you in person.
For the more reserved, the idea of attending networking events can be particularly nerve-wracking. That’s why it’s important to choose the events you attend carefully.
Julie says: ‘Go to conferences and meetings that are of genuine interest to you. If the topic being discussed matters to you, and you have an interest in the subject, it will feel more natural to start a conversation with other attendees.’
It can also help to set yourself a goal. For example, you might decide to connect with three people of interest to you. Do your research and you’ll have a conversation-starter prepared – for example, you might react to a post they’ve made on Twitter before you meet, or ask them a question about a paper they’ve written.
Focus on the other person
Remember that networking isn’t about “selling” yourself or “working the room” – and while extroverts may find it easier to start a conversation, introverts are often the best listeners.
Julie says: ‘Successful networkers make genuine connections with people, and the best way to do that is to ask questions and really listen to what the other person has to say.’
When you’re nervous, it’s easy to forget names. If that’s a problem for you, use the person’s name in conversation a few times – it will help you to remember them, as well as building rapport.
Nick says: ‘Make an effort to remember any interesting points that people make too, as these could facilitate easier and more valuable conversations in the future.’
Networking events can often be hectic affairs, but take the time to note down names, contact details, and any points of interest about the people you meet. ‘If you forget the specifics, all that stress may have been for nothing!’ warns Nick.
Nurture the relationship
Networking isn’t just about making new contacts – it’s about nurturing relationships. That way, when you are looking for a new role you won’t have to “cold call” people you’ve just met asking for favours – they’ll let you know about any opportunities they come across, especially if you’ve already helped them in some way.
This is also true for online networks. ‘If you add new contacts to online networking platforms such as LinkedIn ensure that you continue to engage with them wherever possible. This could be anything from joining relevant groups, participating in conversations, to sharing or commenting on interesting content that they post,’ says Nick.
Volunteer your time
If networking events feel too awkward, Julie suggests volunteering or becoming a committee member.
‘If a particular issue is close to your heart, offer your time and help. It’s a good way to meet like-minded people, and once you’ve demonstrated your commitment, most volunteers and organisers will be happy to provide introductions, advice, and even recommendations.
‘It’s a great way to get to know people and build up a group of support.’
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