Physician networking is a foreign concept for many doctors but a crucial component of any career change. Whether using a proactive systematic approach or just keeping an eye open for opportunities presenting themselves, doctors changing careers should be prepared to network.
Preparing to network
Networking only requires a telephone, an e-mail account, and some business cards, hardly a challenging investment. Add some initiative and an eye for opportunities, and the sky is the limit.
It’s important to identify goals while networking through each stage of the career change process: introspection, exploration, preparation, acquisition, and transition. The early stages involve a quest for general knowledge, option identification, and network expansion.
Over time, networking can provide information about specific companies and available positions, interaction with decision-makers, and identification of a sounding board for ideas and plans. Underlying questions to address:
- What options are out there?
- What is the best industry for you?
- What companies hire doctors?
- Which of those companies are the best?
- What’s the best type of position for you?
- What positions are currently open?
Making a plan with specific goals and a defined timeline is important. The goals need to be measurable and attainable. Making one networking call during the next week and three calls the following week fits these criteria, so consider making these your short-term goals. Promise yourself and someone else important in your life that you will achieve these goals, and you probably will.
The beginning of networking
When it comes to networking, the excuses for procrastinating are seemingly endless: not knowing whom to contact or what questions to ask, not wanting to inconvience or take advantage of anyone, not having enough time, not being a big talker, not feeling comfortable calling strangers or asking for help, and not being sure the conversation will even help anyway.
These are all great excuses, but just make the first call. Who is that one person you can contact to get started? Start with a physician in a non-clinical career, people in other positions at companies that hire doctors, and anyone who can put you in touch with such people.
A networking list often starts with one name. The potential information from the first and all subsequent networking conversations is endless. Learning about physician positions across multiple industries, names of relevant trade journals, and additional people to contact will kick-start the process. Always remember to ask for about three names of additional people to call before hanging up the phone; each new contact represented a new branch in the network that may lead to the right job that is waiting somewhere.
Expanding your network
Asking for three new names from each contact along the way will maintain an exponential expansion of your network.
Even the most robust network needs new infusions of contacts. Call your college and medical school alumni offices. They may know which alumni are working in non-clinical areas. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that they even have a mentoring program or formalized networking resource. At the very least, they can help put you in touch with long-lost classmates that you want to contact.
Maintain an updated networking list, including complete contact information, their title, the date of the conversation, and the referring person. Keep your notes from the call on this list or in a notebook specifically dedicated to your career change. Filling out a networking “family tree” showing the connections between people in your growing network is also helpful.
Doctors uncomfortable with the concept of networking frequently ask how to get new contacts to speak with them. They underestimate the innate human desire to help others. Most people are flattered that someone considered them worthy of calling. It sometimes takes some perseverance to track down busy people, but the effort usually pays off.
Always ask for an introduction from the person referring you. Knowing some career and personal information about that person is also helpful and will facilitate the next conversation. Write an introductory email to the new contact that mentions the referring person and clearly states the objective for the upcoming call, specifies the amount of time needed (usually 15-30 minutes), and offers to accommodate their schedule. Allow them a few days to respond, and then call.
During the telephone introduction you should again start by reminding them who referred you. Be honest about how you know the referring person; if you met them through networking, resist the urge to pretend that they are a good friend. Be considerate and ask whether they have time or would prefer to reschedule. If they picked up the phone, chances are they have a few minutes to talk.
Your networking agenda
Have an agenda for any networking call. Know who you are calling, and why. Are you in an early information gathering stage, or are you searching for open positions? Introduce yourself and state your objective for the call. Prepare questions in advance. What do you want to learn about? The company? Physician positions and career paths in the company? The contact’s position? Their background and career path?
Always try to expand your network. Ask about other non-clinical physicians they know. Ask if there are people they would recommend calling. If so, ask for contact information, job titles, and background information about those people. Request an introduction through an email.
After the call, complete “next steps”with a sense of urgency. Update your contact list with new people to call, and fill out your networking “family tree.” Sending a “thank you” email with your full contact information to the person you just called is considerate, maintains a connection with them, and supports the reputation of the person who referred you. Contacting the person who referred you keeps them informed, provides them with the satisfaction of knowing they helped, and maintains an open line of communication for future phases of the career change process.
Physician networking opportunities are everywhere. Keep your eyes open. The list is endless, from social events to industry conferences and formalized networking group functions. Have a pen and business cards with you at all times. Know your most differentiating personal attributes in advance, ease them into the conversation if possible and relevant, but do not force them in.
Have a networking mindset when attending social events. Dress toward the upper range of what is appropriate for the event. Set attainable goals for the number of people to meet. When networking through a career change, arriving fashionably late only means missed opportunities. Always try to ask openended questions.
Avoid being too aggressive or trying to close a deal. Do not rush or linger; aim for about ten minutes with each person. Exchange business cards whenever appropriate, and write notes on theirs shortly afterwards. Writing when and where you met and some business and social facts about the person will facilitate remembering them later. Address any follow up plans in a timely manner.
Remember that an important part of networking is finding opportunities to help others whenever possible. Do not do all the talking; often more can be gained by being a good listener. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Using the Internet to network
There are several established online networking Web sites. The most well known are Facebook.com and LinkedIn.com. Each of these has millions of members, but sorting through the clutter of such nonspecific sites poses a challenge to targeted networking attempts.
Physician Renaissance Network (www.PRNresource.com), the first comprehensive resource for doctors with non-clinical careers and interests, offers a newer generation targeted networking forum. PRN members are doctors involved or interested in fulltime or part-time non-clinical jobs, entrepreneurial pursuits, consulting, and freelance work. The members-only password-protected networking forum is one of several free resources provided on the Web site.
The evolution of networking
Navigating through a career change makes doctors more comfortable with networking as an essential element of business and social planning. What was once a foreign and perhaps intimidating concept becomes inseparable from career development. Networking does not get turned on and off; building a network of contacts is an ongoing part of a successful career.
Networking facilitates non-career interests, maintains contacts, opens further career and business opportunities, and provides a sounding board for ideas. Those who are particularly lucky may even use networking to help others, including doctors interested in pursuing a non-clinical career.