Networking can be a daunting task for the young professional, but speaking from experience, it is worth it and a superlative time to perfect this skill-yes, “networking” is a skill- one that you acquire while you are finishing your career as a student.
In today’s professional world, it is becoming less and less about what your resume says and more about who you know. Of course, what you know matters too, but only if you get the interview in the first place. There are many opinions about whether this is a good or a bad thing; regardless it is the reality. In order to make my point I would like to share my personal experiences.
I went to college at the University of Washington where I initially intended to follow-through with my middle school and high school goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. Well, I did complete the pre-medical track, but somewhere along the line I fell into the world of global public health. My whole world shifted and my career path veered to a completely different world. Through networking with my professors, mentors, and supervisors I was able to meet with and learn from many amazing global public health professionals, which only solidified my passion for my new field.
After university, I traveled to South America where networking afforded me a number of contacts with whom to meet. These amazing individuals gave me insight into the health systems in the countries I visited. This experience, in turn, helped me get into my Global Public Health Leadership MPH program at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. I used forums on Linked-In and Facebook to identify a public health policy internship, which ultimately became my MPH practicum. After completing my MPH and as I prepared to move states, I contacted my network and inquired among connections who would be willing to offer me advice about possible job opportunities. A contact, three times removed, set up an interview for me the day after I drove into town. I worked for that company on a temporary basis, until I was recruited through Linked-In for my current position.
These may all seem like luck, but it was all due to my network of friends and colleagues in the field of global and public health. It’s not as hard as people think either. Don’t believe me? Take a look at my “student’s guide to networking” below.
The Student’s Guide to increasing your networking skills:
- Be professional. This seems obvious, but it’s surprising how often people can slip.
a. When you are reaching out, remember to show respect and address your potential contact with the appropriate title (Sir, Ma’am, Miss, Mrs., Mr., Dr., etc.), unless you are told otherwise. A good rule of thumb is that if they sign their letter or email with their first name only, then you may call them by their first name. If not, it may be a sign that they prefer to be addressed by their professional title.
b. Keep a professional web presence. No one wants to be connected to a crazy party animal, who seems to be the furthest thing from a useful network contact.
c. When meeting your contact, be polite and dress appropriately. I’m not talking interview-attire (although I could write an entire blog on that alone), but show respect and don’t go in your pajamas.
- Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask if someone is willing to meet with you, speak with you over the phone, join your network, connect you with someone else, or mentor you. The worse they can say is, “no”. If they do, there are many other professionals who are eager to expand their own networks and offer advice and mentorship.
a. Attend office hours and reach out to your professors, they could end up writing that letter of recommendation that will get you that mind-blowing new job or to into your one-in-a-million PhD program.
b. If there is a professional in your chosen field, reach out to ask if they would be willing to act as a mentor.
c. Informational interviews are great for you to become acquainted with a professional, a new project, or a new company. If you plan to meet for coffee, don’t forget to offer to buy!
d. Networking websites like Linked-In can be excellent career growth tools. If you know of any others that you swear by, I’d love to hear about them!
- Don’t forget to use your connections. You’ve made your connections, now you have to make use of them, that’s why you got up your nerve to ask them to meet for that informational interview in the first place.
a. If you’re looking for a job or opportunity, reach out to your network.
b. If someone in your network can help you connect with that elusive professional you’ve been dying to meet, ask if they would be willing to connect you.
c. If you need career or academic advice, ask a mentor in your chosen field if they would be willing to mentor you.
- Join professional organizations. If you are an IHSC member, you already recognize the importance of this. Professional associations like APHA offer mentoring and networking activities, as well as in person events like the Annual Meeting where you will find thousands of outstanding professionals in your dream careers.
It is very fulfilling to be on the opposite end of this spectrum. You may not always be the one asking for advice. Don’t forget to share your experiences and advice. There are many opportunities to become a mentor for others (school programs: I participated in the University of Washington’s Office of Minority Affairs Peer Mentoring Program) and there are many people who would love to learn and grow with your help. I now have mentors who have started medical school, become OR nurses, studied and volunteered abroad, etc. I can’t tell you how proud and happy I am at what my mentees have achieved.
Good luck out there and keep building your networks. I hope to connect with you during the Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA this November. Please contact me if you would like to join my professional network and let me know how I can help you grow in your career!
The International Health Student Committee will be hosting a Networking Reception immediately after the IH Section’s Award Ceremony. The IH Section’s Award Ceremony & Networking Reception will be held in room 221 of the Ernest M. Memorial Convention Center on Tuesday, November 18th from 6:00-9:00 p.m. At the event, look for professionals sporting our green sticker – students have the opportunity to network with these global health leaders and the esteemed authors of global health books, which will be raffled at the conclusion of the event!
MPH Candidate- Public Health Leadership
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill
Public Health Leadership Student Association Co-President
American Public Health Association- Student Assembly
Action Committee Co-Chair
American Public Health Association- International Health Section
International Health Student Committee Secretary