Jacquelyn M. Reinert, Psy.D., LMHC Board of directors, NH Psychological Association
Networking once meant going golfing with the sales team or chatting with local bank executives at a Chamber of Commerce event. But how has it changed in the technological age?
In many ways, it hasn’t. While there are countless options for on-line networking through apps like “Linked-In,” a good old-fashioned handshake and shared lunch should never be overlooked.
“I think maybe early career psychologists and graduate students especially are missing out on going to conferences and networking events in person,” said Jacquelyn M. Reinert, Psy.D., LMHC, member-at-large for the New Hampshire Psychological Association Board of Directors.
“A lot of people rely on social media to bridge the gap but for me [meeting face-to-face] is invaluable.”
Networking is not just about building your practice by selling yourself but also about building a community you can turn to for referrals or consultation or support.
Depending on your role, networking can also be a way to increase your knowledge base or awareness of new research, techniques, or advocacy issues.
“I find networking through professional organizations keeps me up on the latest issues facing our profession such as the EPPP-2, APA’s move to accredit psychology master’s degree programs, prescription privileges for psychologists, and the status of the interstate compact for telehealth and temporary practice across state lines,” said Anne Klee, Ph.D., president of the Connecticut Psychological Association.
“These are hot topics affecting our discipline and networking at professional events allows us to take the pulse of our colleagues and voice our questions and concerns.”
Building bonds with professionals, both in and outside of the world of psychology, can also be beneficial on a more personal level.
“In private practice, seeing clients one after another can be isolating,” said Ralph P. Balducci, Ph.D, regional director for the Connecticut Psychological Association.
“It’s important to foster your professional identity as a psychologist especially if you are working in private practice. It almost always leads to business but also it is important for that personal connection.”
For some people, chatting with strangers, finding common bonds, following up with an invite to lunch and checking in regularly may be second nature. For others, walking into a party or conference alone, with just a stack of business cards to keep you company, can feel overwhelming.
Good networking is a soft skill, one that can be hard to quantify – but it can also be something you use all the time with everyone you meet and everywhere you go. Just by being the person a therapist should be – someone who listens, someone who is open, concerned and patient, you are building your practice.
Those who know you may not need to come in. But chances are they will refer someone else down the line.
There are skills you can, of course, learn rather easily. Many are the same ones your mother told you in middle school: look up, smile, ask questions, listen to the answer, and dress appropriately to make a good impression.
Bring that stack of business cards but don’t just hand them out to everyone you meet. Focus instead on making connections before sharing contact information. Practice an elevator pitch – being able to sum up what you do in 30 seconds, one minute and five minutes to get your message across quickly.
It’s important to follow up, said Balducci. He prefers hand-written notes, referencing the conversation and making a suggestion for future contact opportunities. He takes the time weekly to keep his contacts current and to get out of the office.
Reinart said the first place to network is through professional associations because that is one of the groups’ main functions.
Universities may also host talks that provide social time or discussion groups. Making connections with people outside the mental health field can help in other ways, both with a better understanding of your own community and by explaining to them what you offer as they may need a referral at some point.
Look to your local chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau for a listing of upcoming events.
Finally, try creating your own opportunities for networking. Invite colleagues to lunch and ask them to bring someone you have not met.
Bring in a speaker to your local library or a public space and invite professionals in your area. Be sure to include social time for attendees to network, of course. And, as Balducci pointed out, food is never a bad idea.
Catherine Robertson Souter is a freelance writer and social media agent based in New Hampshire. A contributor to New England Psychologist since its inception, she previously wrote for Massachusetts Psychologist among other media outlets.