With any upcoming conference, you want to be prepared to get the most out of your time and money. Often conference attendees will review the schedule to plan out what lectures and course offerings they want to attend. However, these conferences offer another key method of career enhancement aside from the educational components: networking.
Networking is vital in career enhancement. It may open up doors for possible jobs, research collaboration and participation in medical societies (committee participation, board seats, conference lecturing). Networking aids in building your profile, career and reputation (both in person and digitally), and opens up a wealth of potential opportunities.
I never really thought about this concept during my time as a student and resident. Looking back on it, I see not networking as a big missed opportunity. I often found it difficult to speak up and introduce myself to someone I did not know. In reflection, this is what conferences are all about: a group of people with the same interests (i.e., podiatry) getting together to listen, learn, share ideas and interact. Generally, people are welcoming for an introduction and you should not feel awkward or embarrassed to introduce yourself to a “stranger.” Do you think you’re the first person to go up to Dr. X and introduce yourself? Likely not. For those who are less shy, this may not be a problem. There are a multitude of online resources available for review to improve your “networking skills.”1–4
As I began to plan my future career and how I wanted to have a role in the field of podiatry, I realized the importance of networking to make it happen. For me, networking has opened doors in not just jobs, but collaboration on research projects, becoming an active member of society committees, lecturing at conferences, and building my digital/social medial platform. While all of this may not be for everyone, you can always get something out of a networking opportunity.
Probably the most important outcome is in the job search. These conferences offer an opportunity to meet prospective employers, whether you realize they may be a prospective one or not. It is important before the conference to know who will (or potentially will) be there. For new PGY-3 residents or those looking for a job in a certain region of the country or with a certain practice, try to set up a meeting ahead of time during the conference. See if your residency director or an attending can make a connection for you. Attend any appropriate social events to meet others in our field and get your name out there.
Maybe you start talking to someone in a region of the country you did not think of and it leads to a potential job. Maybe you start talking to someone, exchange information, and though happy with your current job, this contact becomes someone who helps you find a job (or employs you) later in life. You never quite know where that opportunity may come from or that deciding factor in obtaining a job may come from so you want to take every opportunity possible. Reportedly, anywhere between 20 and 80 percent of jobs are never advertised but filled by word of mouth. If your purpose of networking is to find a job, make sure you have a resume available at all times, either printed or a digital copy ready to be emailed.
The whole concept of networking reminds me of my soccer playing years ago and my father reminding me to “follow-up every shot” because you never know which will be the one the goalie drops or bobbles, leading to that tap-in goal (i.e., job).
Keep this in mind as you attend your next conference. Be prepared, have a plan, follow through during the meeting and follow up afterward. The process and act of networking should not be stressful but enjoyable in engaging with your fellow professional peers.
1. Professional Networking. Monster.com. Available at https://www.monster.com/career-advice/job-search-advice/networking .
2. Pollard C. Networking made easy: 8 conversation starters for those who don’t know where to start. Huffington Post. Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/catriona-pollard/networking-made-easy-8-co_b_7438918.html . Published May 26, 2015.
3. Darves B. Maximizing medical meeting networking opportunities. N Engl J Med. Available at http://www.nejmcareercenter.org/article/maximizing-medical-meeting-networking-opportunities-/ . Published May 3, 2016.
4. Farrar KC. 10 ways to make the most out of a conference. The Muse. Available at https://www.themuse.com/advice/10-ways-to-make-the-most-out-of-a-conference .
Dr. Hood is a fellowship trained foot and ankle surgeon. Follow him on Twitter at @crhoodjrdpm or check out his website www.footankleresource.com, which contains information on student/resident/new practitioner transitioning, as well as links to academic and educations resources found throughout the internet.