Play the long-game by employing the 3 C’s
The key to networking is to start early and always follow-through. One of the benefits about the field of psychology is that there are many ways to take advantage of networking opportunities. As a student, you’ll want to network with other students, your professors and your advisors. This could mean collaborating with another student on a special project or area of interest you both share to help establish yourselves as ‘colleagues.’ Attend your professor’s office hours and ask for recommendations for additional sources of information to pursue about class topics; you’ll make an impression. Networking is about the 3 C’s, connecting, collaborating and cultivating the relationship.
Too many make the mistake of attempting to network by asking for favors or referrals first. To the contrary, the best way to network is to offer something to the other person. This will show them that you are not afraid to take initiative and will help them to remember you and want to collaborate with you in the future. When meeting them, pick their brain about areas of the field they are interested in or passionate about. If there are shared interests, this can help reinforce the connection. If there are differing interests, then take advantage of openings to point out complementary ways to combine areas for potential collaboration.
When a connection provides you with their contact information, use it! This is the follow-through part that is so vital to creating and expanding your network. Go ahead and shoot them an email within a few days of your meeting to ‘remind’ them that it was nice having met them. You may even want to take it a step further and send a link to a relevant current event or article that you think they’ll find interesting or that is perhaps related to a topic you two had discussed during your initial meeting. Do not email them the next day and ask for a favor.
The best method is to establish a relationship first, offer something of yourself second, ask for support third. This is why starting early in your academic career is an important precursor to your professional career. The best methods require that you take time to cultivate your network and lay the ground work before you “need” anything. For example, if you start networking as a freshman, then when you need a recommendation letter for graduate school as a senior, you’ll likely have no problem securing several. Not only will you have a network of mentors who are willing to recommend you for graduate school, but these individuals will actually know you and have something meaningful to say about you because you cultivated that relationship over the years.
Where to Connect
If you’re still in school, you can join psychology clubs, participate in studies, and sign up to be a Research Assistant. These opportunities will serve to put you in more social environments with like-minded individuals and aid in relationship building that is outside the typical academic or professional environment. Also as a student or a professional, volunteering is a great way to get involved in your community network, which can be a good place to start your path.
Once you’re working in the field, you’ll want to join the many professional psychological associations that have vast networks of members. These often provide directories of other members as well as hosting large and small networking events that you can attend. The field of psychology is largely based on referrals and recommendations, so it is important to take pointed steps to build your network early, let people know who you are and what you’d like to do in your career. Then you need to stay in touch. Reach out, have lunch or coffee, brainstorm ideas looking for opportunities to collaborate. Another resource would be to subscribe to newsletter publications and follow current events in the field, attend symposiums, conferences and the like. These types of events are designed for networking, so you’ll want to take advantage, and attend when possible.