Anyone who knows me, knows that I can talk to anyone. I swear, I feel like sometimes my friends or colleagues will invite me to events based on the assumption I will make a connection with someone. As counselors, we love to know and seek out how we might potentially be connected to others. Well, I am here to tell you that on top of being a ‘good’ talker, I am also a pretty good actor. And, sometimes, even I have to force myself to talk and be social when I don’t want to be!
As graduate students and/or new professionals, networking is always talked about among professors and employers, but do we really know what we are doing?! Sometimes I think to myself, ‘I can’t just go up to talk to that person and then leave them with my contact information that they might (but probably will not) use!’ Just know that you are not alone in thinking this! From my experience, this is a common concern amongst new and veteran professionals in a variety of fields that I would like to shed light on. Here are a few tips to make it out there in the networking world.
At the most fundamental level, networking is the exchange of information and ideas that can significantly impact your career. For example,that one person you met 3 years ago at a conference may end up collaborating on the same research project as you, serving alongside you on a committee, or even be your future boss! It’s important to always make a good first impression so when your paths cross again (the world is WAAAYYYY smaller than we think) you can hold up your ‘end of the bargain’ in whatever capacity that would entail. Networking may help you get that job you’ve always wanted, or be on that research proposal, or get published (woohoo!). Networking allows you to do things you’ve maybe never done or thought you would ever do.
That sounds kind of funny but there is really no other way to say it. Networking is sometimes like an informal job interview. You are sharing your ideas, your strengths, and what you could bring to the team/article/function. It’s so important to be able to quickly highlight what you have done in the past, even if it was 5 years ago and it was the first project you ever collaborated with someone on. These might be some good questions to ask yourself before the next conference/seminar/etc that you will be attending:
What do you do? What program are you in?
What made you get into counseling?
What are your research interests? (I remember the first time I was asked this - my response was ‘Well, my professor told me to say yes to everything in the beginning so… whatever you are doing research on, I would love to help!’)
What population do you work with? Kids? Adolescents? Adults?
Are you going to any other conferences? Have you been to any conferences before?
This is good enough to start because, as we know with counselors, one of these questions above could really lead into an hour long conversation. And if you already know the answers to all these questions, these can serve as great conversation starters.
Make Contact Cards
This is not a plug for VistaPrint however, they have saved my professional life a number of times. Within my first year of my Master’s program, a mentor suggested that I make ‘contact cards’ to take to my first conference. My response, ‘What is that?!’ And what I came to find out is that they are ‘business cards’ that highlight your contact information.
Contact cards are great because:
You made a super great connection at a conference and have 1 minute until the next session starts that you have been dying to go to the entire conference. Give them a card and you can scoot to that session you’ve been dying to go to!
Your professor/mentor that attends the same conference as you wants to introduce you to some colleagues of fellow programs (Let's say you’re Master’s level and he introduces you to someone who teaches doctoral level) and how cool is it that you just pulled out your contact card and were able to exchange with someone who may be your future professor or even coworker?!
You can leave them at the session with the speaker to send you whatever materials they said they could email after the session (way less time than waiting for that sign-in sheet to be passed around!)
And that is just a few of MANY reasons to get some ‘Contact Cards’
Here is the first contact cards that I ever created:
I ordered 100 of them and thought to myself ‘I’ll never use this many…’ Boy, was I wrong! How could you not order some when VistaPrint offers deals where you can get 100 for $10 (normal cost is 100 for $16! Still not terribly bad!)
Since then, I’ve made basic ones (see below) to take to different outings I go to. Let's face it - connections can be made at any function! You never know when your yoga instructor might be willing to do a self-care event for your class or colleagues. Be open to everyone!
Follow up, Follow up, Follow up
Exactly as it sounds - FOLLOW UP. Another great piece of advice a mentor taught me was that at every function that I meet someone, send a follow up message and thank them for their time or the connection that you made. One area of interest I have is being a female counselor and working with male clients. In 2015, I went to a book signing for a new book , A Counselor’s Guide to Working with Males by Matt Englar-Carlson, Marcheta P. Evans, and Thelma Duffey. After meeting them, I followed up with an email after the conference and asked if any assistance was needed for future research opportunities and the response was great; to this day, when I see them at conferences (even if I sometimes have to remind them how I reached out to them), they still remember me! The way I have found that works best for keeping track of who I’ve met and talked to is by taking a different notepad to every conference and writing their contact information or swapping contact cards with one another. If I got to talking to someone throughout the conference and I felt like the conversation was good or I wanted it to continue, I would simply ask them for their contact information (to write it down or contact card) to keep in touch. After the conference I spend those first few days back home emailing everyone I met to send them a little note saying ‘thank you for chatting with me and I hope our paths cross again!’ type message.
Also, if you told someone that you were going to get in touch with them or introduce them to someone, etc., do it! Everyone on this earth is busy in some way, shape or form, and you following through with what you said you were going to do can change someone’s life for the better.
Power of Networking
Okay, so, you know why you need to network, you know yourself, you made the contact cards, and you’ve followed up with everyone you said you would (and more), and now what?! Then we can rely on the Laws of Attraction: the belief that by focusing on positive thoughts or energy, people can bring positive experiences into their own lives. It won’t happen overnight, but I am here to tell you that all things happen for a reason and it will most likely be when you least expect it. I have definitely had to learn over the years that the ability to wait for something without getting angry or upset is a very valuable quality in a person. You should try it!
Ashley Waddington is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in the state of South Carolina working at Columbia College as a Mental Health Therapist and in private practice. She is the ACA Graduate Student Committee Co-Chair and her areas of interest include persons with disabilities, grief and loss, student athlete mental health, as well as career and professional development.
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