Many pharmacists avoid networking because something about it feels a little sleazy. Very often it feels like we’re trying to sell something. Nothing feels worse than trying to convince someone to 'buy' something, especially if you don’t believe in it.
Although it can be intimidating to talk to new people, it can also land you big opportunities. In my case, a single introduction, and an offer to help someone led me to a Scotland trip.
Fear of introducing yourself
Many people experience fear at the thought of meeting new people. It’s quite normal, and psychologists suggest that a healthy amount of fear pushes us out of our comfort zones.
The problem occurs when we avoid those situations because the fear overwhelms us. To overcome the fear, start small. Ask a single question.
When you have no idea what to say to people, it’s always a safe bet to ask them about themselves. Todd Kashdan from George Mason University conducted a study about conversations, and he found that people who are interested have better relationships than people who are interesting.
Once you’ve asked an initial question, follow the conversation. Go deeper if you’d like. Find out what people are interested in or what they are excited about. Once you know that, you’ll have an opportunity to figure out how you can help.
Discovering what people need
The best, and easiest, way to expand your network is by helping others. If you can discover what people need and help them accomplish it, that’s the easiest way to get on other people’s radars.
About 4 years ago, I attended a Michigan Pharmacists Association event, and I met the keynote speaker, Lucinda Maine, who is the executive vice president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. After she spoke, I waited outside of the room to speak with her so I’d have ample time to introduce myself. I told her who I was, what I was about, what I was working on, and I talked to her about some of the goals I knew she was interested in. I offered to help any way I could.
That interaction led to an interview about pharmacy conferences months later, and a conversation about the value of going to conferences.
Offering your skills
Earlier this year, I randomly ran into Lucinda at the food court of an exhibit hall during the American Pharmacists Association midyear meeting. I briefly said hello, and she introduced me to an executive from the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP).
Then she introduced me to the FIP marketing team in the exhibit hall, and I shared information about The Happy PharmD and the work I do there. I also told them about some of the projects I was working on, and I learned about the things they were working on, as well.
FIP is working to get the word out about an upcoming conference, so I offered my help. I simply proposed to write about their conference and their events on my website. In exchange, I found myself in Scotland.
I traveled to Glasgow to attend the conference, and I was able to write off the expenses because the trip was related to my business. And most importantly, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing pharmacists across the world.
Embracing your network
Your network is your most valuable career asset, and you never know when it might serve you well.
Psychologist Adam Grant refers to people who are willing to prioritize the goals of others before their own as givers. As long as you continue to be a giver, you might be surprised by the opportunities that will come your way.
One of my favorite networking quotes is from Zig Ziglar: “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."
Introduce yourself to people, find out their goals, and offer help. You can offer help on your LinkedIn profile, or by engaging with other users on a blog or social platform. Or, if your skill set lends itself, you can volunteer for a nonprofit organization.
When I initially met Lucinda Maine, I didn’t tell her I wanted to travel abroad. Over time, though, after I provided help where I could, she helped me achieve that goal.
Don’t just hang out with people you already know at conferences. Introduce yourself to new people. Find someone who isn’t already talking to someone. Not only will you expand your network, but you’ll also help her avoid the awkward situation of being alone at a conference.
Then, instead of considering how other people can help you, consider how you can help other people. As you meet new people and offer your services to them, you’ll indirectly be connected to entire new networks of people who may someday return the favor.
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.