Face-to-Face Networking: Don't Sweat the Small Talk

Don't sweat the small talk in a face-to-face network situation.

I always have to smile when I walk into my monthly local professional meeting, which consists of pharmacists and technicians from several local hospitals. Techs sit with techs and phamacists sit with pharmacists with whom they just spent the last 8 hours working side by side. Seats are exclusively saved only for cowokers. Institutions don't cross boundaries. Although we don't work together, sitting with my Labda Kappa Sigma sisterhood makes me guilty by assocation as well. Yes, it's great to socialize, break bread, and get CE wth our colleagues; however, we're all missng out on a great opportunity. Networking.

Like many in the world of work, pharmacsts perceive networking as something you do when you are looking for a new job with your resume in hand. Realistically, beginning the networking process when you lose your job due to downsizing, being fired, or fed up with your current workplace is way too late to make the process a sure success. Although networking through websites, such as LinkedIn, is less stressful, face-to-face networking allows you to connect with individals right at the epicenter of your job search. Developing an ongoing relationship with fellow pharmacists in your region can open doors to unadvertised local job opportunities. Once you are aware that networking trumps the resume in today's modern job search, you can work faster and smarter to secure that interview. Furthermore, there are additonal benefis to networking.

First, networking helps you to connect with pharmacists who are often willing to share their knowledge with you. We all have wisdom to share with each other. What failed and what worked is a valuable commonality among us. Hearing about new ideas and broadening your thinking, and perhaps adapting what you learn into your own practice, can be enlightening. Although we initially focus on the business of pharmacy when networking, the process can also grow into keeping abreast of insider information, and even friendships. These are going to be the people who will give you that word-of-mouth recommendation when job seeking and allow you to borrow that out of stock drug from their supply.

Yes, networking is awkward and scary for most of us, much like showing up alone at the eighth grade dance. Yes, networking via text or contacting a pharmacist via LinkedIn feels alot more comfortable. Yet we are confronted with the challenge of face-to-face networking every time we attend a professional meeting, conference, or alumni event. Working the room and developing the art of small talk necessary for such encounters takes skill. The more pharmacists you meet, the more familiar and confident you will become and hopefully in the future you will be sitting at another table with pharmacists from a different workplace exchanging information to share with your coworkers the next day.

Here are some tips to get you started so you don't sweat the small talk in a face-to-face networking situation:

Safety in numbers.

If you are uncomfortable walking up to a pharmacst you do not know, take one of your coworkers with you, especially if his or her comfort zone for face-to-face networking and small talk exceeds yours. It is highly likely there is someone in the room that your colleague knows who you do not. He or she can introduce you. If no wingmen are available, take a deep breath and introduce yourself (name, where you work) and proceed from there.

Find the common denominator.

Once you've made your introduction, take note of some commonalities you have, For example, once you know where the other pharmacist works, you may know a classmate or former coworker who works at the same institution. Remember the comedy-drama film Six Degrees of Separation? Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everthing else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of 'a friend of a friend' statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. This holds true with networking as well.

Be a good listener.

Don't make networking all about yourself. It is human nature for people to love to talk about themselves. Listen to what is being said and you will discover the personality and values of the person. Ask questions that are pertinent to the conversation. If that means talking about last night's basketball playoff game or a recent vacation, rather than something pharmacy related, do so. It builds rapport. Pay attention to the person who is speaking, maintain eye contact, and show interest by nodding or smiling at the appropriate time.

Have your business card in your pocket.

Exchanging business cards is the first step in transforming small talk into building your own personal network of pharmacy professionals in an otherwise digital world. This 3.5 x 2-inch rectangle is a powerful career tool that identifies you as an individual and gives the recipient a hands-on means to remember you for any future communication. Request and exchange business cards with your peers near the end of your networking encounter. Do, however, wait for those in a higher position to offer you his or her card before you request theirs. Be sure to jot down some notes on the back of the card regarding any details about your conversation for future reference.