Pharmacist Networking 101: How to Schmooze Like a Champ

How many pharmacists actually know how to grow their professional network?

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Yet, how many pharmacists actually know how to grow their professional network?

In today’s tough economic times when fewer pharmacy positions are available than in years past, every pharmacist out in the job market cannot afford to lose any opportunity to expand their network. Sadly, skills such as schmoozing are not regularly taught in pharmacy school, and students are graduating into a job market so competitive that they might come into it at an immediate disadvantage.

In order to transition into the pharmacy workplace, it is no longer enough to complete a pharmacy program and pass board exams. Your ability to get hired or even get a foot in the door for an interview can often be dependent on the magnitude of your professional network and the ability of those you know to advocate for you.

What can a pharmacy student, recent graduate, or experienced pharmacist in the job market to do?

Long before graduation, students should be conscientiously and actively looking for opportunities and connections that will get them the exposure they will need when they are seeking employment. Cultivating a professional network allows you to develop contacts that can be your eyes and ears for potential employment opportunities.

Students can begin networking by seeking out classmates and friends in pharmacy. Using popular social media sites as LinkedIn and even Facebook can be a start.

You should also attend live events such as campus career or job fairs, information sessions, and other industry related activities. This will keep you in the loop of what is going on in the job market. Participating in live continuing education classes, clinical events such as brown bag sessions, and pharmacy association meetings will also create opportunities for you to meet individuals in the profession.

You will most likely not get a job offer at the first live event you attend, as a solid professional network takes years of committed work to create and foster. Nevertheless, consistently getting yourself involved in pharmacy events can help you meet people, expand your network, and allow for potential opportunities to appear.

Here are a dozen tips to actively network and schmooze like a champ at live events:

1. The keys to maximize your networking are preparation and authenticity. Before every event, find out who might be in attendance, who you want to meet, how you will present yourself, and what goals you want to achieve. It is also very important to stay true to yourself if you want people to want to know you, as others can sense when you’re not being genuine.

2. Think less about what others can do for you and focus more on what you can do for them!

3. Arrive looking professionally groomed and carry a nice pen, business cards, breath mints, and whatever else you might need. That pen of yours can be used to jot down brief notes about a person on the back of their business card, such as “Bill is heavily involved with legislation about having pharmacists obtain provider status.” The next time you meet Bill, you can ask him, “What do you think of the latest news on the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act?” These facts need not only be related to the world of pharmacy. Sometimes, it is more advantageous to learn about people’s personal interests (eg, Susan likes Will Ferrell movies).

4. Being prepared physically is important, but having interesting topics of conversation to actually talk about is a must. Stay abreast of news relating to pharmacy as well as the world. Avoid sensitive topics such as politics and religion. Remember, you are a pharmacist; leave the jokes, especially inappropriate ones, to the comedians.

5. Perfect your elevator pitch. The first seconds of an initial interaction can make or break a potential professional relationship, so make it count! Your speech should be concise yet informative, leaving the person you just met curious to learn more about you. Instead of “I'm John Smith from ABC Pharmacy,” Your pitch should sound something like: “I'm a clinical pharmacist focused on increasing quantitative and qualitative production and performance by empowering pharmacists to practice pharmacy at their full potential.” Introduce yourself in a cool, confident, and calm manner. You want others to ask you questions about you, and you will want to leave a positive impression on them.

6. Don’t just stand around at an event where you don’t know anybody. You must actively engage people who are discussing a topic of interest. Make eye contact with the individual(s), smile, and smoothly join in the conversation with related information. Listen more than you speak, but when you do speak, make it meaningful.

7. If you can only feel comfortable at a social event with something in your hand, such as a drink (preferably a non-alcoholic beverage), hold it in your left hand and always shake with your right hand. No one wants to shake the cold and wet hand. Also, never allow yourself to get drunk at professional social event, no matter how open the bar is!

8. Get good at remembering names when you first meet a person. You will come off as more charming when you can use their name in the conversation. When someone tells you their name, say it 3 times in conversation with them, and then you won’t forget it. Ask the person to repeat their name if you do not get it the first time.

9. Shake hands properly, especially when meeting someone for the first time. No one wants what I call a wet noodle handshake or a hand crusher. A firm handshake and good eye contact conveys confidence.

10. Ask more open-ended questions, which elicit explanatory answers. Such questions begin with: “What do you think about…?” and “How do you..?” Closed questions begin with “Do you..?” and usually receive a yes or no response.

11. When you get to know someone of professional interest, try not to leave the conversation without establishing a plan to follow up with them. Ask how his or her schedule looks next week and if you can arrange a day that is convenient to contact them and discuss the particular topic of interest. If you leave it open with a vague plan such as "Let's do lunch," you may wait a very long time before you get to meet with your new contact.

12. Do not linger around for too long. Know when to exit a conversation and always try to leave it on a high note. After the event, you can e-mail the people you’ve spoken to, tell them how much you enjoyed meeting/conversing with them, and continue to foster the relationship for the long term.

Recognize all the opportunities you have to increase your network of contacts. Learn how to market yourself and then use these tips to help you schmooze like a champ.

Networking will help you meet new people, learn new ideas, uncover new opportunities, and make new friends. If you come mentally prepared and open to the idea of actively networking on any occasion, then you will be ahead of the game.