Networking is one of the top ways to find a job. But successful networking depends on good first impressions – whether you’re making connections during your clinical or practicum, or working the room at a networking event.
That’s because you usually have a only few seconds (or a few minutes at most) to give people an idea of who you are and what you have to offer. Here are seven tips for starting things off right:
- Dress the part.
Keep in mind that plain equals professional. If you’re wearing scrubs, that’s simple enough. But what about when you’re at a professional association meeting?
Remember that you want to stand out because of your attitude and abilities, not because of your appearance. Men, that means avoiding loud ties. Women, make sure skirts are not above the knee, and avoid wearing tops that are too low cut or heels that are too high. Jewelry, watches and bracelets should be kept to a minimum, as should any cologne or perfume.
- Know thyself.
Networking is not a job interview – you shouldn’t expect to spend lots of time discussing your qualifications in detail.
Still, someone will probably ask you about yourself. Your answer should not include a list of your hobbies, or a discussion of personal information. Instead, focus on the highlights of your path as a nurse, including any past work experiences that have given you transferrable skills. Practice in front of a mirror, or in front of a friend, until you feel confident.
- Look ‘em in the eye.
Whether you mean it or not, a lack of eye contact during a conversation can be interpreted as a lack of interest, or even a lack of respect.
If you feel like you have trouble keeping eye contact, try practicing with friends. You don’t even need to tell them you’re practicing eye contact – just be mindful of it when you’re talking to them during a regular conversation.
- Give a good handshake.
When you meet someone for the first time, the handshake is one of the very first impressions that he or she will have of you. Make it a good one.
You want a moderately firm shake, but you also want to be conscious of how the other person is shaking your hand, and try to match what he or she is doing. If you question your own handshake at all, don’t hesitate to practice with people you know. And don’t forget – when shaking someone’s hand, be sure to keep that eye contact!
- Put on your active listening hat.
Feel uncomfortable talking about yourself? Being an active listener is easier, and it’s actually more beneficial. Focus on what others are saying. Show them you’re genuinely interested. Nod occasionally and ask follow-up questions.
Not sure what to ask? Treat your conversations like a mini informational interview, especially if other people are more advanced in their careers. Ask them how they got there. If you’re interested in them, they’ll be interested in you, which will keep the conversation going in a more natural way.
- Limit your own distractions.
Let’s face it – networking can get awkward at times. But don’t be tempted to check your phone during a lull, because it might be seen as a lack of interest. To avoid the temptation, keep your phone in your pocket or purse.
- Keep it going, but keep it professional.
Depending on the type of networking situation, you might consider asking for someone’s business card at the end of your conversation. Follow up by connecting to that person on LinkedIn. (And have your LinkedIn profile ready so you can continue making a good impression). Sending a Facebook friend request, however, is a big no-no.
Nurses, what other tips do you have for making a good impression while networking? Leave your comments below.