A friend of mine is just a few weeks out from completing her master's degree in speech-language pathology. We've been chatting regularly about the oh-so-fun process of finding your first CFY position. One of my strongest recommendations for her has been to spend her upcoming period of probable unemployment (between graduation and starting her first job) networking, as a long-term career investment.
I started giving some advice via e-mail, and realized I have quite a soapbox on this topic. It also happens to be June, graduation season. So here is my graduation gift/advice to all you 2015 graduates of speech-language pathology!
Networking = relationships
Before you even get into the how-to, you MUST understand and grasp the totality of this concept. Plenty has been written on this topic, in places like Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I won't go into too much detail here, because all those links have great insight. Even though these tend to be written to more of a business/corporate audience, all these principles apply in exactly the same way for speech-language pathologists and other clinical professionals.
Choose your friends
You can't foster meaningful relationships with every single person you encounter, both professionally and personally. Because time and energy are limiting factors, networking is truly about quality over quantity. A few meaningful connections that create a mutual desire to help and encourage are much more valuable, long-term, than three minutes of here's-my-resume recruiter face time at a job fair.
As a new grad, there is often a sense of panic or strong urgency to find a job ASAP (and, when you have loans and bills to pay, this is a well-justified urgency!). Not having your CCCs can also make you feel a bit like chopped liver; you're grateful for any bone of attention that an experienced, hiring-type person might give you.
But, you WILL get a job, you WILL get your CCCs, and even though you are in a lowly position now, you can, should, must be conscious and intentional with the relationships you plant now.
Your most valuable networking connections (re: relationships) are going to be with people who have similar interests, similar goals, and similar mindsets. Relationships are an investment, so invest wisely. Before you start networking, do as much research as possible to find potential new relationships that will blossom because of natural inherent alignment. Just as with regular friendships, you need a common connection point for the relationship to grow and develop. This is true for professional relationships as well!
Be confident and personal
For some reason that I would love to identify and eradicate, graduate programs seem to churn out students who equate "professional" with "formal and subservient". Do you know what immediately turns me off/makes me really sad whenever I receive an e-mail from a student/CF/new professional looking for guidance?
"Dear Ms. Gore." [Me, internally: criiiiiiiiiiiiinge...]
I am not your second-grade teacher. I am a professional, a speech-language pathologist, a business owner, and a human being. YOU are a professional too, by the way, even if you are a student or a student-to-be. And you're a human. We have that in common.
In the academic world, yes, there is a very clear hierarchy with "Dr. So-and-Sos" and pecking order rules. In the working world, though, you are an individual judged by your merits and grace, not by your registration year or some other external categorizer. We use first names, not titles, because we are equals (in this country...there is some cultural variance here). I may have more experience than you, or more expertise in a certain area, but YOU likewise bring strengths and skills and experiences to the table that I do not have. Let's share. As equals.
And, on the human being note. Part of good professionalism is being personal. No, you should not discuss your recent disastrous Tinder encounter in an informational interview. But you are more than just a skillset and knowledge base. You are a person with a personality, and you should let that show in your e-mails, phone calls, and conversations. If you limit yourself to stiff professional vocabulary and deferential formal language, you may sound professional, but you also sound boring. Who wants to have a relationship (re: network) with someone who is boring?
I'll limit myself to those main philosophical concepts for now. Up next, how should you network? Here are some things.
Research. Per above, before you start LinkedInning and whatnot, carefully choose your audience. Internet stalk. When you find something about someone that makes you think, "Oh wow, that is SO cool, I would love to do that/be a part of that!", that is who you should network with. If your primary interest in them is "This person could help me get a job," you will need something deeper to inspire a long-term, productive relationship.
Think of questions to ask. These should be based on your research about the person and connected with your own personal interests. Questions should show that you have interest and some basic knowledge in a certain area, and are looking for the other person's unique insight. "Can you tell me what working in a hospital is like?" is rather vague. "I've heard that productivity in medical settings is an issue. What has been your experience?" is a deeper, more insightful, more personal question.
Ask them on a date. So, you've found someone who is basically living the career you hope to have in ten years. But, you've never met them and don't have any mutual connections. Don't send them a blind LinkedIn invite (I mean, you can, but if you expect anything to come of that action in and of itself, it likely won't). Ask them for coffee first (yes, you can do that blind, see below). If they live elsewhere, ask for a copy of an article they wrote, or how you could be a part of their work. Basically, show a personal interest in them, not just a blank add-you-to-my-Rolodex gesture.
If this seems crazy forward, it's not. It's scary to do the first time, I know (I was terrified, once!). Think about it this way, though: essentially what you're doing is e-mailing someone out of the blue and saying, "Hey, I think you're really cool. Could I buy you a drink to learn more about how cool you are?" If someone said that to YOU, wouldn't you be pretty pleased?
And, the worst they can do is say no (or ignore you). Oh no.
Be personal and confident. Tell them a bit about yourself and why you're interested in them. Offer to help in some way, if you can (see those other articles). Be friendly and natural in your tone, like you would if e-mailing a friend.
Do what they tell you. If they ask you send them something, by all means do it. If they say they are too busy for coffee, but would be happy to answer questions via e-mail, for heaven's sake send some questions. If they say they'd love to meet but are too busy right now, but to please send an e-mail in three weeks to ask again, DO IT.
A sample script
Here are some examples of the sorts of connection requests that make me think "meh" vs. "hell yes!" (NSFW language, but excellent philosophy).
What's wrong here:
- "Ms. Gore". Ick.
- Tone is very formal and impersonal.
- Open and end with just "wanting to learn more about me," but it's clear from the bulk of your message that really you just want a job.
- You mention an interest in adults. Cool, but you don't really give me any detail beyond that. Honestly, it feels like you just picked a thing about my practice and said you were interested in it, so I'd pay attention to you. The inclusion of resume and cover letter makes it clear this is utilitarian and self-seeking on your part.
- Where's your personal story about why you like this population? Where's your passion?
What's right here:
- First name. Cha-ching!
- Mentioning mutual acquaintance. If you don't have one, saying you found them on the Internet is of course fine. But, humans beat machines every time.
- Talking to me about a passion point of yours, that also happens to be a passion point of mine. (I am generally a sucker for anyone who mentions the word "stuttering". If you've done your research, I am not hard to exploit-- and exploit this you should.)
- Even though I personally don't work much specifically with autism, I appreciate that you mentioned it, in addition to what we do have in common. It tells me something about you, and shows you are confident in expressing yourself, not just writing something to please me.
- Emotional words paired with a friendly, comfortable, informal but still respectful tone.
- Asking me out for coffee, to talk about my favorite things, sold! Much more fun and interesting than generic "meeting with a new grad".
The Golden Rule
When you're a fresh, panicked, unemployed CF, it's easy to be self-focused. I need a job. I need a good mentor. I need I need I need. Again, this is completely natural and logical. You have bills and a fellowship year looming.
But, one of the best ways to build a network of supportive, helpful people who will go out of their way to help you be successful is for you to start helping other people, first. Refer friends for job interviews. As a new grad, offer to meet with prospective or current grad students to give them your insight. Volunteer your time or expertise.
Success is not a zero-sum game. From a business standpoint, the most beneficial marketing strategy I have taken is to become good friends with anyone who could be considered a competitor. It's amazing how we strengthen each other, and how all of us flourish with this approach. Own your expertise, and also own your shortcomings, by supporting those who can do what you can't.
That is a network: a group of individuals, each with their own passions and skills, united by a common bond of mutual respect and warmth, sharing their experiences to help others.
Welcome to the world of speech-language pathology, friend. You may be new and fresh, but you have a lot to offer, and I'm glad you're here.
Coffee's on me.