Effective professional networking

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Successful professional networking involves shared, mutually beneficial interactions between individuals and/or individuals and groups, regardless of whether it occurs face to face or electronically. Networking is essential to building a broader sphere of influence and developing a reputation locally and beyond. Adegbola (2011) compares networking to the V‐formation of migrating geese, creating “an aerodynamic lift for one's career and capitalizing on the expertise of others to help professional dreams materialize” (p. 51). Professional networking is an element in professional role development, particularly in communicating with others with shared interests and expertise. Unfortunately, with the advent and growth of social media (SoMe), the idea of networking for many has degenerated to denote the nonstrategic accumulation of likes, follows, contacts, and links. The purpose of this article is to provide guidance on how to develop and maintain a professional network in support of one's career goals.
“How‐to” articles on networking are common in business publications but relatively rare in publications targeting nurses, nurse practitioners (NPs), or other healthcare professionals. However, professional networking among NPs has been tied to efforts to decrease turnover in primary care (Faraz, 2017), enhance clinical autonomy (Weiland, 2015), clarify role value with healthcare systems (Bahouth et al., 2013) and interdisciplinary teams (Quinlan & Robertson, 2013), and achieve policy goals (Kostas‐Polston, Thanavaro, Arvidson, & Taub, 2015; VanBeuge & Walker, 2014).
The reasons for focusing on the development of a professional network are boundless. Networking opens doors and creates relationships that support new opportunities, personal development, collaborative research, policy activism, evidence‐based practice, and more. Covey (2013) describes the importance of enlarging our circles of influence in order to be able to affect change within our circles of concern. Networking skills are critical in expanding our circles of influence. To put the power and potential reach of networking in perspective, Hoffman and Casnocha (2012) describe the value of networks through “three degrees of separation,” describing a hypothetical example in which an individual may have 40 first‐degree contacts, each of whom averages 35 unique contacts, each of whom averages 45 unique contacts. This hypothetical network would provide 63,000 contacts available for introduction and communications.
Interdisciplinary networking provides contacts for personal development and for establishing contacts for collaboration in patient care. For NPs networking is a way to produce collaboratively oriented health care. In order to successfully collaborate, social and professional interaction within and across networks occurs. In general, people tend to cluster with others who are similar and more comfortable. Therefore, the creation of networking in the interprofessional arena is challenging (Cunningham et al., 2012). To expand their network to include members of other disciplines with the goal of improving patient care, NPs require basic knowledge of the characteristics of other disciplines, as well as gender and generational differences. In order to successfully network with other disciplines, an understanding of the structure, characteristics, and how networks function are essential.
The existing “how to network” literature includes significant overlap of key recommendations, albeit with unique interpretive discussions. This article combines nuggets from the literature with guidance based on the authors’ combined experience in networking activities at the local, national, and international levels.
There are almost endless opportunities for NPs to network. For instance, meaningful networking opportunities exist for those practicing in or employed by health systems, universities, or other large organizations. Local NP‐specific or interdisciplinary organizations and related meetings provide a chance for networking, as do larger state and national organizations. Within the nursing and NP realm, there are meetings or conferences relevant to most interests.
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