Professional networking might sound intimidating to recent college graduates or people who have never tried it before. In reality, networking simply means making connections and forming relationships with other professionals in your field. Many graduates view professional networking as the gateway to obtaining job offers. While networking and knowing the right people often provides access to career opportunities, there is more to be gained from successful networking than just finding a job. Through networking, professionals share a wealth of knowledge, resources, and connections.

Networking simply means making connections and forming relationships with other professionals in your field.

Professionals network online through popular sites such as LinkedIn, and in person at conferences, events, and meetings. More than just taking down names and phone numbers, or adding distant colleagues on a website, professional networking should retain a personalized element. Forming positive, personal associations with other public health professionals creates an environment that encourages collaboration, mutual assistance, and respect. In a field focused on improving the health of society as a whole, it is beneficial for individuals to maintain professional and personal relationships with their peers.

Different Types of Professional Networks in Public Health

Some researchers argue that three types of professional networks exist: operational, personal, and strategic. Each adheres to its own unique purpose, function, and makeup. Operational networks, which typically consist of internal contacts within an organization, exist to enhance a group's functionality and efficiency. Personal networks, which consist of contacts from external locations, exist for professional and personal development as well as to provide access to useful contacts. Strategic networks comprised of internal and external connections look to facing future challenges, determining priorities, and building industry support.

Each strategy poses its own advantages and disadvantages, including internal blind spots and bias, questions of accessibility, and exclusiveness. Public health professionals benefit from forming networking associations of all three types, but strategic networks prove the most important in the field as a whole, encouraging professionals to collaborate for larger, common goals concerning the promotion of human health.

Networking Events in Public Health

Although networking often occurs online, the importance of public health networking events cannot be understated. In-person networking provides an immediate connection and, depending on the context, may prove more memorable for both parties. Networking opportunities occur in convention centers, workplaces, and even in public. Make time to attend relevant lectures and seminars, visit job fairs, and attend social events.

Adding a personal touch to your professional connections will help you stand out and be remembered.

Networking in person might seem like a contrived or hollow process, but this doesn't have to be the case. A stereotypical networking method, such as handing out business cards or contact information, goes along well with a chat about your current work experience, future goals, or personal motivations. Adding a personal touch to your professional connections will help you stand out and be remembered.

Elevator Pitches in Public Health

One useful tool for professional networkers to keep in their back pocket is the classic elevator pitch: a concise, brief summary of who you are, what you offer, and what you’re seeking. It should last no more than approximately 30 seconds, which is the length of an average elevator ride. Apart from avoiding a clunky sales pitch format, few hard and fast rules exist for elevator pitches. You should craft yours according to your own needs. Aspiring public health professionals might consider sharing their motivations for choosing to pursue work in this particular field. For additional ideas, use online guides and suggestions.

Social Networking Sites for Public Health Professionals

LinkedIn is the most popular and widely known professional social networking site. However, public health professionals have additional online networking options, such as BranchOut and Gadball. Online social networking provides several advantages over traditional methods, namely increasing the size of your potential networking pool. You can access people from global locations without leaving your desk, although online communication often lacks the personal touch of face-to-face networking. LinkedIn and other business networking sites frequently require paid membership to access certain features, which limits your networking ability if you choose to remain on a free plan.

It takes time and experience to develop networking abilities. Even long-time professionals must continue to hone their methods as they learn what to say and how to act in their efforts to make meaningful connections with others.

Networking Event "Do's" for Public Health Professionals

  • Set Goals: Before you attend a networking event, consider what you want to accomplish and set goals accordingly. Maybe you want to hold five in-depth conversations that end with an exchange of contact information. Maybe you want to meet a specific person in attendance. Wherever you go, go with a goal in mind.
  • Dress Appropriately: You don't have to dress the same way for every event you attend. Consider the event’s context. A social mixer might not require the same attire as a business conference. When in doubt, business casual is usually appropriate.
  • Bring Business Cards: While networking events stand apart from job fairs or vendor exhibitions, you should still bring business cards with relevant information and contact details. At the end of a conversation with someone, offer them your card and ask if they would like to stay in touch.
  • Be Concise: At heavily attended networking events, everyone arrives with the hope of making as many significant professional connections as possible. Keeping this in mind, try to avoid unintentionally holding others hostage with a long-winded discussion. Keep your conversations and anecdotes concise, and allow conversation partners to move on if they wish.
  • Follow Up on Connections: You’ve spent the evening conversing, shaking hands, and getting to know others in your field. Now you can head home and let the networking magic kick in, right? Not quite. Following up on conversations with a timely email, LinkedIn connection request, or phone call in the week following the event is vital to meaningful networking.

Networking Event "Don'ts" for Public Health Professionals

  • Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume: Although the population at networking events might look similar to what you would see at a job fair, the two come with entirely different social rules. Keep your resume at home when you attend networking events. Focus on meeting people and forging real connections rather than appearing overly eager to land a job.
  • Use a Shotgun Approach: When attending a networking event, focus on the quality, not quantity, of connections. One surefire way to alienate other professionals in the room is by making a sales pitch to everyone within earshot or passing out business cards like candy.
  • Interrupt or Talk Over Others: Successful networkers listen and speak. Interruptions are rude in any context. Remember that networking means making real connections, not getting the last word. Give others your attention, and they will return the favor.
  • Be Intimidated: No matter what professional hats we wear in the workplace or how much name recognition we possess, at the end of the day, we’re all human. Don’t be afraid to approach others at a networking event. Even notable public health professionals benefit from conversations with others.
  • Neglect to Follow Up on Connections: Following up on connections after a networking event ensures your best chance of developing and maintaining the professional relationship. Take the initiative, and don’t assume others will reach out first. Waiting too long, or forgetting entirely, to follow up on a connection makes it difficult to reconnect in the future.