Matters to a Degree

Gone are the days when a flip through the classified ads or a call to a potential employer quickly lands you a job. Statistics show that only 10-20% of jobs are even published, meaning that 80-90% of jobs remain hidden in the market or in the minds of employers.

The term networking has become somewhat cliche, but now more than ever, the ability to build and maintain relationships, showcase your skills and be a reliable resource and support to others can make or break a career. According to data from APA's Research Office, approximately 34% of new psychologist jobs are found through informal channels. It matters who you know. It also matters that others know and think highly of you.

How do you apply for jobs that aren't formally advertised or meet people who can help with your career? You cultivate a network of contacts. One of the best places to build and expand your network is at conferences like the upcoming APA Annual Convention. The following tips will help you effectively network at convention and beyond. (For more convention tips, see Convention 101, this issue.)

  • Plan who to meet

Maximize your convention time by mapping out your schedule in advance. Look up psychologists whom you admire, whose work you've read or who are employed in settings that you're interested in, and attend their programs. Listen attentively and offer a comment or question if invited. Afterwards, speak to the presenter and share how you respect and appreciate their work, enjoyed their talk and would like to stay in touch. Ask for their business card and give them yours, then follow up with an offer to help on a project or promote something important to them. Be sure to honor any commitment you make. People are more inclined to assist and recommend you if you support them and uphold your promises.

  • Circulate and be visible

Attend awards ceremonies, receptions, business meetings and social hours. Congratulate award recipients and meet leaders. Make rounds to introduce yourself to people you don't know, but don't try to talk to everyone unless you're the host. It's better to have a few meaningful interactions than 20 hasty introductions. Be sure not to dominate a conversation or monopolize someone's time, especially if others are waiting to speak to the same person. Avoid clinging to familiar people or groups; you're unlikely to build new contacts that way. If you know someone who's well connected, ask if you can join them for a reception or tag along to a program so you can be introduced to people in their network. Increase your visibility by submitting a convention program proposal for next year, joining a committee, posting messages to listservs, writing articles for publications or getting involved in activities.

  • Be professional

First impressions are lasting, particularly if they are uniquely positive or negative. You probably already know the basics of good social skills, such as dressing in business attire, giving firm handshakes, making eye contact, smiling and avoiding offensive statements. But, you'll need to think about how to make yourself memorable in one or two minutes. Consider practicing a concise introduction that includes stating your name (you'd be surprised at how many people forget this!), education, experience, skills and interests. Be sure to ask contacts about themselves, too. Being professional also involves giving credit to others when it's due, deference to those with more experience or seniority, and respecting differing views.

  • Be patient, yet proactive

Networking usually doesn't produce instant results, so don't get discouraged if you aren't offered a job the week after meeting someone new. Build momentum, be politely persistent and occasionally touch base with your contacts so they'll remember, but not be annoyed by you. Maintain a list of those in your expanding network and update it regularly with notes and new leads. Be sure to express appreciation to those who assist or spend time with you by sending a quick thank-you or e-mail.

A call or thank-you letter is a must for those who provide you with opportunities or lead you to a job.