The Art of Networking: Building Valuable Connections

Having now spent time on the other side since graduating from pharmacy school, I know this phrase to be true. In fact, I wouldn't have successfully landed my last 2 jobs in the industry if I had not properly networked within this small world!

The Art of Networking: Building Valuable Connections
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If you're a pharmacist in the United States, you've almost certainly heard that "Pharmacy is a small world." It's something that your professors, mentors, and managers probably told you at some point in your career. Having now spent time on the other side since graduating from pharmacy school, I know this phrase to be true. In fact, I wouldn't have successfully landed my last 2 jobs in the industry if I had not properly networked within this small world!

Before we dive in, I want to acknowledge my particular brand of networking. Many people think of "networking" as a gross term, and I can understand that sentiment. There's a great quote from the television show New Girl when city councilwoman Fawn Moscato says, "The computers are just the thing you talk about when you're really talking about how to help each other become more powerful. Just like the money from this golf thing, it doesn't go to charity! It just pays for the event where we network. Isn't that cool? Yay, America!"

That type of networking definitely happens in the real world, however, what we're going to be talking about today is very different. You can think of this as a guide for how to make friends in a professional environment, and I do use the word "friends" with purpose. The best connections in your network are with people you consider friends rather than folks you met at a conference and exchanged business cards with. This isn't quid pro quo. It's a connection you've made with someone that you enjoy and would therefore be willing to help out in the future. Having said that, let's dive in!

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Pharmacy School

For most people, building their network begins while in school. Pharmacy school is like the troll in the girl's bathroom that the Golden Trio defeats in the Harry Potter series. After Harry, Ron, and Hermione take on that particular challenge together in their first year at Hogwarts, they are friends for life. Similarly, there's something about going through the grind of graduate training together that tends to build connections and friendships.

Those friends that you make in school will always be good contacts in the future. When I created RxTeach, the first person I brought on board was a friend I made in school. I knew that Kristen was brilliant, fun, effective, and creative because I spent so much time around during school. RxTeach probably wouldn't exist without her. I've also had multiple other friends from school write articles for RxTeach, for which I'm extremely grateful.

Outside of your close friend group, you'll also create relationships with peers through involvement in student organizations. SSHP, APhA, SNPhA, Rho Chi, IPHO, and many other organizations are available to students across the country. You'll interact with tons of people through these orgs and you'll also get to travel to conferences together. I'm convinced that some of the best connections are created while traveling because it forces you out of "professional" scenarios. You'll get to fly together, grab dinner as a group, and attend happy hours. You might even have to share a hotel room depending on how your school pays for travel. Over time, the walls will come down and you'll start to learn a lot about each other. This is the point when you've added a name to your network.

That may seem like a high bar, but a strongly knit network is more powerful than a large, weakly linked one. If you're to utilize someone in your network in the future, there must be good memories shared between you in the past. Otherwise, I find it to be an empty connection that doesn't really mean much. Luckily, school will set you up to make genuine connections like this over and over again. You just have to be open to taking the opportunities.

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Post-Graduate Training

After school, many of us will go through some type of post-graduate training. For me, it was a post-doctoral fellowship in medical affairs. For others, it's a PGY-1 residency. Regardless of the actual training, this is another fantastic opportunity to network!

Post-graduate training shares the same sentiments as pharmacy school in that mutual suffering creates lasting relationships. Your co-residents and co-fellows often become friends for life, and by virtue of being accepted into these competitive programs, they're also likely to be smart, worthy connections.

With that in mind, make sure to spend time hanging out with your peers! Once the walls come down and genuine friendships ensue, that's when you can consider other residents or fellows part of your network.

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Your ability to create lasting relationships with coworkers depends on a lot of factors. For instance, it's much easier to make friends in an in-person environment than a virtual one. Having said that, I have a lot of close coworkers that I've never met. Those relationships are just admittedly less genuine than those with coworkers I've met at least once and got to hang out with in real life.

The best way to make friends with coworkers is to bond over codependence. You need to make yourself an integral part of your team and someone that people come to for help. You also want to be the type of person that can effectively deliver on a project. Once you've done that, find people at work that are just like you!

Good working relationships must have a strong base in capability and reliability. Once that is established, genuine friendships can emerge. A good sign that you're on the right track is if you find yourself talking about non-work topics together. That typically only happens when coworkers actually enjoy each other. Additionally, think about what you'd be willing to do for your coworkers and whether or not it's a mutual feeling. Would you cover for them? Would you be a reference for them? Would you enjoy hanging out with them? If you answer yes to all 3 of those questions, you can consider your network expanded.

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LinkedIn is good for some things and terrible for others. Forget genuine relationship building. That rarely happens on LinkedIn. Rather, this is a great platform to keep tabs on folks' careers and to occasionally reach out to connections to make sure they stay strong. Importantly, it's also great for contacting new people as an introduction that will hopefully become a strong connection via other means in the future.

LinkedIn is also good for job searching, and more often than not, folks will use this as a quick means to gauge your experiences without access to your CV. For that reason, you should make sure it's well organized, clean, and paints a realistic picture of your professional career.

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You may only have experience as a mentee at this point in your career, but I promise that it goes both ways. As a mentee, your mentor is of course a great networking connection. They can introduce you to others in their network, vouch for you, give you advice, etc... Mentors really are a priceless asset. If you don't have one (or many), then you should make it a priority to find one!

Being a mentor is also extremely advantageous. Not only does it feel great to pass along the generosity you likely received at some point, but mentees can bring in a new perspective that you hadn't previously considered. They also know different types of people with different kinds of expertise than you might be used to. Finding mentees is a great way to expand your network and expose yourself to new things. They will keep you up to date!

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Photo by Austin Kehmeier / Unsplash

Giving Back

The last note here is niche, but very important. RxTeach has allowed me to meet so many new people. Pharmacists with different backgrounds, countless students, coworkers that found the website, donors, etc... I really can't speak enough for trying to do something meant to give back. Whether you're helping students, patients, or someone else, making the effort to do so will put you on a path that will make you feel fulfilled in life while also expanding your network. If you've been contemplating starting something like this, it's time to take the leap! I'd be happy to be your first connection on a new journey.

*Information presented on RxTeach does not represent the opinion of any specific company, organization, or team other than the authors themselves. No patient-provider relationship is created.