Vaneeta Sandhu, PsyD
Summertime means conferences in beautiful destinations. For some, it is time to connect and catch up with friends and colleagues, but for others thinking about forming those connections can be anxiety provoking. Those who identify as shy or introverted, or are unsure how to network, may avoid events or social hours even though they know it could benefit their careers. This is particularly applicable to early career professionals, as the pressure to build networks, enhance skills, and become involved in professional groups grows. The following are a few key strategies to practice during your next conference:
Be prepared. Early career psychologists are quite skilled in being over-prepared. Review the conference schedule and social events. Identify presenters whose research or organizational affiliations interest you. Take notes on pertinent information and questions you would like to ask – this will increase your confidence in initiating and engaging discussion!
Attend with a colleague or friend. It can be helpful to be involved in a discussion when you are already familiar with one of the individuals in the discussion. Be sure the person who accompanies you is comfortable with networking and can model strategies for you. It is also helpful if this is a person who can give you feedback on your introductions, body language, and conversation style.
Practice your introduction. This is usually the first point of contact and when you are nervous, can seem like the most difficult. When introducing yourself, remember to keep it brief! Depending on the situation, the most information to include in the introduction is your name, affiliation, and type of work you conduct. Practice your introduction while alone, with friends or family, or even with a fellow attendee while waiting in a line or riding an elevator.
Sit beside someone. This may sound obvious but it can be tempting to sit in the chair that is not surrounded by a person on either side. Arrive early enough to the session so you can sit beside someone and introduce yourself. Since you have both chosen to attend the same session, you already have a point of conversation.
Follow up. With all those business cards you have gathered, be sure to follow up with your new contacts after the conference. If appropriate, thank the individual for the time spent with you and review briefly the discussion topic to remind them who you are. When following up via email, one advantage is you can attach any documents that may be appropriate, including your CV or an article related to your discussion, and the new contact can also attach information, such as grant or funding information.
Finally, attending conference social events that cater to early career professionals can be helpful and validating. You will likely meet others who understand what the pressure of networking is like, so enjoy a laugh while simultaneously networking with them. Hopefully some of these strategies come in handy for this year’s APA Convention in Toronto! See you there!