Making Connections: A Guide to Networking for OTs
The Allied Health professional landscape is changing. Whereas 30 years ago a health professional might look to secure a job for life, today’s generation of professionals can be expected to shift between 12 different jobs over the course of their career1.
That’s a lot of change to navigate through. Strong professional networks help you to not only adapt to changing circumstances, but enable you to find the best applications of your skills as you reach your potential.
Why Networking Matters
Think of your career like a building under construction—albeit one that takes decades to complete. Your studies and education help to lay the building’s foundations, while the experiences and skills you develop along the way form the actual building blocks.
Your professional network acts like the scaffolding and framework surrounding the building. While the scaffolding itself won’t take your career to new heights, it does provide the necessary supports and opportunities to enable you to do so.
Surrounding yourself with a strong, supportive network allows you to:
- Seek out advice and learn from like-minded peers
- Stay informed about the latest developments in your practice domain
- Discover new career opportunities
- Collaborate on new initiatives and programs
- Build a series of references to vouch for your skills and achievements
How Should You Connect?
Now you know why it’s important to network, the second stage is learning how to build your network of peers and contacts. And that can be quite the daunting prospect—this article wouldn’t exist if it were an easy task! It isn’t. Like all skills, networking takes time and effort.
For those members who are still in the early stages of establishing their careers, the prospect of networking can be incredibly daunting. Particularly if you’ve only just entered the workforce and are simply told to “connect with industry experts”. How do I meet them? What would I even say once I did?
Even for seasoned professionals, the process isn’t always an easy one. While your clinical/practice skills may have already been refined and honed over years of CPD and practical experience, networking presents an entirely new skillset to master. One which must be practised and refined like all others.
So, where do you start?
Well, that’s the easy part! OTA members are already connected to Australia’s largest community of OTs. How might you go about making these connections to help enrich your professional network?
- OTA Conferences. Whether it’s a national or domain-specific (i.e. OTA’s upcoming Mental Health Forum 2020) conference, large scale conferences provide ample opportunities to not only mingle with other delegates, but to also meet exhibitors and connect with high-profile keynote speakers
- CPD Events, SIGs and RIGs. Workshops and Interest Groups present great opportunities to meet like-minded peers. Plus, having attended the group/event together, you’ll already have something in common when you first approach them
- Social Media. Whether you discover an online contact through one of OTA’s social channels or as part of an existing Facebook group, don’t be afraid to reach out. Consider simple interactions such as replying back to their comment, retweeting their idea or connecting with them on LinkedIn
- Across the Web. Look for websites/blogs covering areas of interest to you, or make note of OTs profiled in news articles. Either contact them directly or reach out to the publication to express your interest
Give More Than You Take
Once you’ve established that initial interaction, it’s important to nurture the connection. Building networks for the long-term begins with giving more than you take.
A simple way to start is by offering the person something without an expectation of reciprocation. It could take the form of offering a compliment on their presentation or sharing an interesting piece of research you’ve seen that they might be interested in.
The key lesson here is not to view networking as a zero-sum game.
That is, for you to benefit from the relationship, the other party doesn't have to give up the equivalent amount of time or expertise. A piece of knowledge taken-for-granted by an expert could completely change a new grad’s outlook on the field. Likewise, the enthusiasm expressed from a passionate student could inspire an academic to approach their research from an entirely new angle.
Let’s consider an example.
Younis is final-year OT student who has a younger sibling with Cerebral Palsy and is passionate about helping other children with disabilities reach their potential. But after four years of study, he’s now struggling to secure a new-graduate position.
Younis looks through OTA’s upcoming event calendar and discovers that a workshop near him is being run by Laura, a senior staff member of Cerebral Palsy Alliance. After the event Younis, approaches Laura and thanks her for the insights shared, and how they will help inform his approach to clinical practice.
That night, Younis finds Laura on LinkedIn and they connect. Younis thanks Laura again for her presentation and shares a piece of interesting research he found. A week goes by. Laura sees a summer internship program open up at CPA and tags Younis in the comments. Younis thanks Laura for sharing and applies for the opportunity.
After identifying the type and range of peers who can help you succeed, you then need to approach and engage those professionals, offering them value. Whether that’s through your time, expertise or support, consider what they’ll get out of the interactions too.
Some contacts may offer to assist or mentor you out of sheer goodwill (that’s wonderful if they do!), but don’t forget that they don’t owe you anything. View networking not as a transactional exchange, but as a mutual benefit.
Successful networkers put the effort in, regularly. It’s no good to send off a single email to a thought leader and expect them to come knocking on your door with the job offer of your dreams.
Don’t approach networking from the mindset of what can you gain from them? But rather, what can they gain from you?
About The Author
Mitch Green is OTA's Content Marketer, producing Connections magazine and OTA's range of communications and pieces of content. He is also a landscape photographer.