Let’s be honest: pre-veterinary and early veterinary students are not typically known as being networking aficionados. Networking ties into social and emotional intelligence, and we all have areas to improve.
There are a handful of “tips” below that have worked well for me over the past two years.
1: Have a business card. Simple rule: anytime someone hands you a business card, hand one back. I suggest investing in your business cards. You can go to a website and get 250 free business cards or 250 cards for around $10. However, spending $30 on a nice set can take you from potentially recognizable to memorable. Glossy finish and heavier paper go a long way. What in the heck do you include on it? Name, number, e-mail, school. Use your whole school name including the “college of veterinary medicine” or whatever your school is called. We are DVM/VMD Candidates, or Professional Veterinary Medical Students. Pick whichever one you prefer, and include your graduation date. If you have a working LinkedIn account, consider including it. I cannot believe I am sharing this tip with you because it is my favorite, but use a dark background. 99% of professionals have their business cards provided by their office. 98% of those 99% will use a white card. What better way to stand out than having your card be black or dark blue? Be mindful of the text color… nothing too bright that will give people a headache. Last tip on business cards: leave the back blank so people can write a note there. Ok, really the last. Anytime you receive someone’s card, make a note unique to that person. When you follow up, you can reference this unique thing. That leads us to point two, which might be out of order.
2. Follow Up. This tip will be less windy. Follow up with people that interest you. Definitely follow up with anyone that you say you will. Nothing discourages people more than getting excited about you just to never hear from you again. How in the world do you write a follow up e-mail when there is nothing specific at hand? Simple. The subject: “Follow-up from _____” The blank is wherever or however you met them. Keep the e-mail short and sweet. Let them know you are just touching base. If something you talked about interested you, ask them for more information or to connect you to more information.
3. Be brave. So you’ve swapped cards, now what? We are never taught how to network, or at least most of us aren’t. It can be scary to walk up to a complete stranger at a conference and engage in a discussion. Start with people in your area of interest. They can at least tell you a bit about themselves and what they do that will stimulate some questions for you. What happens when you have zero idea about what this person does? It is actually a lot easier than you think. You aren’t expected to know everything, yet. So be honest. “I am not familiar with this aspect of the profession, would you mind giving me a broader perspective?”
4. Do not fear rejection. Had a bad experience? Couldn’t relate to someone? Do not worry about it! You will not have connections with everyone. Keep a smile on your face and move on. If you were disrespectful, definitely apologize. Believe it or not, this is a SMALL profession (I’ll be generous and say 90,000 of us). Do not burn bridges or be rude. However, it is more than likely you interacted with a person who is not skilled in this area. (Tell them to read this blog – kidding). It happens. Handle yourself gracefully, learn something, and appreciate that you were able to have the interaction.
That is enough for now. I will probably write about this again, and hopefully have some more great tips from my travels to California next month. Please reach out if you want more information.