Networking has become a huge part of my career, growth, and development as a dental professional. During the past 15 years in the industry, networking has opened my eyes to many possibilities and has kept my passion for dentistry alive. Networking is more than just a buzz word, and frankly, it’s hard to argue its value when you hear about the opportunities it brought to those who networked. There is truth to the phrase, “It’s who you know.” My hope for you is to keep an open mind and become curious about the possibilities networking can bring to your career.
Expand your knowledge
We in the dental industry have opportunities to learn in so many ways, and I encourage you to take advantage of them. Free online continuing education (CE) is great, and many of the courses are provided by knowledgeable industry leaders, and online learning is convenient. I enjoy a good course from my couch from time to time; however, I challenge you to get off the couch and get out there!
Attend local, state, and national meetings to earn your CE, peruse the exhibit halls, and learn from industry experts. By attending these events, you gain organic exposure to professionals from other geographic regions who have diverse ways of thinking. You’ll stay up to date on dental products through hands-on demos and one-on-one conversations with vendors. Thinking CE is simply a requirement to maintain license will not serve you as well as if you build your network in person. I’ve witnessed dental professionals count their CE credits and earn the bare minimum, or binge courses online right before the license renewal date. This is heartbreaking to see with the knowledge and networking opportunities available from simply stepping outside your comfort zone.
Fuel your passion
We spend most of our time with our coworkers. Does your work environment allow you to thrive, or do you dread work as you drive there? Even the healthiest of work environments has its moments, so how can we keep the passion alive in our relationship with dentistry? My answer is—you guessed it—networking. Build your network.
Spending time with coworkers is great but bringing others into your dental community to provide additional insight and ideas is powerful. I am an introverted extrovert who finds talking to others a big challenge at first. It took me a few years of regularly attending events to be able to chat confidently with others, and it’s still a conscious effort. If this is you, never fear, you can do it!
Step one is to simply show up. Showing up allows you to gain familiarity with the group, the events, and the process. Once you feel comfortable with these things, you may be ready to take the next step of meeting others and even providing support to newcomers. Another tip for networking introverts is to find an extrovert to hang with. Extroverts thrive when meeting others, they can naturally break the ice for you, and you can meet people along with them. This works great for me. Don’t be afraid to branch out.
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Feed your fire
Once you build your network, connect with others online following events. Keeping in touch builds your relationships over the miles. I have found that by showing up and then connecting afterward, my network has grown exponentially. I recently explained this phenomenon to a new friend from a dental conference. I explained that networking and fostering these relationships is like building a fire. You first meet and the match is lit during the event.
By connecting after events, you can feed the fire and watch it grow by seeking advice from others, responding to life events and accomplishments, and supporting each other. Then, when you connect again in the future, your flame is still burning, but it’s even bigger! This continues year after year and, as time goes on, the flames grow. My new friend understood my analogy. After a long social media hiatus, she’s back online and connecting with dental professionals all over the country. Building these fires leads to endless possibilities to support and grow together.
Take purposeful action
If you’re thinking, “I’d love to, but I can’t take time off work, or away from my family, and I can’t afford to travel.” I’m not here to tell you what works for you, but I will share this. In my experience, the investment you make in yourself and your career will come back to you by providing value you never knew you needed. Your reenergized feelings, excitement to share new ideas with coworkers, and connections will serve you in the future.
Here are some quick tips for attending in-person events: propose attending conferences as an office group (check out conference websites for tips on how to talk to your employer about sponsoring you); attend local events to keep costs down; travel with coworkers or connect with other dental professionals online to share hotel room costs; or reach out to vendors who are looking for someone to help at their tradeshow booth and earn some cash and/or experience while on site. Are you still not convinced? Connect online. Connect with the countless Facebook groups filled with like-minded dental professionals, network on LinkedIn, and reach out to those who comment on something you love.
Whether your network is small or large, nationwide or local, in-person or online, building a strong and healthy network will allow you to feel support and gain friendships. I’m living proof of this. I could not love our profession and our colleagues more! To build the healthiest network possible, show up as your authentic self, with no hidden agenda, and remember—we’re stronger together and together we will elevate our profession. Be brave and dive in!