In the course of your nursing career, you need allies who can support you in elevating and advancing your journey as a professional nurse.
Allies are easier to come by than you think, but many nurses don’t think strategically about this important aspect of nursing career development.
Since many nurses seem averse to consciously and purposefully building a professional network, here are five strategies to do just that.
Find A Mentor
A mentor is often an ally who has your best interests in mind. During your nursing career, you can always hire a mentor for a short period of time and a specific purpose but there are plenty of mentors to go around among your peers and colleagues.
A mentor is often an ally who has your best interests in mind. Of course, during your nursing career, you can always hire a mentor for a short period and a specific purpose (for example, a career coach), but there are plenty of mentors to go around among your peers and colleagues.
Consider yourself very lucky if you’re a newer nurse and have one of those rare employers offering a well-designed mentoring program. Unfortunately, most nurses fall into the camp of needing to seek out a mentor on their own.
A mentor can be an experienced and compassionate colleague willing to meet with you periodically to help you navigate essential aspects of your career. If there’s someone you think is the cat’s meow as a nurse or leader, you can boldly ask them to be your mentor — let them know what you need, and ask if they’d be willing.
You also have the option of simply closely observing and emulating someone who you think is superlative in the areas where you’d like to grow. Silently watch them, practice as they practice, and allow them to be your nurse role model.
For me, my colleague Donna Cardillo is this type of mentor. I never officially asked Donna to mentor me; instead, I observe her career and how she goes about things, and I often use the example she sets to empower myself to move forward creatively.
Start Small and Easy Finding Allies
If you’re an introvert and networking feels scary and intimidating, don’t worry about trying to find like-minded allies and colleagues at big conferences and meetings. Instead, start small, and make this process easy on yourself.
Look to your immediate circle of colleagues for your true allies. Who always has your back? Who checks in and asks how you’re doing? Who offers help and is always there for you? Your work friends may be a natural gene pool of natural allies.
It’s easy to keep these types of allies close. Nurture these relationships through reciprocal kindness and mutual support.
Leverage Online Platforms and Resources
Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of nurses and professionals through online nursing communities and social media.
I met my former business partner and RNFM Radio cohost, Kevin Ross, on Twitter in 2011 — we then launched one of the first nursing podcasts around, as well as a growing company. Our other partner, Elizabeth Scala, found me on Twitter in 2012; she was looking for like-minded nurse entrepreneurs and allies.
I also met Dr. Renee Thompson — the internationally known expert on bullying and incivility in nursing — on Twitter around that same time. Our Twitter connection quickly developed into a true offline friendship, and I now count her as one of my closest friends.
Dr. Thompson also unofficially mentors me in terms of growing my speaking business. So although we’re close pals, she also serves as a person whose work ethic and approach to supporting the nurses I seek to emulate.
Meanwhile, I continue to use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to build my network and meet new people with whom I feel aligned. When someone stands out from the crowd, I reach out, and we expand our relationship via phone, Zoom, or FaceTime, and sometimes we have the chance to meet in person, which is truly the icing on the networking cake.
Think Outside The Box
Your allies don’t all have to be nurses; they don’t even have to work in healthcare.
Your most ardent and enthusiastic allies might be right under your nose.
Think about your family and close friends — who among these groups of your most intimate circles are natural allies?
Who cares enough to ask about your career and how you’re doing? Who shows interest in your professional life? Some may enjoy your company by cracking a beer together, enjoying a meal, or playing baseball on Saturday mornings — that’s fine since you need friends like that, too. However, a select few are true allies to whom you could turn for advice or support when you need them most.
And remember: your therapist, counselor, AA sponsor, or faith leader are all natural allies. Look to them for comfort, advice, support, a shoulder to cry on, and a peaceful place to share your deepest worries and troubles.
Finally, look at yourself. It would be best if you were your own greatest ally. After all, you’re always there, aren’t you?
If there are ways in which you tend to undermine yourself, seek help from a therapist or counselor to unpack those negative habits and thought patterns. Continue to untangle the stuff that holds you back, and consistently move forward in the interest of being self-respecting, healthy, whole, and balanced.
Allies Are Everywhere
Your allies are everywhere. Look within, look without, look online, and look around you. These allies will get you through the tough times and help you grow when it’s time to be expansive.
Gather your allies and create a circle of support for your nursing career and personal growth. It’s part of your life’s work — make it count.
Minority Nurse is thrilled to welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.
Despite their public-facing profession, many nurses put networking activities at the bottom of a to-do list. But keeping a strong professional network is important in good times and bad. You want to have colleagues and professional peers you can reach out to when you are looking for professional opportunities; but in a strong network, you are also able to offer help to others.
Even if you hate networking, keeping up a professional presence beyond your workplace is essential to your career. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to chat up 50 people at a networking meeting (unless you want to!). Networking encompasses a broad scope–finding what you’re comfortable with and staying active in that platform is important. Every now and then, add in activities that are beyond your comfort zone as those kinds of activities offer tremendous opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Here are a few ways to get started.
Get an active social presence
Nope, that doesn’t mean meeting people face to face. Nurses who have a solid professional presence on social media–including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok–are establishing a professional identity and building a reputation for expertise. Share important news from your organization, your alma mater, your professional organizations, or colleagues. Relay your own experiences and what you have learned in your life to help others. Keep all your posts professional, positive, and informative. Aim to make at least one post a week.
Show your face at events
Yes, in-person attendance is great, but not everyone is able to do that. Find professional organization meetings on Zoom and go to those. Attend seminars, both local and far away, that can help you meet other nurses and folks in other professions. Attend and participate in breakout sessions. Try to schedule this at least once a quarter, more often if you can.
Offer to help
Networking is not a one-way street. Good networking helps your career, but you can also help others–no matter where you are at in your own career. Even as a new nurse, you can offer to help nursing students who are trying to navigate their next steps. Nursing students can give talks at high schools to help introduce younger students to a nursing career. Or stretch past nursing and offer to share your talents in organization, communication, or advocacy with others. The key is to give back to keep your network moving both ways. Try to reach out to help once a month.
Don’t be shy
Networking is a dynamic process and requires attention. Send notes and messages when you see a peer has won an award. Inquire after an event to see how it went or wish good luck before a big presentation. React with praise if warranted to a peer’s LinkedIn post. When you are consistent about reaching out to others without asking for anything in return, it won’t seem so uncomfortable to ask for help when you need it. Nurses are used to taking care of things themselves and asking for something often is the last thing they want to do.
As you become more comfortable with networking and as your network grows larger, you’ll notice how frequently people rely on each other–whether that is for landing a job in your dream organization or for finding a speaker to fill in for a last-minute schedule change at a convention. Practice asking for help, watch how others do it, and begin reaching out to others. Connect with others frequently–this should happen at least once or twice a week.
Building and nourishing a network takes time and effort but will develop meaningful personal and professional connections.
As the end of the year draws to a close and you start thinking about resolutions and a fresh start, consider a few professional steps to boost your career.
At the top of your list should be your resolve to go to networking events and to make a lasting impression at each one.
You don’t have to be the life of the party and you don’t have to schmooze with each and every person there. Networking is a good way to meet others in your industry while also sharpening your professional communication skills.
If you’re a natural extrovert in social gatherings, networking events shouldn’t be too difficult for you. Introverts might have a harder time, but they can still be successful networkers.
No matter what your own networking personality is, there are a few things to remember that will help you work a room like a pro.
Practice Your Talking Points
You can, and should, practice your networking efforts. Invite some friends over and practice introducing yourself and making small talk that is meaningful. Practice with coworkers at lunch. Stand in front of a mirror and read off prepped cards. Practice until you are comfortable holding a conversation that has real impact with someone you just met.
Investigate the Event
Do a little legwork so you know what you want to accomplish. Do you want to meet a specific person? Do you want to find out about a new trend in nursing? Are you looking for information about certification? Decide what you want to find out and choose at least four people who can help you so you can introduce yourself.
Looking friendly doesn’t mean you have to plaster a smile on your face. But a natural smile helps when you are talking to others. Mingle. Chat with the person next to you. Do not stand against a wall or sit at a table silently. Be genuinely interested in what’s going on around you and people will catch onto that feeling.
Have a Prop
Some people feel especially uncomfortable if they don’t have something in their hands. If you relate to that, by all means grab a plate of food, a glass of water, or even just a small stack of business cards. Just don’t do more than one at the same time or it will get in the way of you being able to shake hands with people or hand out your business cards.
Because you are networking to connect, you will surely leave a networking event with some business cards or at the very least some names and contact information. Follow up with people who can help you, those to whom you can offer your help, or just people you formed a connection with.
Growing your professional network takes work and part of that is just getting out and meeting people at events. Each event brings something different to the table, so figure out how your professional experience and skills can shine in different situations.
And remember, you have just as much to offer as anyone else there, so don’t think of networking as something you do to get something. Figure out ways you can offer to help others, too, and you’ll be much more satisfied and likely to form strong professional relationships.
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