American Academy of Ophthalmology Web Site:
Original URL:

Network Your Way to a Job

undefined Issue Index | Related Articles | YO Info Archive

networking verb 1 : Creating a web of contacts to support and help others. 2 : Oftentimes thought of as schmoozing and pandering to get what you want, but in reality, the art of building alliances.

I spent several years volunteering with an ophthalmologist during college and, occasionally, during medical school. We got along very well and developed a strong friendship. While in my second year of residency, he called and invited me to interview in his practice. During the interview, I was told that I came highly recommended by Dr. M. and was offered the job. I have been in the practice nearly five years, and all of my expectations have been exceeded.

The moral of this story is that you are creating a web of contacts at every moment. I did not realize I was even creating a network while volunteering with him during college.

That’s why it’s important to treat every relationship as one that will be lasting. Treat everyone with respect, from the janitor at your work to the nurse on the hospital floor to the partner in your practice. My residency program director demonstrated this attitude the best of anyone I know. He was kind to everyone, not because he wanted something, but because it was the right thing to do.

Your Networking Personality
You have an advantage because introverts tend to be better listeners and, as a result, you can gather more information about a practice and potential partners. Here are a few suggestions to help break the ice:
 1. Ask who, what, where, when and why questions. Who inspired you to become a physician? What are your hobbies? Where are you from? When did you know that you wanted to become an ophthalmologist? Why did you choose a particular city to practice?
 2. Ask to volunteer to be a greeter or to work the registration desk.
 3. While at a meeting/conference, ask a friend who is more outgoing to introduce you to people.
Engaging and meeting others is your strong suit. You do not need tips on meeting people, but rather on working at being a better listener. You should work on asking more questions. Assure that you are not dominating the conversation by trying to involve others in the conversation.

It has been reported that extroverts typically are known for thinking aloud and are known for entering an interview and winging it. Instead, try to plan what you are going to say ahead of time and practice your introduction.

Whether you are searching for your first job, interviewing for fellowships or looking for new patient referrals, here are five keys to building lasting relationships.

1. Contact List
Create a list of contacts from family, friends and/or faculty members and share your interests in searching for a job. I can recall performing an eye exam on my father-in-law as a resident and handing him a copy of the exam note to take with him to his ophthalmologist in another state. I received a phone call a month later with an offer to interview for my first job after residency. During the interview, I was told how impressed they were by the exam note and my father-in-law. People trust people they know. They are more likely to hire someone they know or who is known by someone they trust.

You can access your other contacts via e-mail, phone or a social-networking system. I can recall being reluctant to sign up for any social-networking networks (Facebook or LinkedIn) for various reasons. During my MBA classes however, I realized that successful business leaders were ones who created a lot of contacts in many fields. Do you know someone in your family who “has a guy” for just about anything — “I know a guy who can do that,” and they provide a name and number? I realized the importance of building bridges as opposed to remaining an island. Get to know people.

2. Business Cards
Professional business cards are a must. As a resident physician, you need to think like a business person. You are trying to sell yourself (i.e., get a job). Add your personal contact information to a business card. If you are searching for a job, do not use a pen to add your extra information to your card. Spend the extra money on high-quality business cards.

During an interview or other setting where you are receiving a business card, view the card for a moment and place it in a secure location. After the conversation, write down a few notes about it on the back of the person’s card for your follow-up e-mail or phone call. A simple statement like, “I enjoyed speaking with you,” followed by a comment on one or two of the topics you discussed, will suffice as follow-up.

If you sense you have run out of information to discuss at a gathering, bring your card out to end the conversation. If you are at a social gathering and there are a lot of people, limit your time with each individual. It is recommended to spend just a few minutes with each person. I can recall being cornered at an event by one individual and could not break away until a friend walked over and saved me. If you are a quiet individual, consider inviting a friend to the meeting to walk around with you. If you are looking for a job, it is imperative to meet as many people as possible at the event. If you meet someone who sounds like a potential business partner, spend extra time with him or her.

3. Curriculum Vitae
If you don’t have a business card, be prepared to hand out your curriculum vitae (CV) at nearly every event. Oftentimes, as a resident, you might think that a small meeting will not result in any new contacts. But it is the one person who has his or her CV prepared and ready to be delivered who will most likely get a position first. Even if there are not any new contacts you can make at a local meeting, you can still strengthen your current ones.

4. Phone-Interview Skills
Ensure your voice mail message is professional sounding. Also, schedule plenty of time to interview. Prepare a folder of questions about the practice and the community. Assure you are in a quiet environment. Avoid eating or chewing gum.

Preferably, you should schedule the interview on a free day, but oftentimes we have a lot of activities that are out of our control. If you are on call during the phone interview, then tell your prospective partner you are on call at the beginning of the interview and may need to phone him or her back later. For example, you can say, “I apologize in advance if I get called away, but I am on call tonight.”

5. Thank You Cards
Send a handwritten thank you card if you were invited to a job interview. If you met someone at a meeting, then send him or her an e-mail message or phone, expressing the pleasure of meeting the person and a one-line statement about your interest (I am passionate about cataract and refractive surgery and looking for a position on the East Coast). If you are strongly interested in the position, then send a cover letter with your CV. Even if you are not interested in the position, sending an e-mail or thank you card is still the right thing to do and may lead to another networking contact.

A friend once told me the best place to network at a meeting is at the end of the day during dinner or even later. This is when individuals relax more and when you have the opportunity to learn about a different side of a person. For example, if you are given the opportunity to meet with the residents the night before your residency interview, do it. If you are invited to dinner with a group of folks at a conference, do it. Your intent should be on building relationships, with the hope that one or two can turn into a friendship.

Ophthalmology is a small field and we need each other. I once had a patient who needed to see an ophthalmologist in another state. After I established the contact for this patient, the other doctor and I became friends and now I have a contact for future patients.

Networking often has a negative connotation and is associated with using someone for one’s advantage. This is simply not true. Networking is about building relationships. Life is short, so do your best to focus on helping others. If your focus is on others first, then you will not seek to gain an advantage or a benefit from them.

Do not burn bridges. Be nice to everyone, not because of what you can get in return, but because it is the right thing to do and you will naturally reap benefits from your kindness. Ultimately, this increases the number of job opportunities for you to choose from and will likely lead to a place where you want to practice.

undefined Issue Index | Related Articles | YO Info Archive

* * *

About the author: Robert Melendez, MD, is board-certified ophthalmologist and a partner at Eye Associates of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He is also an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Surgery/Division of Ophthalmology at the University of New Mexico, as well as the section chief of ophthalmology for Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque and graduate of the Academy’s Leadership Development Program X, Class of 2008.