Professional Networking in Psychology

Networking aids psychologists in job hunting, career development, knowledge and resource sharing, and relationship building. And if you're just beginning in the field, networking can prove invaluable, enabling you to get your foot in the door even if you lack professional experience.

Today, networking occurs both in person and online, but the process is still about forging personal connections with colleagues. Rather than simply tossing out business cards or rattling off professional accomplishments, effective networking considers what two parties can offer each other, forming a relationship that's mutually beneficial. Like many academic and clinical professions, psychologists also network to stay informed about the latest developments in their field and ensure the relevance of their practice and research.

This guide serves as an overview of the various types and functions of networking, offering practical information to help you develop and maintain professional connections.

Different Types of Professional Networks in Psychology

Business experts typically define three types of professional networks: operational, personal, and strategic. All three work together, but they function differently and serve different ends.

First, an operational network refers to individuals within your own organization and relationships that serve immediate intra-organizational needs -- essentially your working relationships with colleagues. Second, personal networking refers to relationships primarily outside your organization and even outside of the field of psychology. This is what most people picture when they think of networking: building connections throughout the industry to enhance professional prospects. Third, strategic networking functions as a combination of the two preceding types, referring to the practice of reading both industry and intra-organizational trends and making connections to keep yourself professionally relevant. Strategic networking might build connections that keep you abreast of widespread developments in research or organizational trends at your place of employment.

No one type of networking is better or more effective than any other, but many psychology professionals neglect strategic networking, which can have a negative impact on career development.

Networking Events in Psychology

Like most academic fields, psychology offers opportunities for networking through professional and academic conferences. Taking place in hotels, convention centers, and other event spaces, conferences feature activities that encourage professional development and networking. Typical events include lectures and seminars where participants present research and then engage in Q&A sessions with established experts in the field. Job fairs and social events also provide opportunities for networking.

Making connections at these events might be as simple as distributing business cards or as complex as an in-depth conversation about research methods with colleagues who share similar interests. Conferences offer wide-ranging opportunities for personal networking, but other events hold their own unique advantages. For instance, intra-organizational events, such as departmental or company functions, allow psychologists to engage in operational and strategic networking, which can be just as beneficial.

Elevator Pitches in Psychology

An elevator pitch serves as a concise overview of your professional self, brief enough to be recited in full during an elevator ride (typically no more than 30 seconds). The elevator pitch should introduce you, your accomplishments, and your offerings, and then present a call to action. An elevator pitch shouldn’t sound like a sales pitch; instead, it should describe what you can do for an organization or an individual. In the psychology field, a pitch might describe your research interests, why they matter, and how you hope to pursue them in the future.

Social Networking Sites for Psychologists

While LinkedIn reigns supreme among online networking sites, dozens of other social networks exist to help facilitate connections between professionals, both in the psychology field and beyond. Online social networking offers the ability to cement pre-existing connections and to link up with colleagues you might normally never meet in-person. Also, social networking offers unique opportunities to connect with investors, colleagues, and new job opportunities. Most platforms and sites are free to use, but some of the more exclusive require a registration or subscription fee.

While it may seem like a skill some possess from birth, networking can be learned and improved upon. Below, you'll find some common and proven networking tips, along with certain actions you should avoid.

  • Show Up Early to Events
    Rather than showing up fashionably late, arrive early to conferences and other networking events. Early on, lighter crowds and a calmer atmosphere may create easier opportunities for conversation, and most attendees won't have settled into groups yet.
  • Ask Easy Questions
    A simple approach can often create the best opening for a conversation. An inquiry as basic as "What brings you to the conference?" enables others to talk about themselves. Listen carefully to responses and note key details, which create the opportunity for deeper connections.
  • Keep Conversations Informal
    Networking is about building relationships, not making sales pitches. Keep conversation light and friendly, and avoid detailed discussions about your research or your funding goals -- at least initially. Most psychologists are more inclined to offer opportunities and assistance to those whose company they enjoy.
  • Smile
    Smiling puts others at ease and makes you seem more inviting. Smile before you enter a room or begin a new conversation. Smiling can also make you feel less nervous and more comfortable around new colleagues.
  • Listen
    Networking means both talking and listening, and it's important not to neglect one in favor of the other. You can often join in conversations simply by listening critically for a while before chiming in with a comment that shows you've been paying attention, rather than trying to steer the talk in your direction.

Networking Event "Do's" for Psychologists

  • Set Goals
    If you know what you want to accomplish ahead of time, you'll be more likely to achieve your goals and make the best use of your time. Goals for a networking event might be as simple as obtaining one new job lead or making one new friend.
  • Dress Appropriately
    Dress for the occasion in clothes that make you look professional. A disheveled appearance isn’t the worst networking faux pas you can commit, but it won't necessarily make a good first impression. A sharp outfit can also increase your confidence and help you network more effectively.
  • Bring Business Cards
    It may seem obvious, but don't forget to bring plenty of business cards. Consider investing in a card case, so you can keep your cards crisp and clean and won't have to search around for them.
  • Be Concise
    You have a limited amount of time to make an impression on anyone you meet, so make the most of it. Practice describing yourself, your research, or the organization you represent in the most concise terms so you can enumerate your key points efficiently.
  • Follow up on Connections
    Within a few days of an event, follow up with contacts you made (most likely through email). Personalize each message so the recipient knows you remember your conversation, and suggest follow-up ideas that can cement your connection.

Networking Event "Don'ts" for Psychologists

  • Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume
    Unless explicitly asked, avoid passing out paper resumes or brochures at networking events. Full-size paper is bulky and likely to be thrown away unless you're attending a job fair. Instead, stick to business cards that fit easily into a pocket.
  • Use a Shotgun Approach
    Don't toss out business cards like the unconcentrated burst of a shotgun. Be selective, and only hand out a card once you've built a rapport with another attendee. When you hand out cards indiscriminately, they're likely to wind up in the trash can.
  • Interrupt/Talk over Others
    Active, patient communication serves as one of your best strategies for networking. Even if you have a relevant point, let another speaker finish his or her thoughts before sharing yours. In just about any situation, thoughtful listening will win you far more friends than incessant talking.
  • Be Intimidated
    Networking events often host some of the best and brightest in the psychology field, but even the most successful psychologists are human. Rather than be intimated, focus on what you can learn from these individuals, many of whom are eager to share their knowledge.
  • Neglect to Follow up on Connections
    There's no point in attending a networking event if you don't take advantage of the connections you make. Wait a few days, but always follow up with new acquaintances you've made. Even the most seemingly insignificant connection might turn out to have a professional benefit.