The Importance of Connections

dreamstime_xs_62253992At the WAND conference I spoke on Self-Empowerment for Dietitians.  One aspect of my presentation was on the importance of networking and making professional connections, both internal and external.  This applies to all professions.

Although networking is necessary, we need to do more than simply give out business cards.  We need to connect with the people we are meeting.  People like to do business with people they know, like, and respect.  This article focuses on the why and where of making connections with people so that they know at least a little bit about us and we know a little bit about them.  And, of course, these need to be positive connections.

It is necessary to make internal connections if we are to succeed and advance within our company.  If people do not know who we are, what we do, or how good we are at what we do, we won’t be considered for promotions and advancement.  Of course, we need a connection with our supervisor.  We also need connections with our supervisor’s supervisors.  We need connections with our co-workers.  We need connections with people in other departments.  We might also be in the situation where we need connections with the company’s customers and suppliers.

A goal is that if anyone at your company were to ask, “Who would be good at/for….” someone in the room would think of you and offer your name for consideration.

We also need to make external connections, connections outside of our company.  One example is professional connections.  A great way to do this is to become involved in local, state, and/or national associations related to our profession.  Many of us have more than one profession.  For example, professional associations that have reflected my career over the years include dietetics and nutrition, healthcare foodservice, speaking, and writing.

The more people that you have a connection with in associations that reflect your profession or professions, the more likely that your name will come up when there are opportunities outside of your company.

Another consideration for many is to go to where your customers, your potential customers, and people who know your potential customers are and make connections.  This might be outside of your profession.  It can be advantageous to join professional associations that are not directly related to your profession.  Who are your customers?  What associations do they belong to?  Can you join?  If your customers are primarily women, are there women’s associations or groups that you could join?

The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” has some truth in it.  The good news is that you have control over who you know, who you have a connection with.  Take the initiative and make the internal and external connections you need to succeed.

Dress to Connect

Dress to Connect (Video)h

There is always information about how to dress for different situations.  Some of us spend a great deal of time thinking about how we should dress for professional and personal situations.

One aspect I try to consider when I dress is to dress to connect.  What will help me connect with the people around me?

I realized the importance of this many years ago when I was working as a consultant dietitian for a long-term care company.  When I went into one of the company’s nursing homes it was usually to evaluate the operation of the food service department.  To do this I had to be in the kitchen and in the dining rooms.  If I was going to be able to do my job well, I had to be comfortable.  I also needed to look professional to gain credibility.  I dressed in slacks, a shirt or sweater, flats with a decent sole so I didn’t slip, and a lab coat.

Many of the consultant nurses I worked with had a different opinion.  They dressed in short, tight skirts and high heels.  I thought that was rather foolish; how can you work dressed like that?  An aspect that I did not consider until I overheard some of the staff nurses talking was that the facility nurses did not respect the consultant nurses simply because of the way they dressed.  The consultants did not look like they wanted to actually help, they looked like they just wanted to sit behind a desk and tell others what to do.  It was very difficult for the consultants to get the facility nurses to even listen to what needed to be done.

Additionally, these consultant nurses (not all the nurses I worked with were like this) liked to wear jewelry; big, expensive jewelry.  The facility nurses took this as the consultants were showing off how much more money they made.  It caused resentment, which further eroded the credibility of these consultants.  It never would have occurred to me that staff might feel resentment over what jewelry someone else wore, but I can see it now.

I think a good rule of thumb is to dress a level or two above those you will be working with to look professional and gain credibility, but not so far above that you lose respect.