(For readers interested in networking opportunities for clinical psychology, read about ESPAG (East of Scotland Psychology Assistant Group), at the end of the post, and read Cassie’s case study on her career path to date.)
‘If you’re anything like me, ‘networking’ probably brings to mind connotations of getting a job because of who you know rather than what you know. Or perhaps sending round dozens of emails and not getting a single reply in return. With images like this, it’s little wonder that networking gets a bad reputation. And yet, I think networking has been the most helpful tool in my career development.
For me, the most helpful form of networking has been reaching out to existing contacts to find out more about their career path. Given how competitive the job market is, it can be really helpful to speak to someone who is ‘in the know’ and impress prospective employers with a bit of inside knowledge. I know it took a while to overcome my own misconceptions about networking, so here are some tips to get you networking with confidence…
- Remember ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ (or to quote my Geordie roots “Shy bairns get nowt”) – I used to avoid networking because it felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to ‘bother people’. I now realise that most people, although busy, are often very happy to take time out to speak about their role
- Do your research – Rather than sending out emails and letters to a generic ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, see if you can get an individual’s name, also find out a bit about their role and tailor each message accordingly. If the recipient can see that you’ve taken this effort you’re more likely to get a response than if you’ve obviously sent out the exact same email to 25 different people.
- Have some questions in mind –In my experience, direct questions are more likely to get a response so rather than asking something general like “can you tell me what about your job?” (which may possibly suggest that you haven’t done your research and don’t know what the person does!), it’s better to do some research first and ask relevant questions such as “I’ve heard about…and am interested in finding out a bit more, if possible”.
- Manage your expectations –While networking may not directly lead to a job offer/ opportunity to observe (due to the sensitive nature of psychology work, it’s often difficult to observe psychologists during their practice) the information that you gain might just strengthen your application and improve your chances of getting an interview.
- Finally, make sure it’s not just a one-way street – networking should be a reciprocal process, not just one party getting information out of another. If someone has taken the time and effort to help you, think about what skills and knowledge you have to offer.
I hope these tips are helpful, the last point is something I’m particularly passionate about; I know how much I’ve valued friends and colleagues who have taken the time to speak to me about their experiences. I think that sharing experiences is a really important part of careers development and networking. This is part of the reason I became co-chair of the East Scotland Psychology Assistants Group (ESPAG).
For Psychology students and graduates living local to Edinburgh, ESPAG is a great way of networking. I first went to ESPAG as a second/third year student, keen to become a clinical psychologist, but feeling a bit disheartened by how competitive the process is. It was through ESPAG that I got to meet others in the same boat and I soon learnt that although it is competitive, it’s not impossible!
ESPAG is an informal group which meets once a month and is open to all aspiring psychologists whether you’re still studying, recently graduated or working in a related role. It’s a great way of meeting people with similar interests and career goals, to share ideas and information. Typically, each month we will invite along a guest speaker to talk about their experience and give advice to members. We also hold interview preparation groups and general discussions, which provide a supportive and friendly environment space. For more information or to be added to our mailing list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.’