Welcome to our guide on best practices in networking for dietitians! Whether you’re just starting out or looking to connect with others in your field, we’ve got plenty of tips and strategies to help you succeed. Read on to discover actionable steps you can take right away, whether you’re attending a conference or simply looking to expand your professional network.
This edition will introduce the acronym OUTREACH (opportunities, understanding, time, readiness, engagement, adding value, connecting, and holding a firm handshake) for your use on best practices in networking that will guide you on how to get started, continue to and strengthen your networking skills.
Showing up is the first part, reading this blog post is second, and third is implementing the included tips and actionable items as you continue to fine-tune your networking skills. How will you know your skills have improved unless you continue to put them into practice?…
Getting Started: Best Practices in Networking for Dietitians
Regardless of where you are in your career – RD2Be, recently graduated RDN, or mid-career professional, networking is always essential. Implementing our networking skills and honing this craft of networking may not be our favorite thing to do at times, but it can open many doors for us professionally, as well as personally.
Networking should include a plan of where you currently are, where you want to go, and putting in the effort to build your framework when interacting with others. In a nutshell, this will be your networking game plan and most importantly it should include how you will maintain these connections in the future.
Why Networking Matters
Sometimes we just need to face imposter syndrome and lose the fear of rejection.
Do you remember cold calling a preceptor, job searching, finding a mentor for your thesis, getting a recommendation letter, etc? Remember that ONE person that said yes? You will encounter many fallouts, but hopefully you have found at least one cheerleader in your corner, if not many, in your life, and especially within the dietetics profession.
We are tough on ourselves at times, and our professional network- or personal cheerleaders- will help us to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. On the other hand, networking is a two-sided relationship in which you are also a resource and a cheerleader to the other individual or groups of individuals in which you belong.
OUTREACH as a Best Practice for Networking
The acronym OUTREACH describes best practices in networking that can support any stage during your networking journey. These steps are not in chronological order, but rather steps you can implement throughout as you are defining your game plan.
Opportunities are created when choosing the proper outlets.
“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet” is a quote shared in the mentorship program at the Dietitian Editor. Networking can be successful by including strategies to prepare you and creating opportunities by using these strategies.
Selecting your starting point, or your outlet, can help guide you on where to find others, where to tap into if you haven’t already, and where to expect to create interactions. These outlets can be your existing network, virtual networking and social media, and professional groups, organizations, and professional development events, like conferences, meetings, or webinars.
Assessing Your Existing Network
Look into your existing network of people and ask yourself:
- Who do I currently work alongside or study with? Have I introduced myself to those people?
- Who are the professors, supervisors, contact person and/or leadership in the selected group or field of interest?
- Who can provide a reference or recommendation letter? Or who can speak about me as a student or professional?
- Who is someone I would like to get to know?
- Are the people that I already have a connection with also connected to others I’d like to meet?
PRO TIP: Networking doesn’t necessarily mean staying inside our bubble of contacts, it means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and connecting with an attendee from an event, someone you follow on social media, or potential colleague. Tap into people you haven’t interacted before, introduce yourself, and ask others who can potentially connect you to the right person.
Actionable item: Create a mind map of your existing network, who is available, who they may know, and circle the gaps of who you want to meet.
Social networking is vital in this day and time. Human interaction includes our online personality through our social media, our written language, and even limited to our gestures during video calls. It provides a presence and branding of your personal self, professional, business, and/or a little bit of both.
Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, the big social networks, provide tools such as search features to explore individuals or groups. Another tool is to join social groups (private practice, RD2Be groups, Dietitian Author groups, etc). LinkedIn is more a professional profile with a live resume of your past and current projects, and a great way to connect with others.
PRO TIP: Start following groups with your interests on social media. The social media algorithms usually do a decent job of suggesting individuals and groups or organizations that are similar and align to those you’ve already selected. Engagement is key.
Actionable item: Freshen up your social media profiles. Get a professional headshot, make sure your information is up-to-date, and share a current project you are working on or that you recently completed. If you’re not on social media, commit to being active on at least one platform to get yourself in the game.
Professional memberships and groups are another outlet to find opportunities. For RDNs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has been the one that has reached the most practicing dietitians. This organization provides a plethora of resources, and if interested, you can become a member here.
PRO TIP: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also has Member Interest Groups MIGs and Dietetic Practice Group DPGs avaialble to explore your current interests.
Professional Development – Conferences
Conferences, learning sessions, and professional development at the local, state, national and international levels can be both in-person and virtual.
Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo® also known as FNCE® https://eatrightfnce.org/
Nicknamed the ‘super-bowl’ for dietitians, FNCE® is the go-to place. This year, it is taking place in Orlando, Florida and there are many in-person events, meet-ups and educational opportunities for everyone.
PRO TIP: There are many in-depth workshops and sessions available for students that are focused on applying to dietetic internships, passing the RD exam, networking opportunities, and more – https://eatrightfnce.org/attendee-info/fnce-for-students/.
PRO TIP: DPGs and MIGs has social events, the foundation gala and in between sessions contain a variety of opportunities.
Actionable item: Plan ahead with the agenda builder to schedule your day at FNCE, and whether you decide to join in person or virtually.
Specific Fields of Interest
If you’ve already decided on a specific niche, have been practicing in a particular field for several years, or are curious about a new niche to pursue, there are numerous conferences and certifications available to help you expand your knowledge and skills. Here are just some examples:
- Diabetes CDCES credential – https://www.cbdce.org/
- Public Health, ASPHN – https://asphn.org/
- Food Service Professionals – https://www.anfponline.org/
- School Nutrition SNS – https://schoolnutrition.org/careers-training/certificate-credentialing/
- Food Insecurity and Hunger – https://antihungerpolicyconference.org/
- BIPOC Eating Disorders – http://bipoceatingdisorders.showit.site/#/
- Diversity Dietetics – https://www.diversifydietetics.org/call-to-action
- Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior – https://www.sneb.org/
- Other Association and Foundations – https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/associations-and-foundations
PRO TIP: Virtual conferences provide flexibility to contact others via their website, email, social media accounts, or during online sessions.
Actionable item: Start a conversation in the chat, email the person, or connect with them on LinkedIn or other social media platforms.
Understanding Your Goals
- Why are you networking?
- What is the purpose?
- What are you hoping to achieve?
- What type of guidance/advice are you seeking out?
Create a win- win situation where both people are able to provide value to each other.
PRO TIP: Identify your “why” before attending a networking event.
Actionable item: List out 2-3 goals you hope to achieve by the end of the event through networking.
Set realistic expectations and time constraints, adapt to others and be flexible and understanding that “everyone is busy.” Find ways to be mindful of time, whether you are talking to someone for 30 seconds, or during a 15 minutes coffee break, or even during an hour meeting.
PRO TIP: Be humble and have gratitude.
Actionable item: Send thank you cards and appreciation notes.
Readiness through preparation is a best practice in networking; this includes introducing yourself, being able to express your ask or goals to the other person.
PRO TIP: Update your current description to showcase your activities or achievements, qualitatively and quantitatively.
Actionable item: Have a bio or elevator speech ready, a brief paragraph or a 30 second speech that you can introduce yourself with your current role, field of interest, your set goal and even a fun fact!
I’ve found my community of like-minded dietitians. Now, what do I say or do?
- Be sure to comment, like, subscribe, and share.
- Write emails to follow up.
- Create videos like lives and reels to connect.
- Go old school and pick up the phone.
- Text message to connect or follow up.
PRO TIP: Be active and engaged within the communities that you join.
Actionable item: Be sure to not only seek value but also strive to provide value, too
- It’s important to consider not only your reader’s needs, but also to establish a mutually beneficial relationship where both parties feel they are receiving value from one another.
- Share your expertise. Over deliver on value.
PRO TIP: TBD
Actionable item: Share your lessons learned. This will greatly help other’s who may be going through a similar situation. It will help them navigate any hurdles or obstacles with more awareness and ease.
Connecting with Others
- Expand your network
- Outreach others in your niche
- Set up coffee chats over Zoom or in-person meet ups
- Be mindful of time spent
- We are all “busy” all the time
PRO TIP: Expand your network to find new people to connect with in your niche.
Actionable item: Join 1-3 new groups today through social media, like Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, etc that fit your niche so that you can begin to expand your network, connect with others. and build relationships.
Hold a firm handshake
Nowadays, the old school etiquette of a firm handshake may or may not apply to you because of widespread virtual working settings. Nevertheless, it’s always best to remember to have professional manners and etiquette when interacting with others.
Networking takes up people’s time, so politeness, professionalism, and being considerate is a must. Maintain eye contact and interact and engage with others, whether speaking or writing, to show consideration and respect.
PRO TIP: When networking, show up and be present. It’s nice to turn your camera on, remain present by asking questions and giving feedback, and providing a compliment or two.
Actionable item: Practice good posture, brush up on non verbal communication skills, and review proper Zoom etiquette.
Summary of Best Practices in Networking: The Dietitian Edition
Let’s summarize. Below are some tips to focus on depending on which group you identify with most:
- Current Dietetic Students or RD2Be’s: Mentorship, exploring interests and inspiration, conducting informational interviews, discovering potential career paths
- RDN/DTR Entry Level (< 3 years): Mentorship with chosen or unchosen career paths, recommendations for jobs, interview skills and resume reviewers, starting professional certifications
- Career Changers: informational interviews, get a lay of the land in terms of job opportunities, and more
- RDN Experienced (5+ years): acting as a mentor, providing expertise through paid and unpaid opportunities, strengthening business mastermind
*This article was co-written by Andrea Lopez, student in The Dietitian Editor Volunteer Program and Mentorship, along with Liz Jalkiewicz, author of The Dietitian Editor blog. Images updated on 10/18/23 by Jasmine Johnson, another TDE Volunteer Program & Mentorship student.