Making a good first impression is important in any field, but it’s especially crucial in a field as tight-knit as speech-language pathology. SLPs tend to collaborate with one another, so there’s a good chance the people in your network are connected to one another. And that means you can’t afford to have contacts who view you as unprofessional or incompetent. Those same contacts may know — or even one day become — your supervisor. The last thing you need is for them to view you in a negative light.
When someone says the word “networking,” most of our minds go directly to conferences and corporate happy hours. While those types of events certainly present an opportunity to forge connections with other professionals in your field, they aren’t the only times you should be putting your best foot forward. In fact, Cristina Ramos and Rene Robles, the founders of Five Oaks Speech Therapy Services, stressed the importance of networking even when you aren’t. And that’s advice all professionals can and should take seriously.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re attending a training or class to obtain a certification. Networking may be the furthest thing from your mind. You’re trying to learn, after all, not make new friends or land a new job. But even if you aren’t thinking about what version of yourself you’re putting out into the world, the other SLPs in your training might be forming an impression of you. The person teaching the class might be evaluating you based on how you’ve dressed or how attentive you’re being.
In a field like speech pathology, those classmates and professors could very well end up interviewing you for a position one day. If that’s the case, will they remember you as the person who wore sweatpants and sunglasses to a professional training? Or will they recall that you showed up looking put together and eager to learn? In the moment, it may not seem like it matters, but something small like this could make or break big moments in your career.
Luckily, the solution is a simple one: Bring professionalism and compassion to every interaction, even if you don’t believe it will help you get ahead. That’s something SLPs strive to do with their clients, and it’s a practice that can be extended to everyone you meet.
You just never know when you’ll run into your future boss or an ASHA board member in the bathroom at a conference. If you’re always presenting your best self, though, you won’t need to worry about it.