Mentoring and networking are two critical components of career advancement, regardless of profession, gender, race or other characteristics. Mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A network is a set of human contacts known to an individual (the index individual), with whom that individual would expect to interact at intervals to support a given set of activities. An individual’s network can be an extremely powerful tool to share professional experiences, obtain guidance and enhance one’s reputation and career. Virtually all successful people have developed and utilized networks to advance professionally.
Explore this issue:December 2012
The size and composition of a network can vary greatly, and the power of a network depends on the breadth and diversity of the individuals in it. For example, a young assistant professor in otolaryngology (the index individual) who networks exclusively with other young assistant professors in the same specialty may benefit from sharing experiences that will enhance career development. This level of network is easy to establish and maintain. However, because the network is fairly homogeneous, the opportunity to learn is limited to this small group. On the other hand, if the young assistant professor includes not only peers, but also higher ranking individuals, he/she derives the benefit of years of diverse experiences. Although it takes more of an effort to extend the network beyond the comfort of those individuals with whom you are familiar and have common interests, the inclusion of more senior individuals will add power to one’s network. Perhaps the ultimately powerful network is one in which the members include those who are in positions not directly related to otolaryngology. Some of these opportunities for connection include people who are in senior medical administration, health policy, health care-related industries and even nonmedical positions. Therefore, as a general rule, the larger and more diverse a network, the more benefit it brings to the index individual. By diverse, we include considerations of profession (physicians and nonphysicians), age (experience), gender, race and myriad other factors, all of which add power to the network.
What does diversity bring to an individual’s network? The benefits of these relationships include learning about health care issues that transcend otolaryngology as well as educational and employment opportunities with the potential for influencing health care on a much broader level. Furthermore, different people have different styles in analyzing issues and solving problems. By having the ability to glean ideas from the network members, the index individual can gain insight into various options on how to address a given issue or make a career decision. Also, the access to these different perspectives can provide the index individual with more confidence to share ideas, make personal changes and create solutions to problems.