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Expert Networking Tips to Boost Your Career

By Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

Whether you're a new, experienced, or seasoned dietitian looking for fresh and exciting job opportunities, you may be wondering, “What can I do to stand out, attain fulfillment, and land the job of my dreams?” There are many ways to empower one’s career, but one of the most effective—and rewarding—strategies is to network on a regular basis with colleagues both inside and outside the dietetics profession.

Networking provides access to part-time and full-time dietetics positions, speaking engagements, consulting gigs, and partnerships that you may not otherwise discover. Many dietitians secure their jobs through existing professional connections vs cold calls or traditional job searches.

Moreover, networking helps shape your professional persona by establishing your image. It reveals who you are and what you have to offer. Best of all, networking often leads to rewarding relationships that cultivate your career and nourish your soul.

Keep Calm and Schmooze On
While networking is critical, Lisa Bruno, MS, RDN, vice president of nutrition at Ketchum, Inc, in New York City, warns not to overthink it. “Networking doesn’t have to be a contrived e-mail, LinkedIn message, or event. We just need to be human. Use those platforms to simply compliment someone on a professional or personal achievement, reach out to an old colleague to just say hi, or a new potential colleague to say, ‘Wow, I’m so impressed with what you are doing.’”

These small but thoughtful encounters go a long way in staying on others’ radars. “My best connections have been made through small talk and relating to someone about a life stage we’re both at, an activity we enjoy, or a quick e-mail to say, ‘Hey, I loved that article you wrote,’ with no other intention than to give a high-five,” Bruno says.

Get Online
Networking online is a good way to begin. Online groups have exploded in recent months, largely due to the pandemic and the growing popularity of social media. Facebook and LinkedIn host dozens of professional networking groups dietitians can tap into; visit facebook.com/groups and linkedin.com/groups, and search keywords that match your interest. To join these groups, you’ll need to have a Facebook and LinkedIn account.

Remote Challenges
Due to the scarcity of in-person events, online networking has been particularly challenging for dietitians who like to mingle face to face. Harvard Business Review offers the following three strategies for building professional relationships while working remotely:

• Turn canceled conferences into private networking opportunities. Identify participants who were supposed to attend or speak and choose five to 10 with whom you’d like to connect and send them a message on LinkedIn.

• Rethink geographic boundaries. Organize virtual events and invite people you normally wouldn’t because they reside in a different state or country.

• Invite influencers and other experts to your webinar or online group meeting. A drop-by from a renowned leader may have been challenging under normal circumstances, but with everyone working virtually, a 15-minute appearance often is easy to plan.

Membership Has Its Privileges
Under the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) umbrella are specialty groups that are networking goldmines. Affiliates, Dietetic Practice Groups (DPGs), and Member Interest Groups (MIGs) provide unique networking opportunities among fellow dietetics professionals. Each group has unique networking advantages. For example, your affiliate is local to you, and DPGs/MIGs focus on specific areas of practice or interest, making it easy to find fellow RDs who live in your area and share your interests.

State/District Affiliate
Each state/region is different, but they all communicate with members at the local level via websites, newsletters, and e-mail.

Your state affiliate hosts events online or in person (or both). Visit their website and search for member benefits, open positions, and events. There are several ways to get involved, meet other dietitians in your area, and bolster your career.

DPGs and MIGs
Sign up for the group’s electronic mailing list, also called a Listserv. You can use the group’s website to access posts via its discussion hub, and/or opt to have messages sent directly to your inbox.

DPG and MIG newsletters provide an array of networking opportunities. You can write or edit articles, suggest content, interview experts, or assist with design.

Network within the group during events at the Academy’s annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo®. Dietitians can develop resources, contribute to publications, establish new or nurture existing partnerships, speak at events and webinars, or volunteer as a membership coordinator, state liaison, or officer position.

Pay It Forward
Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, owner of MarketRD.com and the nutrition expert at Avocados From Mexico, says one of her favorite networking tools is what she calls “reverse networking.” When interacting with colleagues, Ruhs recommends focusing on giving, even when you have nothing to gain. In her 20-plus year career, she has amassed an extensive network and attributes much of her success to her ability to connect with people and offer help whenever she can.

“I like to help people—it’s one of the reasons most of us become dietitians in the first place,” Ruhs says. “I’ve benefited from the goodwill of others and their networking connections to advance my career, so it’s only natural that I’d want to pay it forward, too, whenever I can.”

Like Bruno, Ruhs agrees that networking doesn’t always have to be formal. “I’ve made professional connections on airplanes and the tennis court. My personal passions have opened doors when I least expected it. Be your authentic self and be open to possibilities,” Ruhs adds.

Venture Outside the Box
Another networking idea is to seek nondietitian networking events where you can lend your expertise and meet others with unique backgrounds and experiences. To start, find out what other professions intersect with yours. Consider fitness, food and culinary, child development, psychology, and education. See what they’re doing and join their events and groups.

In addition, many towns and cities boast local entrepreneur and other various networking groups where you can introduce yourself, establish professional connections, and grow your network. Search for such groups in your community at Meetup.com, Eventbrite.com, Blyde.com, and Facebook.com. You never know what opportunities await you!

— Dina Aronson, MS, RDN, is the director of nutrition programming for Diet ID, a digital diet assessment and behavior change platform.