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By Nisha Mehta, MD, a physician leader whose work focuses on physician empowerment, community building, and career longevity in medicine

As most of you have probably realized by this stage in your career, who you know matters. After so many years of college, medical school, residency, and possibly fellowship, you’ve been to a lot of institutions and conferences, and made a lot of friends and connections. These individuals have their own connections, creating a powerful network you could access in your job search.

For most graduating trainees or physicians seeking jobs, their network is probably one of the most underleveraged tools they have in the job search. At every stage of the process, the network can play an important role in ensuring that you land your desired position. It can offer both opportunities and insights about particular positions that are hard to find elsewhere.

Often, there are jobs out there that aren’t advertised — or if they are advertised, they may not be advertised in the places you are looking. Finding out about job opportunities should be a multipronged approach. Many physicians start their job search by responding to recruiters or looking at online job boards such as those from their specialty societies or by organizations such as NEJM CareerCenter. In recent years, the ability to tailor search parameters by inputting certain preferences such as location, salary, or type of position has made these job boards valuable in creating passive awareness of opportunities that meet your criteria. However, physicians actively seeking a change should also reach out to friends and connections in the field who may be aware of opportunities that aren’t listed online. Program directors are often contacted by former alumni who are seeking physicians to join their practices, and emailing those in your network may be fruitful. Your past and present colleagues from your training program often have an ear open and may be aware of jobs that fit your criteria. Contacting physicians you know who are practicing in your job market of interest can also connect to potential employers who may be posting jobs soon or who aren’t actively recruiting but may create an opening for the right person.

Along these lines, it’s important to network even when you aren’t looking for a job since those connections may come in handy later. You can be more creative with business cards these days, and having some with your picture and relevant information to readily hand to people during conversation is helpful. Alternatively, ask for their contact info, and just send an email reiterating that you appreciated getting to know them and hope that your paths cross again in the future. Whether for a job or for another reason, referencing a previous positive interaction increases the chances a contact will respond.

Leveraging your network extends beyond just finding out about opportunities. You can also use these connections to get the inside scoop about opportunities you’re considering, or dig deeper into details of a job opportunity you don’t feel comfortable asking about at an interview or you’d like to get more context on. The other piece that’s priceless is the insight on whether you’re likely to fit into a group. If your friends or people that you respect or admire are friends with people at the opportunity you’re considering, there’s a higher likelihood that you will feel at home there.

If you’re interested in a job and want to have leg up, it’s also worth scouring your network for someone who’s connected to an individual in a decision-making position. You can ask him or her to put in a good word for you. It is reassuring to an individual making decisions to know that a trusted voice believes you stand out in a sea of candidates. It may also give him or her an opportunity to address any concerns about your application he or she didn’t feel comfortable asking you, but which would be helpful in eliminating any hesitation.

Lastly, the importance of the network is the reason not to burn bridges. As you go through your career, not every interaction will be positive; even if there’s no negative history, you and a colleague may just drift apart. While you may just be busy or want to move on or ignore an issue, try your best to leave any last interactions on a positive note. When leaving a position or electing not to take a position, thank people for the positive aspects of your interactions either in person or through an email or a text. On the receiving end, having some closure and knowing that somebody thought to reach out will likely leave a positive impression. This will decrease the chances he or she will respond to a request for more information with an offhanded remark that could hurt you, intentionally or unintentionally.

Job searches are personal for everyone involved, and although the process can feel algorithmic, often the deciding factor about whether to take a job or to hire a candidate comes down to more than just credentials and location. Your network will play an important role in the process. Don’t neglect to use this valuable tool to both find and assess opportunities, and give yourself an advantage in the job search.