We all are currently facing a great deal of uncertainties and upheaval due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but you can still strengthen your professional ties and cultivate new connections at a safe distance.
Let’s be honest, though: For most of us, networking – virtual or in person – can be challenging for many reasons. But it is also a critical part of any career. During times of crisis like the one we are in now, networking from a distance takes on even more importance—especially if you are looking for a new job or are currently unemployed. So, how can you forge new connections or stay in touch with your current contacts during times of social distancing? Here are four tips for navigating the world of online networking.
1. Join social media groups.
Online platforms such as professional groups on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are a great way to establish professional connections within your field. You can search to find relevant networking groups that will help you connect with a select pool of passionate, talented people in your industry. Join two to three groups that resonate with you. This ensures you protect your time while making the most of new opportunities. Become active in those venues by discussing topics of interest, and sharing helpful links, news and material. You never know where the right conversation will take you.
People turn to social media groups to find answers to questions they can’t ask anywhere else. When you actively contribute to discussions with information that helps others, you are able to enhance your authority. In a group setting, people also become familiar with your personality, and it’s highly likely that you’ll attract new connections without any outbound effort.
2. Focus on what you can give.
Think about what you have to offer to the people you know or people you’d like to know. With networking there should be an intention. As you are reaching out to the other party or making introductions, make sure you are available for work. Better yet, brainstorm a few ways you and the connection could work together.
You might be asking for something, but you should also be willing to give something back in return—whether it is helping someone brainstorm through an idea or project where you have expertise, or sharing knowledge and resources that might be useful for them. At its best networking isn’t about taking—it’s about giving and about connecting with someone in the hopes of developing a mutually beneficial relationship.
3. Set up informational interviews.
Networking is about building relationships, but it is also valuable for the information you get. The fact is most jobs in today’s economy are “hidden,” which means they are not advertised as available, but are filled by internal hires or by people within the manager’s network.
You can learn what specific companies are hiring for through networking. Set up informational interviews with a few of your contacts. You can ask for a quick phone call or Skype chat. Keep in mind that “seeing” the person makes your connection much more personal, so try using any of the free videoconferencing services, whether it’s Facebook’s Messenger, Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts. It makes us all feel good to help others, so don't be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for information.
4. Optimize your digital dossier.
The first thing any networking contact will do is look over your profile. Now might be a good moment to make sure your online spaces are up-to-date. To maximize the branding of your online platforms, it’s helpful to remember that you’re aiming to sell your skills and expertise as they apply to your industry. Does your bio or “About Me” section provide a window into your personality, experience and passions? Is your profile photo bright, clear and professional?
One way to increase your visibility is to build a professional brand that is consistent across all the social media platforms you use. For example, you can have the same profile image on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other mediums or create a branding statement to send the same pitch or message to all digital spaces.
In other words, think of your online footprint as one of the aspects of your reputation. Your digital dossier speaks volumes, so you should ensure that is showcases you as an ambassador for your industry.
Lastly, it might feel like the current pandemic has thrown our carefully constructed life into chaos. Most people are dealing with increased work and home stress. Even though you don’t have control over the imposed change we all are currently enduring, you can still take charge of creating professional opportunities virtually. And who knows, perhaps now that most people are working from home and craving more social contact, it is indeed the perfect time to digitally position yourself for career growth and create valuable connections.
Evren Gurkan-Cavusoglu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering
Faculty Director for CWRU WIT Initiative
Case Western Reserve University
Content Manager, CWRU WIT Initiative