How to Network Virtually During the Pandemic
Most likely you have heard about the importance of networking. Networking is essential for a successful job search, but it’s also important to connect with professionals throughout your entire career, even when you are not seeking a new job. Networking is about creating long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial over time. If you are launching a job search in the near future, other professionals will most likely be helping you during the upcoming months; however, you may be assisting them a few years down the road.
That said, networking during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic can sound like a challenge. How do we network during a pandemic? How has networking been impacted and can we still do this effectively if we are not getting together in person? Despite these circumstances, networking is still happening albeit virtually, and it’s perhaps become even more crucial given the weaker job market. Below are five tips on how to make the most of your virtual networking efforts for whatever your career goals may be.
5 Tips for Virtual Networking
1. Plan It Out
Networking has become more planned and intentional given that we are not meeting people organically at in-person events or other gatherings. This could mean focusing more on scheduling informational interviews with professionals you would like to meet, making a concerted effort to get in touch with your existing network, and seeking out virtual industry events where you might meet professionals in your field. It is also helpful to create a networking action plan, especially if you are conducting a job search in the near future. Think about your plan in terms of five categories, and then identify tasks for each one:
- Professionals you already know,
- Professionals you would like to meet,
- Target organizations where you would like to work,
- Virtual industry events and learning opportunities, and
- Organization and keeping in touch with your network.
2. Take Advantage
Contrary to popular belief, this is actually a great time to network. Given that most people are not commuting or traveling for their jobs and are working virtually, professionals may actually have more time and mental bandwidth for talking to others, especially for informational interviews. So go ahead and make a list of anyone and everyone you’d like to connect with. Furthermore, at the end of your informational interviews, ask your interviewees if there is anyone else they know who might be helpful for you to talk to. In social science research, this approach is referred to as the “snowball sampling” method to gain additional participants for a study. Applied here, you can expand your network via snowball sampling. For more information about informational interviewing, check out our blog post Informational Interviews: The Single Best Way to Look for a Job.
3. Use the Pandemic as a Conversation Starter
Given our current circumstances, we have a natural excuse to check-in with our existing network. How have they been doing personally? How have their organizations been handling the challenges during the pandemic? How has the field been impacted by the COVID-19 virus? These can also be great questions to ask individuals you meet during virtual events or those with whom you are conducting informational interviews. Show you are interested in them, their organizations, and the industry. At the same time, you will be gathering important field-specific information that will help you look knowledgeable and resourceful during job interviews.
4. Embrace Video Calls
Past networking advice typically emphasized that it is best to meet in person with a new connection, if possible. While we do not have this option at this time, video calls are now considered the equivalent to being in the “same room.” In addition, nearly all professionals are likely comfortable with such platforms by this point. That said, experts still suggest to offer both a video or phone call for networking conversations. Some people may be experiencing what we now call “Zoom Fatigue” and will appreciate the choice of another method. After all, it is best to be as flexible and respectful as possible when asking for someone’s time and advice.
5. Participate in Virtual Events
While most in-person events and meetings have been canceled, many are now occurring virtually, especially industry-focused conferences and other gatherings. Be sure to find out what is happening in your field, as these events are a gold mine for finding and meeting new connections. In addition, more people are likely to attend these virtual gatherings than in the past, drawing professionals across the country and around the world, due to not needing to travel or incur steep expenses. While networking at virtual events is a bit new to us all, here are a few suggestions on how to best “work the room” during these meetings:
- Test out the platform or app, your WiFi, your headset, and any other equipment prior to the event. Make sure you are aware of how to mute/unmute, share your video, and chat, as each platform can be quite different. Furthermore, ensure that your appearance on camera is optimized by considering your lighting and background.
- Prepare your elevator pitch, just as you would for an in-person event. Think of this as a brief introduction to who you are as a professional.
- Review the roster of people who will be attending, if that is available. Plan who you would like to meet and when that might be possible. Do you need to attend specific sessions? Map out your schedule as you would for in-person conferences and events.
- If you are on social media, publicize your attendance before and after the event. During the gathering, use social media and hashtags to share insightful thoughts and connect with others attending. You can also do this via chat or private messaging on the platform, if this is available.
- Participate in seminars, breakout sessions, and any networking events if there are any. This will increase your chances of naturally meeting others.
- When you do have the chance to talk directly with other professionals, focus on asking questions: Where are you from? What type of work do you do? How have you been dealing with the pandemic and virtual work?
- Follow-up with professionals after the event, such as those you spoke with and those you did not get to meet, including speakers. This is the perfect time to reach out and say, “I am sorry I didn’t get to connect with you during the conference, as I was hoping to do so. I really enjoyed your presentation on XYZ topic. If you are available over the next few weeks, I would enjoy talking with you more about the conference and your work.”
For more information on attending virtual conferences, read our blog post Why You Should Attend a Virtual Conference.
Incorporating the five tips above for virtual networking will help you successfully connect with professionals and expand your network even during the current global pandemic. For more information on networking in general, see our blog posts on networking. We also offer webinar recordings on networking and using LinkedIn. Finally, the career advisers in our office can meet with you to assist in creating a networking plan for your job search, as well as to discuss networking in general. You can schedule an appointment online.