by Ed Hunter and Deanna Parkton
According to a LinkedIn survey, 70% of people report being hired because they had a connection at the company. No doubt networking is a valuable job search and professional development tool. But it can be a stressful and anxiety producing experience for many, especially during a pandemic.
Covid-19 has made the ability to grab coffee or afterwork drinks difficult or impossible, and networking events have been long cancelled. This puts the responsibility of networking on you to initiate conversations, rather than utilizing already structured events.
Another networking problem associated with the pandemic is that we are all experiencing limited social interaction, to say the least. And Covid-19 has had an impact on mental health in a myriad of ways. Many people are feeling a little shaky in their confidence when entering new social or professional interactions, because they are simply out of practice. This can make taking the initiative to network even more challenging..
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
Networking requires stepping outside of your comfort zone. And that’s hard. Here’s what you can do.
First things first, acknowledge that gorilla in the room! It’s ok to admit that stepping outside of your comfort zone can be unsettling and intimidating. It is normal to feel this way, and many, many people are right there with you. Acknowledging your anxiety around the idea is an important first step in moving forward.
Second, acknowledge that stepping outside of your comfort zone usually brings about positive rewards. Think back to the times of your life where you have taken a leap of faith and tried something new. (No really, stop and think of a time!) Maybe you ended up with a great job, a meaningful relationship or a renewed perspective. Reminding yourself of times that you have done something similar reminds you that you have felt this way before and came out on the other side better for it.
For some tips on networking when you have social anxiety, check out:
Simply put, the best way to network right now is to simply ask professionals for their time. Just ask!
Whether you have a name of a contact that you interacted with previously, or you found a professional online that you would like to chat further with, requesting time to chat via phone or video is a surefire way to turn a contact into a connection. You can ask for a quick 10 or 20 minute phone or Zoom call to kick off the conversation and get your foot in the door, or you can leave it more open-ended. This can take the form of an informational interview: talking with a professional about their career and asking for advice. An informational interview request is like knocking on the door to a future opportunity. For tips on how to approach an informational interview, check out the links below.
Making the Ask the Right Way
If you are job searching, the key is to avoid focusing on the fact that you are just looking to get a job. Instead, focus on the idea that you are looking to learn from professionals in the field who have been in your shoes before. Acknowledging that your goal is to gain advice and insight takes the pressure off of the conversation for both parties.
Some professionals may avoid informational interviews because they do not want to set unrealistic expectations that this will lead to a job. Taking that expectation out of the equation puts the other person at ease.
Without the luxury of in-person communication, communicating via email and messaging is more important than ever. Being sure that your requests are concise but provide enough information is an art.
- Put yourself in the receiver’s shoes. If you were to receive an outreach message, how likely is it that you would respond? Asking specific questions of a contact rather than a broad or vague request helps the receiver understand your intentions. A vague request to video chat without an introduction of who you are or what you are hoping to gain from the conversation might make the other person feel unsure of what you are looking for from the conversation.
- Consider including example questions in the request: “I’d like to pick your brain and learn about your career path, your day-to-day work and what your company looks for new hires. I’m trying to be as competitive as possible as I continue my job search and as much insight and information I can gain from professionals like you will be most valuable.”
- Ask friends or colleagues to proofread your networking outreach. Ask them if they were to receive this message, would they respond? Ask them what would their thoughts be when they received this message and what questions might come to mind for them. Editing your outreach to address these concerns will help increase your chances of getting a response.
Keep It Positive
While there are certainly pros and cons of in-person versus online, networking online allows a certain flexibility that in-person does not allow. Online, people are more accessible for a quick video conference call which does not require travel. Email or LinkedIn messaging also allows for a back and forth with a new contact to establish rapport.
Remember that not everyone is going to respond to your outreach. A lack of a response is not a statement about your value as a professional. It’s only about them. There are many reasons that someone might not respond to your message, and the majority of them have nothing to do with you.
Think of your outreach like a postcard marketing campaign. A company might send out 1000 postcards with the hopes that less than half sign up for the service. The key is that by putting yourself out there, you are welcoming the possibility to learn more and explore opportunities.
The return on investment (ROI) of networking can be life changing. Many people report getting an interview or referral based on a LinkedIn exchange with a contact that they never even met in-person. Employers value initiative to start a conversation, it shows a proactive mindset and positive attitude that is valued in the workplace. It could just be the thing that sets you apart!
While networking online can feel challenging, the first step is to start the process and the second step is to keep going. Continuing to expand your network is an investment in yourself not only for the present, but for the future. So get started, and keep going!
In our next blog, we will cover networking at online events such as online job fairs or online industry events. Good news – you can still “work the room” when the room is virtual! It is just a matter of changing up your tactics and using the online features available.
For more ideas on how you can network online, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to make new connections and leverage your network. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.