It’s no secret that networking is a critical component of job searching specifically, and for professional development more generally. For some, networking comes easily. Attending industry meetups, making regular appearances at local events or happy hours — these types of activities feel natural to some job-seekers and workers. For others, networking is more of a chore.
But how are people thinking about one of the most critical aspects of finding a job or advancing in the workplace during a global pandemic? I gleaned some insights about this concern when I conducted a recent survey with a multigenerational cohort of workers, job seekers, educators, and business owners.
I assumed it would be mentioned, but I was surprised to learn just how many people have questions about the best way to network consistently, effectively, and safely in these challenging times.
In the survey, I asked:
What workplace/career concern comes up most often in your conversations with friends and co-workers?
Here are two responses that are representative of the anxieties many are feeling about how to network right now:
How to network in an era when we can’t get together face-to-face (or can only do so with physical distancing)? What role can LinkedIn play in this process?
It’s difficult enough to network face to face, and it’s even more intimidating to do it via Zoom or other tool!
Even though networking in-person may not be possible at the moment, many of the same unwritten rules still apply. For starters, networking is about building relationships, so no matter how anxious you might feel about your personal situation, remember to approach every networking interaction with the mindset of how you can support the person you’re reaching out to as much as you are asking for help from them.
Is there someone you can introduce them to? Is there a way you can promote any of their recent work? Have you read an article or heard a podcast recently that might be of interest to their particular line of work?
These are small yet easy gestures that can ensure that your networking efforts are a two-way street. All you have to do to be a mutually beneficial network is always remember to ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
Secondly, many of us are experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” so when you set up a networking conversation, be sure to ask the other person for their communication preference and schedule accordingly. It’s really nice to make a personal connection with a video call, but if the other person prefers the phone, then you want to make them comfortable.
As always, be prepared. Learn as much as you can about the other person prior to your meeting. This will help you forge a connection early on in the conversation. It can also help you after the meeting if you decide to send a modest thank you gift — perhaps a gift card to a coffee shop or bookstore — a practice that is not required but certainly encouraged. (A thank you note, however, is a must.)
Lastly, do your best to practice empathy and patience. Everyone has had their life impacted in some way. This is particularly true for parents. If you don’t immediately hear back from someone, remain patient — they may simply be behind on their to-do list or slow in responding to a backlog of emails.
Tailor the wording of your email in a brief yet genuine way when inquiring about their well-being. Be concise in your ask, and be mindful of the fact that people are busy and only request a reasonable amount of their time for an initial meeting.