Your calendar is empty, your social events are canceled, and you’re mostly homebound with the rest of the world. That’s no excuse for slacking when it comes to networking! There are plenty of ways to stay connected and initiate new relationships while abiding by stay-at-home and social distancing orders. In fact, networking is key to professional growth in this space!
While you are working virtually, take a few moments each day to continue building your network and improving your online presence. Right now, people are connected to their devices more than ever. Make sure you’re active and visible. Employers and recruiters are working virtually now, too, and are using social media as a valuable tool to search for and connect with candidates.
Whether you’re currently hunting for a job or simply preparing for whatever the future might hold, take the time in this remote, virtual space to position yourself as an expert and leader. And use your connections to help you get there. In a crisis, people tend to come together to offer help and support. Take advantage of that, and be sure to return the favor.
Here are 3 ways that you can continue effectively networking while you’re stuck at home:
Develop Your Strategy
First thing’s first—what do you want to get out of networking? Define your goals:
- Are you searching for a new job? —Then you’ll need to start following and connecting with those in the industry or at the organization that you want to move into. Let your strongest allies know you are job hunting and looking for leads.
- Do you want to improve your skills? —Take time to determine what online resources are available for webinars, conferences, and workshops that provide you with the space to connect with other professionals and experts in your field.
- Are you aiming to advance in your current job? —Talk with current or former employees in your area and learn more about the skills and characteristics that will help you achieve that goal.
- Do you want to elevate your online profile as an expert in your field? — Determine who you have in your contact list who can help you boost your personal brand.
Once you identify what your networking goals are, it’s time to build a strategy to achieve them. Under normal circumstances, professionals might attend socials, conferences, expert talks, or workshops to mingle, meet, and share valuable resources. Those activities might be on hold at the moment, but networking remains essential to professional growth, even when we can’t physically connect. Here are some steps to consider:
Identify people who can help you —When you know what you want to achieve through networking, take time to identify a list of people who can help you get there. Whether in person or online, networking provides the chance to exchange ideas and develop professional connections that will improve your career. Who do you know who can help you do that?
Once you’ve determined the who, consider the ‘how’. Since it’s a little challenging these days to connect over lunch, brainstorm new ways to meet up. Maybe it’s time to schedule a recurring virtual happy hour with a handful of professionals to talk about trends, resources, and tools. Or, maybe you prefer to reach out individually to plan virtual meet-ups or coffee chats. Make a connection by sending a personal message or email with a clear and concise request. And don’t forget to ask how you might be able to help them, too.
Learn something new — The positive thing about experiencing COVID-19 in 2020 is that we have nearly unlimited online resources. Find webinars, online courses, workshops, and lectures that can teach you something new and help you connect with other professionals.
Contact your human resources department and ask if your job has any subscriptions to services that might help you to grow professionally. For example, LinkedIn Learning provides more than 14,000 online courses taught by professionals ranging in length and skill level. Course completion certificates and online quizzes help you to highlight the skills you’ve learned.
If that type of resource isn’t available, research and follow professional organizations online that provide virtual workshops, conferences, lunch and learns, or expert talks. Many organizations, like the American Marketing Association, are offering free or discounted professional development during COVID-19. Several lectures and courses also are being offered for free by prestigious universities and museums. Many services like Udemy or Coursera offer professional development courses that range in cost, skill level, and discipline.
If you complete a course and the option is provided, be sure to save a certificate of completion to add to your bio, profile, or resume.
Share helpful resources — If you aren’t already doing it, take a few minutes to research who you should be following on social media. Look for individuals or organizations that can provide you with helpful tips, thoughtful perspectives, or trends in your industry. When you find an article, blog, video, or tip that’s especially relevant, share it in your feed with your own observations. Consistently sharing trends and news in your field will help you get noticed.
Update Your Online Presence
It should be no surprise that in this virtual, remote world, social media plays a bigger role than ever when it comes to job searches. There are two major components to improving your online presence: reviewing your online public persona and improving your personal brand.
Start with a Google search — Ask someone who is not already connected to you online to search your name, and see what comes up. What do others see when they research you? Determine if anyone with your same name pops up in a search, and if so, what are the results?
Hopefully, search results include your current and previous jobs, articles, or blogs you wrote or were quoted in leadership positions, or participation in community service. Make sure that you control any personal information available online, for example, your phone number or address. Review what parts of your life are private and which are public. Whether on a private or public webpage or social media platform, hopefully, you’ve maintained a clean and professional persona. Carefully review your privacy settings, and be thoughtful about what you share online.
Improve your personal brand — A personal brand is a carefully crafted impression that positions you as an expert in your field. When you develop a personal brand, you balance your skills, expertise, and personality to strengthen how others see you professionally.
Consider how employers or experts view your online bios or profiles. What information do you provide, and what can you improve? Be sure that your information is accurate and current. Add any certifications or classes you’ve completed to show the skills you’ve learned. Ask coworkers and friends to provide you with recommendations and endorsements that illustrate the areas in which you excel. Update your profile and refresh your bio. Then, be sure that all the pieces come together to tell a story about who you are. Your personal brand should be focused, genuine, and consistent.
Take the time now to resurrect relationships that can help you polish your LinkedIn profile and spark interest from future employers. Think about the connections you have who can help you improve your content. And, be sure to pay attention to your notifications and messages so that you can react or respond promptly.
Reach Out to Old and New Connections
Networking is all about your connections. Who do you know, and who should you know, propel you forward in your career? Hopefully, you can rekindle professional relationships from a solid list of existing connections, while also taking the time to research and reach out to new ones.
Get in touch with existing contacts — Review your contact list and determine which peers, professors, and mentors you can and should reach out to in a friendly way. Even if it’s been a little while, take the time to reach out and see how people are doing. The pandemic has affected every business and industry in some way. People often appreciate a personal message that lets them know you are checking in. See how past coworkers or clients are doing, and offer them help for “goodwill,” not for sales. Remember to be personable and authentic—creating or strengthening those relationships now will only help you in the future.
Another way to reach out to existing contacts is by sharing content that they might find helpful or enjoyable. Spend up to 30 minutes each day on social media reviewing stories and information that pertain to your field, then share what you find is most enlightening. This could be an opinion-based blog, a viral social media moment, or an article on an industry trend. Tag those who you feel would benefit from the information you share.
Also, frequently visit the social media pages of your existing contacts to see what they are saying and sharing. When your connections share a post, provide a meaningful comment or reaction as a way to start a conversation. When you feel like it’s appropriate or relevant, reach out with a personal email to start a discussion.
Reach out to make new connections — Make it a goal to connect with 10 people who you feel can help you to grow professionally. Spend time carefully considering who you should connect with and how they will help push your boundaries to think outside of the box. It’s important to expand your connections with professionals who will question you, challenge you, and help you grow.
Once you determine who you should be talking with, invite them to chat. It might be hard to meet up in person, but it’s easy to connect in a virtual space to discuss your goals. Explain what you are hoping to do, how you feel they might help you reach your goals, and what info you’re looking to gain. When you reach out, offer a clear and concise message. Also, be sure that you offer your help or expertise in return.
Whether touching base with old contacts or reaching out to make new connections, be genuine, and avoid making it a one-time touchpoint. Help people to feel valued. This year, conversations have been more personal than ever, and there’s a reason! Most people are facing the same challenges, so there is a greater sense of kindness and empathy for each other. It’s fine to steer the conversation away from office life to acknowledge how family, kids, or working from home is going.
Check-in regularly, and try new modes of communication. Move away from email and Zoom—which everyone has grown tired of—and try a phone call or an occasional “check-in” text message. Even a small gesture or “how are you” goes a long way.
Networking while stuck at home is different, but not impossible. It’s also necessary and very helpful during this time of social isolation. When you are thoughtful and purposeful with your networking strategy, you can develop long-lasting professional relationships that will benefit you for years to come.
As you ramp up your at-home networking skills, remember that it’s important to use the connections that already exist, while also expanding your reach with new contacts. Think about the people who can support you now, and then start reaching out to professionals who will push you outside of your comfort zone. Remember that networking is about professional growth. It’s important to connect with people who will challenge you as a way to accelerate that growth.
Although this online space might be an adjustment for many, don’t be shy to put yourself out there. It’s much better to maintain and expand your connections through consistent networking than to stay silent while at home. Take advantage of virtual tools and resources, and work on building your online presence. Dedicating just a few minutes a day can help you elevate your profile and expand your network to meet your goals.
Spending just a few hours a week to invest in relationships and professional development in this virtual space will benefit you in the long run.