Despite the changes brought on by COVID-19, networking still stands to be one of the most valuable skills anyone can learn today. Building your network enables you to open doors to new work opportunities, knowledge and career paths. So, let’s look at how networking is changing now and into the near future. Building virtual networking skills is going to be important, but first let’s answer the question, why are we networking?
Step 1: Why are you networking?
Networking brings you connections. Connections bring you jobs, mentors, friends and for employers — employees. In addition, networking keeps you relevant. For example, when job seekers speak directly to others who have been in the field for quite some, it helps them better understand how to pitch themselves to employers. Engaging with others can also help uncover mentors, business partners, even clients. One key connection can mean getting your foot in the door, or it just might be the big break you’ve been looking for. So, be clear about why you’re networking? Is it for a job, a mentor, career information? Then, read more so you can begin to practice.
Step 2: Be personable.
Having to connect with strangers can be intimidating for many of us, whether it’s simply because we are shy, or we don’t know how to use video calling software- the great news is that there are many free resources online (YouTube is a great place to start) to help you get started. In person or virtual, here are a few networking tips that don’t change. Asking exploratory questions is the key to understanding the person you are trying to network with. This is where to start. Networking is not a one way street. Before you contact someone who you think can help you, make sure you have a plan to help them too. For example, find an article on LinkedIn that the new contact might be interested in. Or perhaps you’ve talked to someone recently that you think they’d like to connect with? Having a short script, with talking points beside you, before you start any call, helps you stay personable. Use video when possible, not just audio, because they see your body language, which should include a smile. Be prepared and be personable, with something to offer the other person. And, starting with a smile will go a long way to networking success.
Step 3: Find Online Communities for Practice!
More and more formerly in-person events will continue to move into virtual meeting spaces. This means it is more important than ever to master the art of remote communication now. To get some practise in, look for online networks where you can build contacts through chat, even before you connect via video. Some examples include Reddit, Discord, and LinkedIn. Look for other online forums and various communities where you can meet people that share your interests. This doesn’t mean you have to give out personal information – instead create a unique username that you like and jump in. Join as many workshops, webinars, live online discussions and community forums as you can. Build your online networking skills, and don’t be discouraged if a forum doesn’t turn out to be as helpful as you first thought; it takes time to find the right groups, and build strong networking skills. Use forums, webinars and free workshops as starting points to find people you want to connect with one on one.
Step 4: Positive karma
Common courtesy, general generosity, doesn’t matter what you call it. If you have an ask of someone, that’s totally okay! Just remember, other people have wants and needs too — if someone takes you up on your offer to connect, happily reciprocate. Even if you don’t have a need for someone, take someone up on their offer to connect (if you can). It’s simply good karma. The more good you do for others, the more good that will come your way. One of the key lessons in business: never burn bridges. Build them wherever you can, and your path will be much easier to tread in the long run. Step 5: Be approachable, follow community standards. Certain online communities are much more laid back, and have loose protocols member communications. While, other communities prefer to adhere closely to typical professional expectations. Remember to feel out the community before too eagerly jumping in- you may shoot yourself in the foot with a wrong first impression. There’s a term for manners over the internet, generally called — ‘Netiquette’. Essentially, this is ‘internet etiquette’. If you come off too ‘proper’ for a community, they may avoid engaging with you, as they may see you as uptight, or hard to work with. If you are too colloquial (using slang, shortening words to things like ‘gtg’ or ‘brb’ for example), certain communities may see it as lazy, or unprofessional. Feel the (virtual) room out first – and try to balance your casual self with your professional self when communicating online. Here’s 15 ‘Netiquette Rules’ to follow while communicating online.
Up, up and away!
It’s fair to say that, for almost all of us on this planet, COVID-19 has forever changed the future. However, the good news is that the future still includes networking. So, start networking, keep in touch with your contacts, and remember that in today’s increasingly digital world, it is more important than ever to reach out and connect with other humans. Just keep our five tips handy as you do so.