Even in the age of social distancing, networking remains the most effective and efficient way to find a job or build a business. A consistently cited estimate is that 50% to 80% of jobs are filled through networking connections. It makes sense to allocate your efforts accordingly. While so many in today’s workforce are working from home, now is a good opportunity to build your network and to develop and strengthen professional relationships. Every person in your network could be the potential key to moving your career forward. Your network is larger than you probably think when you add up coworkers, former colleagues, friends, family, acquaintances and all of your connections on LinkedIn and other social networks.
While you can’t attend in-person conferences or meetings while we are socially distancing, you can make use of technology and social media to meet new people and to expand your network. Use your social media resources such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and even Instagram. Join webinars, chat groups and presentations whenever you have an opportunity. Reach out to participants and follow speakers to expand your connections. Join virtual professional groups that align with your career goals and actively participate with posting, sharing resources, job openings and answering questions. Make an effort to build your connections by connecting others who you think can benefit from knowing each other. This is a perfect time to reach out to reconnect and to renew relationships with those you have lost touch with.
Networking should be reciprocal. Ask how you can help each person in your network. Be sensitive to others’ schedules and keep your calls and emails short and focused. While some may be able to spend time socializing during this time of working from home, others may be dealing with the challenges of working remotely, working alongside family members, juggling their work with home schooling children, or just busy with their jobs.
Here are ten tips to keep in mind when networking:
- Listening is the key to effective networking. If you spend most of your time asking questions about your contacts and building good rapport, they will eventually turn the conversation around to you. Then you can let people know what you need and perhaps even what particular goal you want to accomplish.
- Figure out your approach. Be prepared with your research and know what you are looking for from each person you contact. Are you asking for information, a reference, advice, contacts? If the person you are contacting does not have hiring authority, don’t scare them off by asking them for a job. They still have valuable advice and information to share, including names of other contacts who can give you career advice or point you in the right direction.
- Be prepared for your discussions. Brush up on industry- and function-specific knowledge. Research industry publications and news sources and talk with friends and colleagues who are in your chosen field. Armed with this knowledge, you should feel comfortable holding up your end of a conversation with a new contact using familiar terminology and expressing your opinion on relevant challenges and opportunities.
- Seek their expert advice. Ask the person you’re speaking with for recommendations on what they would do if they were you, where they see opportunities in the field, who could advise you about potential issues and with whom you could speak about what might be coming up in the future.
- Try to get an introduction to the next person you could talk with. You should strive to get two to three referrals from each contact. If they mention a company, organization or industry that seems promising, ask if they have suggestions as to whom you might speak with. Be sure to ask them if you can use their name or if they’d rather keep their referral confidential.
- Contact your new leads. Tell them where you got their names (only when you have permission from your contact to do so). Ask for 15 minutes of their time. Repeat the steps above in terms of talking points.
- Create a good first impression. Show appreciation for the time the person is taking to network with you. If you display excellent interpersonal and communication skills and sincere enthusiasm, they will remember you and reciprocate.
- Learn about the other person. By finding out about your contacts’ interests, you can be of service to them. If you later see an article or hear about something that might interest them, you can pass it along and, in the process, renew your association.
- If you give leads, you will get leads. The more leads and contacts you share with your network, the more you will get in return—even though they may not come from the same people you have given them to. If you manage your network well, you will know who can benefit from your business and personal contacts.
- Follow up regularly. It is essential to remember to follow up with everyone you speak with. When you are given a referral, be sure to follow up promptly. Take the opportunity to thank everyone who has helped you. Upon accepting a job, contact those in your network who assisted you and/or referred you to others and thank them for their help—then offer yours in return.
Most of all, remember to keep your network alive even after you find a new job. Building and maintaining a sustainable network takes time and consistent effort. Stay in touch with people that have helped you and offered advice and try to help your contacts whenever possible. Remember that networking is a two-way street.