Networking isn’t just about finding a job. Strategic and effective networking can help you gain insights about yourself, and can be a source of support and strength as you navigate the peaks and valleys of a job search. Building relationships while so many of us are working, learning, or searching remotely, however, is hard. Here are four virtual networking tips to make it easier.
Take time for introspection
As human beings, our ability to show up fully and authentically in social or professional situations is often directly linked to how we feel about ourselves. Before engaging in building meaningful relationships, it’s important to take time for introspection. This might involve testing out a new mindfulness practice, carving out time to experiment with journaling, or spending some time outdoors. You might also use this time to assess your strengths, motivations, and what makes you tick.
If you find yourself feeling stuck on where to begin, consider reflecting on one or more of these questions:
- What do I need right now to be at my best?
- What types of work or activities energize me and what types of work or activities deplete me?
- What do I want to gain from growing my network?
- What skills or experiences can I contribute to serve my network?
The time that you invest in introspection will likely lead to you gaining new insights about yourself and clarity about what you most want and need from your network. This is the foundation to building meaningful relationships as a job seeker.
Create a plan for outreach
The internet provides a plethora of opportunities to grow connections virtually. It is up to you to determine how to use it strategically to advance your job search. By creating a plan for outreach that is tailored to your unique job search goals, you will be better positioned to protect your time and energy. This plan will help you bring structure, clarity, and focus to building meaningful relationships as a job seeker.
As you design your outreach plan, there are a few key ideas to keep in mind:
- Be specific. The more specific you are in creating your plan, the easier it will be for you to track your progress, identify common patterns that emerge from your conversations, and stay in touch! You might want to include categories such as the name of the person and/or organization that you want to contact, what you are hoping to gain from the conversation, what you would like to offer, and any follow-up steps that you want to ensure happen after you connect.
- Embrace curiosity. This is your time to be a sponge and learn as much as possible to help you make smart and strategic decisions about your next role. Rather than approaching someone about a specific job, try an approach that embraces curiosity and focuses on the skills and experiences needed to thrive in a particular sector or company.
- Revisit your goals. Consider who you want to talk to and why you want to speak with them. What unique offering or insights can the person share with you to help advance your job search goals?
- Build in time for planning ahead and follow-up. Utilize tools like LinkedIn, the world’s largest global networking platform, to help you gain insights about the person and their interests before the conversation. This preparation builds trust and confidence, and demonstrates that you value the person’s time and input.
Join a virtual community, or create your own
Navigating the peaks and valleys of a job search is hard work in any climate—but a pandemic makes it even tougher than usual. It does not, however, need to be done alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of online communities that are designed to bring people together with shared personal and professional interests.
The people that you meet in these groups can serve as your thought partners, sounding boards, and connectors. Most importantly, they can provide support and encouragement to help you navigate your job search.
It can be helpful to think broadly about the types of people you might want to engage with in a virtual community. Rather than focusing on your role or industry, you might want to start with skills or hobbies that you have and want to develop. Here are a few ideas on virtual communities to help you get started:
- The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) for those earlier in their careers;
- Ladies Get Paid, an international Slack community that provides the tools, resources, and community to help women negotiate for equal pay and power in the workplace;
- Out in Tech, a virtual community that empowers, supports, and creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ community members to advance in tech and social sector.
Commit to following up
The process of building meaningful, long-term relationships is not complete without a commitment to follow-up.
Your approach to follow-up can take many different forms. It may be as simple as a quick email to check in and update the person on what you have been working on. You may also consider sharing an article or podcast with someone that you’ve engaged with previously, if it’s on a topic of interest that you both have in common. Regardless of your approach, your message should be personalized, short, and relevant to your audience.
The most effective networking takes place on a continuum, not in a vacuum—and your commitment to follow-up is key in making this possible. Stay engaged with the people that you meet along the job search journey. You never know how they might be able to help you land your next role!
Are you actively job seeking and looking for ways to grow your network, while giving back to the local community? You can explore hundreds of virtual volunteer opportunities through Idealist.
Image created by Catherine Cordasco. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives.