Virtual Networking in a Pandemic World
By Wendy McWilliams | Career Counselor | Office of Career & Life Design
Recently I received a connect request on LinkedIn from somebody I have never met. Neither their title nor company rang any bells, but there was a note along with the request. This person was an aspiring career counselor looking for information about the field and about my decision to pursue the work. They asked me for a phone conversation and suggested two possible dates in the next week. I said yes.
This method of networking is one of my favorites, both personally and working with clients. Having a one-on-one conversation with somebody in your field of interest without the pressure of a job interview can yield many unexpected results and at the very least is great practice for telling your story. People enjoy talking about their work and about themselves. I did for a half hour and I am now a resource for this individual.
How does this relate to Virtual Networking? This kind of networking is exactly the same as pre-pandemic networking except that you are not asking for an in-person meeting. It may seem like you are imposing on somebody’s time, but many people are working from home with more time than ever now.
Here’s a secret: People like helping others. It makes them feel good.
Here’s another secret: The pandemic is a common experience for us all breaking down barriers and inspiring generosity and compassion. You might be surprised.
My “interviewee” did many things right which I want to enumerate:
It’s fine to cold contact somebody in LinkedIn, but add a note
Make it short, but let them know why you’re contacting them, be courteous, be specific and make it easy for them to say yes by providing a few suggested times. You may need to do this more than once, but wait a week in-between. Some people don’t look at their LinkedIn messages often.
Be on-time, organized, and stick to the time frame agreed upon
Figure out what you want to know ahead of time and write it down. I was given the opportunity to tell my story, and I was asked specific questions such as, “Are there opportunities to address racial and social justice issues in your work?” Thought-provoking and not something easily found on a job description!
Consider asking for a phone call and not a Zoom call
It is easier to talk to somebody you’ve never met on the phone than staring at them on a video. You can walk around. They can walk around. Many of us are very burnt out on video meetings. Make it easy for yourself and others.
Absolutely send a thank you note, but maybe do something different
We all get so many emails! Maybe a nice animated e-card (try https://www.ojolie.com/cards/ or https://www.americangreetings.com/cards/ecards/_/N-1x91zju). If someone really went out of their way for you (e.g. gave you a lead to a possible job or spent an exceptionally long amount of time with you), consider sending an electronic gift card (keep it $10 or under so it doesn’t feel like you are expecting anything in return). I recently loaned a colleague my study materials for a certification and was surprised with an Amazon gift card. Unexpected? Yes. Memorable? Definitely. Considerate? You bet.
To summarize, networking is still the best way to learn about your field of interest, to meet people who can potentially help you in your career and to just build your knowledge base. It needs to happen more than ever to keep channels open, and it is happening in a virtual space right now. If you feel extremely uncomfortable with virtual networking practice it on a friend. Set up a phone call, structure the first half hour as an informational or networking conversation, wrap it up and have a chat. They will be happy to help you. People are.