The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the urgency for virtual networking into overdrive, as face-to-face interactions ground to a halt under quarantine and social distancing guidelines.
But the truth is, virtual outreach has always been an effective way to network, especially when desired contacts are not in the same city or region of the country. Cultivating contacts online can be an effective part of any career transition, and now is a great time to get started.
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Fortunately, the rapid rise in the widespread use of online platforms like Zoom provides many opportunities to network in the virtual realm. Make the decision to lean into these opportunities rather than pull back. At the top of the priority list: Leverage existing relationships to the maximum extent, particularly among friends and family.
That said, the strongest and most fruitful networking ties tend to be in the next outward layer of your social interactions. When engaging online, think of each virtual interaction as a networking opportunity, whether it is a formal meeting or a casual “meet and greet” with a new acquaintance.
Don’t overlook casual connections within veterans organizations, specialty clubs, places of worship, or other social groups. Many have shifted to online platforms as an effective way to facilitate continued contact among members.
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Here are several effective options to expand your virtual circle of professional contacts:
LinkedIn. While you may have already created a profile on the world’s largest professional site, few people do much beyond that point. Here are some tips to amplify your LinkedIn reach:
- Be open to professionals who reach out to you and send a connection request, even if you don’t know them. LinkedIn’s strength is its ability to help you expand and maintain your network among like-minded professionals. Review the person’s profile first to assess whether there is current or future benefit to making the connection.
- Support your networking contacts by liking or sharing information they have posted to their activity feeds. This is an easy way to help reinforce their public message, while also elevating your own professional visibility.
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- Leverage LinkedIn Groups to connect with other professionals in your career field or areas of interest. There are thousands of these groups on the site, and you can find them by using key words like “project management,” “health care,” or “Lean Six Sigma.”
- Use your LinkedIn activity feed to highlight particular skills and qualifications by sharing and posting relevant information. For example, sharing an interesting article that you read is a great way to connect with new contacts in your industry, as well as emphasize your own knowledge and expertise. Always include an accompanying comment to tie the posted information to you and your objective.
Professional associations. Every profession has an organization or association that oversees the activities of its members and advocates on their behalf. Examples include the International Society of Logistics (SOLE), Project Management Institute (PMI), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP). This is a ready opportunity for strategic networking with others in your profession who share your professional development and employment goals.
Alumni organizations. Alumni are present in almost every corner of the globe, making them especially effective networking contacts. It is not necessary to know the contact or have attended the college or university at the same time. Collegial bonds between alumni can be a strong basis for mutual professional support. Look for alumni organization groups on the school’s website or promoted via online social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Informational interviews. An informational interview is an informal conversation with a professional contact to learn more about a particular role, company, or industry. While the primary objective of the meeting is to conduct research and gain insightful career information, such meetings often end up producing a new, long-term networking contact. The contact is not only valuable because of their strong ties to your professional area of interest, but now that they have met you, they are now also aware of your specific skills, interests, and qualifications.
Networking is vitally important to your job search. Even with a global pandemic underway, you can still expand and strengthen your professional network using effective virtual outreach.
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