Networking has always been a powerful way to expand opportunities and enhance careers. During this period of uncertainty, networking has become even more vital. Most networking techniques focus on face-to-face interaction which has been significantly impacted by the current pandemic. In response, there has been a dramatic increase in online activities which are providing new ways to collaborate remotely with current contacts, find new connections, and establish lasting relationships.
Despite the differences between networking online and in person, many elements of successful networking interactions remain the same.
In either case, when you set out to expand your network, it’s crucial to develop a great “elevator pitch”. Your pitch should present both you and the value you bring to the table in a creative and concise way. Most people don’t have time to read lengthy explanations of what you have to offer and why you are interested in connecting, so keep it short and sweet. Once you know how to present yourself, you’ll want to figure out who to contact and the best way to reach them. You can start by making a list of everyone you know. The next step is prioritizing your list; one approach is to place the people who you believe could potentially have the biggest impact on your career at the top. Alternatively, you may want to put a higher priority on the contacts who can benefit the most from your skills or connections. Remember that networking is a two-sided activity and to be effective, both sides need to win.
There are several ways to connect with potential networking contacts. One of the popular options is LinkedIn. LinkedIn has many of the same capabilities for engagement as other social media platforms like Facebook but it has the added advantage of being a professional community. It also enables previous and current co-workers, supervisors, direct reports, and even suppliers and channel partners to endorse your skills, capabilities, and methodologies which can all enhance your credibility.
It’s important to recognize that throughout the networking process, reciprocation is the key to success.
It is easier to request and receive endorsements when you also give endorsements.
Another way to find quality networking opportunities is by joining and participating in associations. These can be professional associations, alumni groups, or online gatherings in specific areas of interest. Many can be found by searching the internet using keywords from certain industries or job titles. Another way to find networking groups is through Facebook’s Groups feature. As you look to social media to create, build, or enhance your networking and job search potential, review your profile and personal social media presence first to make sure that potential employers would perceive you in a positive way.
As our economy emerges from COVID-19 and in person meetings return to the marketplace, it will be vital to follow health guidelines and adopt new networking techniques. Regardless of what method you use for networking, a key goal is to get the person you are contacting to communicate with you. People are less likely to connect with someone who dominates the dialogue. Not only are open-ended questions engaging, they also give you the opportunity to learn valuable information about the industry and practices of the person you have connected with, helping to solidify and expand relationships in your network.
A final note; networking is a continuous process that requires consistent maintenance. Many people only begin to think about networking when they are looking for a job. While it is a powerful job search tool, networking is much more effective when dealing with people you know. As such, an effective network must be cultivated and supported over time.
Schedule time to engage your contacts in addition to actively looking for new connections; both are essential in building a strong and actionable network.
Strategically planning, reciprocating connections, and leveraging current technologies lays the foundation for an impressive professional network to enhance your career and expand your opportunities.