Figuring out how to network in the midst of both an economic recession and a pandemic can be a real head-scratcher. But it doesn’t have to be. You can connect with other humans from your couch, home office, kitchen table, or backyard (basically, wherever there’s Wi-Fi).
It’s all about who you know. Whether you’re a recent grad, career changer, or displaced professional, you’re likely to encounter this sentiment at some point during your job search.
That’s why networking is key for most modern job searches. Some available positions aren’t even posted publicly, or they might be posted as a formality and already have candidates under consideration. People want to hire and work with professionals they know, like, and trust.
So, how do you get recruiters and hiring managers to know, like, and trust you? How do you leverage your professional network from a distance? And how do you expand your network if your friends and family don’t happen to work in your target industry?
1. Develop an online presence.
Search for your name online and see what comes up. You can bet others will be searching for you online, so why not try it yourself first to see what they’ll find? If you’re currently looking for a job but your search results only yield unrelated, outdated content, then you definitely need to take steps to control your narrative by creating an optimized profile on a professional networking site, like LinkedIn. It’s a great way to rank higher in an online search. On social media you’re not limited to content that fits on a page or two. That means more space to incorporate your personality, share your recommendations, show off skills, ask to be introduced to new people, and even apply for jobs.
If you’re in a creative field, you may already have a portfolio website. And now is not the time to let it gather virtual dust with broken links or let your domain name expire. A portfolio website should showcase your best work. You can attract hiring managers with your unique style through clever typography and content. Your website should also be on-brand for your profession. For instance, if you’re a web designer, you'll want your website to reflect both technical and design skills. Plus, you can link to your portfolio on your social media profiles so recruiters can quickly find your resume or examples of your work.
Whatever path you decide to take with your online presence, always ask yourself what you want employers to see. Then make sure they see it when they find you online.
2. Say it in writing.
Writing emails and direct messages is a common way to connect with people online. But you don’t have to be a professional writer to craft messages that recruiters and hiring managers want to read. In fact, you can create a few customizable templates to help you write compassionately, concisely, and clearly.
We’re living in an era that will be known for buzzwords and catchphrases like alone together, unprecedented, and new normal. Everyone has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in some way. It’s tough to find a way to reach out to a stranger to ask for a job, unsure of what they may be experiencing. But you can infuse genuine compassion into your messages by going beyond the generic pleasantries. Acknowledge the crazy times we’re living in and ask how someone is faring instead of just jumping into talking about your job search.
Oh, and just because you’re being compassionate doesn’t mean you can’t also be concise. It’s always important to be mindful of other people’s time and not drag on and on. A long, rambling email or direct message is less likely to be read. It’s best to stick to a simple email that doesn’t require the recipient to work too hard. Reread your messages before sending them and make sure they would make sense to someone else. If you’re reaching out to a stranger, definitely explain who you are and why you’re writing to them. Maybe you were intrigued by a blog post they wrote or stumbled upon their social media profile and noticed they had an unusual career path. By stating your reason for wanting to reach out, you avoid sounding like you’re sending a generic email template.
3. Invite someone to a virtual coffee chat.
While emails are great for making an initial connection, they can’t fully replace face-to-face time. Even in a warm written message, it’s hard to match the nonverbal cues you get from a 15-minute chat over a cup of coffee. A coffee chat can be a great way to expand or nurture your professional network because you’re able to tailor the conversation as you go instead of having to wait for an email response. A coffee chat used to mean finding a convenient location to meet or missing out if you wanted to network with someone in a different geographical location. Since the start of the pandemic, video meetings are much more common. So, suggesting a virtual coffee chat is something many people would gladly accept.
Although getting someone to agree to a virtual chat means that you’ve already done some legwork to get that meeting on your calendar, some of the same rules for email apply here, too:
Be compassionate. Thank the person you’re meeting with for their time and acknowledge that you understand that they may be dealing with challenging situations, including working from home. It’s also OK to ask how the pandemic has affected them professionally and how their company is dealing with it.
Be clear. If you’re having a coffee chat with someone you don’t know, be prepared to respond to, “So, tell me about yourself.” Make sure you can tell the person you’re meeting with what you do, how or why you do it, and what you’re looking to do next. If you’re meeting with someone you already know, remind them what you’ve done in the past and update them on what you’re looking to do.
Be concise. Resist the urge to tell someone you want to pick their brain. Rather, opt for a more succinct goal like learning about their career trajectory, their role at your dream company, or even what their company’s current challenges are and how you might be able to help.
As odd as it may seem to make new connections and even land a job without being able to meet new people face-to-face IRL, you can network while social distancing. You can choose one of these methods or think of some other creative ways to use technology to expand your network and get hired.
Lucy Samuels is Communication and Career Coach who is based in New York City. She helps corporates and corporate misfits develop the communication confidence to share their professional stories and land amazing opportunities. You can learn more about Lucy by visiting her website.