Try these 5 virtual networking strategies to advance your career while keeping your distance.
Much of the job search is reliant on networking. It’s your network that refers you to jobs, puts in a good word, and supports you in your search. This is why we advocate meeting as many people as possible and making as many friends as you can, both in your industry and outside of it.
Unfortunately, 2020 hasn’t been the best year for networking, with major events cancelled all over the world and large gatherings on hold. Even as bars reopen and numbers of people allowed at gatherings increase, it may still be a while before big events come back, and many people are still nervous about going out and being around a lot of people.
Networking is all virtual now
This means a lot of networking is moving into the virtual world. If you’re not sure how to make the most of virtual networking opportunities and where to find them, here are some suggestions to get you started.
Join Facebook Groups
Facebook groups can be amazing for making connections in many industries. These groups are forums where industry professionals can share ideas and conversation. There are groups that post jobs and groups where you can seek advice and share insight. You may have to shop around a bit. Some of these groups are just people trying to sell things or promote themselves. Some may also be full of people posting questionable jobs, depending on the industry. Good groups are opportunities to make connections and friends and to talk shop. So, look around and see what might be useful and what won’t be. Join the conversations by commenting on people’s posts, offering help and advice where you can, and starting your own discussions or posting relevant links and articles. Have conversations, just like you would in real life. You can find these groups by searching for relevant terms.
Join LinkedIn groups
LinkedIn groups are similar to Facebook groups, in that some are useful and others are not, and you have to do some looking. LinkedIn has more than three million groups and you’ll probably find several related to your professional interests. Participate in the same way that you would on Facebook. You can also write your own articles on LinkedIn and share them to these groups. This helps position you as a thought leader in your industry. According to this Forbes article, it’s a good strategy to include the “@” symbol to tag someone when responding to a comment or giving a complimentary shout-out. This will ensure that the person receives a notification about the mention. The article’s author says she has started conversations with several people she didn’t know this way, and in one case the tactic led to a speaking opportunity she wouldn’t have landed otherwise.
Follow up on conversations. If you have a particularly good conversation with someone in a group, reach out to them and connect outside the group. That’s one of the points of networking, to connect with people outside of the initial conversation and build solid relationships.
Attend virtual conferences and events.
Virtual events are on the rise as in-person events are no longer happening and conferences are moving to online spaces. They’re probably still working out kinks but they are certainly worth a shot. You can find virtual conferences in any industry right now and virtual events all over the place. For example, here is a list of conferences on EventBrite. One issue with these events is that it’s usually just a few people doing all the speaking and it’s difficult (or impossible) to go off and have a conversation of your own. Some conferences are hosting virtual happy hours and chat sessions, but it’s obviously not the same. So, the key is to take note of who’s there and follow up afterwards with the people with whom you want to connect.
Invite people for virtual coffee or cocktails
If you’re the sort who would normally invite people to coffee or cocktails, why not ask them to join you virtually? Set up a half hour for a chat to get to know each other. They might say no, but they also might say not to a real-life meeting. You have nothing to lose. If you do this, set a time limit in advance, so you might invite someone for exactly 30 minutes on Zoom, and you both know that you can end it there. And, if things run overtime, that’s good too. And you can say “Look at that! I guess we had a lot to talk about!”
Enhance your professional use of your usual social media channels
If you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, use them even more, in the ways you normally would, to make professional connections. Post industry-related content, start conversations, and comment on other people’s posts. The reality is that a lot of networking moved to the virtual world some time ago. Now it’s just all there, for the time being.
Things will, presumably, eventually move back to an in-person format. In the meantime, we already have many tools and resources available to us. It’s up to you to make these things work for you.