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A job-seeker’s guide to networking in a virtual world

Living through a pandemic is tough enough. But for Canadians who have lost their jobs, social distancing makes it even harder to connect with past colleagues or other contacts, especially when it comes to networking. As an internationally known speaker and networker, Porter Gale aptly put it: “Your network is your net worth.”

But the lack of in-person meetups doesn’t have to be as dire as it seems. In fact, a (pre-pandemic) study by the Adler Group and LinkedIn shows that 85% of jobs are actually filled virtually. This statistic applies to all types of candidates, whether they’re actively on the job hunt or already employed and not really looking.

“Networking—online or otherwise—is important, particularly in today’s gig economy, because you get a chance to meet new people, learn about different industries, and build new relationships while fostering existing ones,” says Nousha Qasimi, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Coast Capital.

So whether COVID-19 gave you a push to start pursuing virtual opportunities with industry leaders or other professionals or it’s just something you’ve been meaning to do, here are five ways to start making critical connections online:

1. Super-charge your LinkedIn profile and other social media

Put your best foot forward by making sure your social media accounts include your latest, most up-to-date professional information. LinkedIn is typically the best place to start since most people turn to that platform for networking. That said, if your network tends to hang out on Facebook, Instagram, or even TikTok, you could build a stronger professional presence in those outlets as well.

Here are a few tips to get noticed in LinkedIn:

  • Get recommended: Ask for LinkedIn recommendations from current or former colleagues, or someone you’ve volunteered with. Getting others to put in a good word for you will make your profile more attractive.
  • Focus on keywords: Add keywords to your headline, highlighting your skills and specializations. Your headline is often what attracts new contacts to your page, so you’ll want to use this feature wisely.
  • Start making connections: Look to get introduced by someone you know. If that’s not possible, “when reaching out to a person you don’t know well or at all, personalize your messaging and explain why you’d like to connect,” says Qasimi. “You could also reinforce a common interest to kick off a conversation. This will make the other person more likely to accept the request and remember you afterward.” For people outside your network, you can also send InMails and message requests to begin conversations.
  • Don’t lose your momentum: To keep relationships alive, share articles that could spark conversations or connect a few of your contacts with similar interests in a group message. Now, there’s also the capability on LinkedIn to easily switch to a video call by adding video meeting links directly into a chat.

2. Chat over virtual coffee

Having virtual coffee may feel different than meeting at the local cafe. But it’s still face-to-face and can be a great way to build professional relationships. “One of the best ways to start networking is by picking one or two past colleagues you haven’t had a chance to connect with yet and invite them to a 30-minute virtual coffee,” says Qasimi. “You can also use this strategy to reconnect with someone you haven’t touched base with in a while.”

A virtual coffee can be a chance to start a friendly, informational conversation with a colleague about common interests, career history, and what they’ve learned on their career path. “This can go a long way in terms of building a relationship,” says Qasimi.

Just keep in mind, since you’re onscreen, that non-verbal cues are just as impactful as the words you use. In a study on face-to-face networking, research showed that facial expressions and inflection made more of an impression than the actual words spoken.

Lastly, when you’re meeting up on Zoom or other video platforms, set up decent lighting, smile when appropriate, use an energetic tone, and maintain good eye contact (one trick is to look in the general direction of your webcam), all while presenting your authentic self.

3. Be present while attending online events

The appeal of in-person networking events and conferences is that you never really know who you’re going to meet. You can still capture that serendipity through virtual seminars, webinars, and other online networking meetups.

While it’s tempting to turn off your camera—don’t. Be in full view, sit back, and relax. You’ll have a better chance of meeting someone new if you show your face, ask questions during the Q&A, and participate in the chatbox (when appropriate).

Let others know they can get in touch with you by putting your social media handle in your name. “Also, don’t forget to live tweet or post about topics discussed using the event hashtag, which can be a good way to get noticed,” says Qasimi.

4. Plan for a followup

So, you’ve just had a great chat with someone over virtual coffee or at an online conference, now what? “The easiest way to keep in touch with someone in your network is to follow them on social media and turn on notifications for their accounts so that you’ll know when they post articles, make an announcement, or celebrate a milestone,” says Qasimi.

“Taking simple actions such as ‘liking’ or commenting on someone’s post helps you stay up-to-date on their current life and career,” adds Qasimi. “This could also help you make new connections and expand your network.” Take it a step further and comment and congratulate them on the work and accomplishments they post.

You can also try to take the conversation offline by emailing them directly or contacting them through their website.

5. Don’t forget about what you have to offer

Networking is all about the give-and-take. Focus on what you can do for others just as much as what they can do for you. This could mean sending them an interesting article or news clip about their industry or passing along a job lead for an opportunity that’s outside your field.

Not only will your efforts make a good impression, but the other person will be more likely to keep you in mind when they come across something that matches your interests. Not to mention that in the process of looking for opportunities, you are learning a lot as well.

Know you have virtually nothing to lose

If you’re feeling nervous about reaching out to people online that you’re not already close with, just remember networking can be a game-changer when thinking about your career journey. This can also be true for what you do for someone else in your network.

A good way to think about it is “the Benjamin Franklin effect.” The U.S. founding father wrote in his autobiography, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” So, if you ask someone for a minor favour, such as a LinkedIn recommendation or 20 minutes for a virtual coffee, you’re actually building rapport and goodwill between the two of you. In a new world where remote work and flexible schedules will most likely be more prevalent going forward, everyone will be looking to learn a little more about how to conduct virtual relationships.

And, who knows? If the Benjamin Franklin effect works, maybe you’ll be top of mind when a perfect job opportunity pops up down the road.

To learn more professional growth tips—such as “Nine things to know when you’re ready to change jobs”—visit our Career Corner section of the Coast Capital blog.

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