If you are serious about your career, you already know that networking is a key to long-term success.
And if you are launching a job search, this is probably the time to intensify your efforts.
As an executive coach, I have been speaking with a range of managers and senior leaders, some of whom may eventually be in a position to hire.
They have left me with the sense that this is an excellent time for you to concentrate on networking, but you need to carefully consider your strategies.
Basic Networking Truths
So let’s take a look at how to strengthen your network, even while the COVID-19 crisis continues.
First, a review of some networking basics. These things about networking are always true:
The foundation of networking is our in-born need to be connected with other people.
Humans are inherently social, and networking is about laying groundwork for beneficial social relationships of all sorts. These can range from casual acquaintances with whom you share interests, to close and enduring friendships.
It is a gradual process.
Great networkers understand that building connections is something you work at consistently, doing a little at a time, but doing it regularly.
If you are eager to broaden your network, commit to doing a little something every day.
When you discipline yourself to maintain a steady pace, you become increasingly creative and the process gets easier as you go along.
Savvy networkers focus on being helpful.
Often the best way to connect with people is to find ways to add value. This might mean something as simple as liking their Instagram post or adding a comment to their clever Tweet. Cultivate a feeling of kindness and generosity as you approach other people, and ideas will come to you.
Most people actually enjoy helping others.
Early human beings had to band together in order to find food or escape danger. So now we have evolved with emotions – like empathy and generosity – that help us bond with other people. Most people feel good about being generous and cooperative during difficult times. And many of us feel an urge to reach out to members of our communities (and “community” can be broadly defined).
Today’s Special Challenges
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has been great, on both our personal and our professional lives. Many Americans, including the healthy ones, are struggling with the ramifications of our mandate to stay home:
Some people are lonely.
Millions are feeling isolated and are looking for acceptable forms of social contact. They appreciate hearing from individuals and they are yearning to feel connected with communities.
But other people are overwhelmed by too much connection.
Many professionals are working overtime to care for children at home, support older family members, and at the same time stay connected with their jobs. And some leaders are exhausted by the need to keep checking in on team members, customers and other stakeholders.
Don’t assume they want to Zoom.
The availability of cool Apps does not mean that everyone is open to the idea of virtual coffees or Google hangouts. Some people want a break from their screens. And perhaps a quarter of Americans — including many of those hunkered down outside of urban areas — don’t have reliable access to high speed broadband. So spotty WIFI service is one of the reasons many people are aching to spend less time hunched over their devices.
Build Your Network Now
You can start today to strengthen your network.
While some professionals don’t have a minute to connect with one more person, others might be glad to hear from you. And there’s much you can do to strengthen your profile and lay groundwork for future outreach. Here are some ways to start:
Communicate with friends and mentors.
Even busy people enjoy receiving friendly messages.
It is always OK to let people know that you are thinking of them and to briefly update your status. The smart way to deliver a note is through the channel likely to be preferred by the recipient, which for professional contacts could mean email, rather than texting.
Go to where the people are.
While some potential employers don’t have time to connect with you, in many online communities people are happy to engage.
A good starting point is LinkedIn, which is certainly the premier professional network.
First make sure your profile is complete and well written. Next, adopt the habit of visiting the site daily, getting the hang of how it works and methodically building your presence.
Connect with alumni groups.
Many universities are reaching out to their alumni, urging them to support students and graduates who may be struggling to find jobs. And do not forget “corporate alumni” — people you worked with or who also work/worked for the same employer.
A good way to make a cold contact is to open your message by describing how you attended the same academic program or naming the employer you have in common. These can be a great basis for connecting.
LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for finding fellow alums who work in your target professional fields.
Seek older mentors.
As you search for like-minded people who might be willing to help, do not hesitate to contact senior professionals. As they move up the ladder, successful workers often become more interested in giving back and supporting aspiring young colleagues.
Also, recent retirees may still be well connected and happy to broker connections.
Research growing fields.
While some industries are contracting, others are continuing to grow. Use your slow time to research sectors that interest you, looking for companies that seem ready for the future and identifying skill sets that will soon be in demand.
Build your skills.
As you research online jobs listings, notice technical skills and areas of expertise that are mentioned most frequently. And start taking online courses, and acquiring certificates, that will make you more desirable to potential employers.
Polish your writing skills.
In recent years, employers have been complaining about the poor writing skills of recent college grads and other applicants. But because they needed the help, organizations could not be picky, and they hired anyway.
In the new job market companies will be able to go after what they really want, and that will include excellent writers. If business writing is not your strength, take a course to brush up on basics, like grammar, punctuation and a tight, clear style of communication.
Bolster your profile.
Show off your strengths and insights by regularly writing comments or articles online. This could mean witty tweets, thoughtful comments responding to LinkedIn articles, or lengthy essays on Medium.
Look for blogs and professional journals that will accept content. And whatever you write, proofread and edit closely, and show off your commitment to high quality work.
It may take a while to find a job that puts you on your dream path. While you are looking, search for remote freelance work and look for ways to market any special skills you have.
Even if your gigs are unrelated to the career you want, this can be a chance to demonstrate your entrepreneurial thinking and willingness to hustle.
A wonderful way to bond with people is to work with them on projects that matter.
If you are able to be out and about, this could mean supporting a nonprofit effort by delivering Meals on Wheels, packing boxes in a food pantry or cleaning at an animal rescue facility. And many nonprofit websites list openings for virtual volunteers.
The Bottom Line
Any time is a smart time to network. Devote a portion of every day to nurturing the relationships you already have, from your closest friends to members of your virtual communities. And maintain a steady pace as you build your professional skill sets and raise your online profile.
More About Job Search Networking:
- How to Nurture Your Network and Empower Your Career
- 7 Reasons Networking Is Critical to Your Career Success
- 7 Strategies for Painlessly Building Your Network
- The 4 Essential Skills for Networking Success
- What Network? I Don’t Have a Network
- 10 Success Tips for Reluctant Networkers
- 10 Networking No-No’s
- Networking Lunch Rules
- How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You
- Questions to Ask in Informational Interviews
About the author…
Beverly E. Jones is a Job-Hunt Networking Contributor. Bev is an executive coach, and a former lawyer and corporate executive. In addition, she is an active writer and speaker, and the author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.” Her career podcast, “Jazzed About Work,” appears on NPR.org. Visit her website, Clearways Consulting, and Find Bev on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
More about this author…