How to network virtually in the current environment

Catherine Kraus, Women Returners Coach, has created a short webinar on “How to Network Virtually” as part of our new series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 12 minute webinar.

Networking is extremely useful to you when returning to the workforce. It can lead to career opportunities and access to new information that you didn’t have before. And while face-to-face networking is a great way to grow your professional network, online networking skills are essential, particularly in our current social-distancing environment.

That’s why we’re offering you some guidance on “How to Network Virtually” – how to get started, how to reach out to others and how to follow-up with your contacts.

How to get started

  • Set an intention: Before you start to reach out to others, you need to clarify for yourself what goal you are trying to achieve. Your intention may vary greatly, depending on what kind of information you’re hoping to learn from your potential contacts. If you’re returning from a longer career break, you may want to reconnect with a former colleague to understand the recent industry trends from her perspective. If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, you may want to reach out to an acquaintance who did the same, in order to understand the pros/cons being an entrepreneur. Set your intention by reflecting on what you’d like to learn and, then, as a next step, think about who could possibly help you get that information.
  • Schedule time in your calendar: Networking doesn’t have to be time consuming. When you’re planning to return to work, you have a lot of things to do. That’s why it makes sense to set aside dedicated time to networking. This will be individual to your goals and availability. You could reserve one hour a week, say every Friday morning to reach out to 3-4 contacts or you can choose to block out one full afternoon per month to catch up on all your networking activities.
  • Update your online profile: Make sure your online LinkedIn profile is updated and complete (for more details how to do this, read our blog post How to optimise your LinkedIn profile). Connecting with professionals in your area of work and reestablishing relationships can open up opportunities you might not have considered.

How to reach out to others

  • Start with people you know: Many people find it intimidating to approach others, especially if it’s not in-person. It may feel contrived or needy. Luckily, psychology reassures us that, in general, people are open to helping others. Still, you can make it easier on yourself by starting to build your online network with people you know. You probably have more networking connections than you think. Sit down and brainstorm all the people you know: include former colleagues, neighbours, volunteer groups, your child’s school parents, sport club contacts and university and school friends. Then prioritise your list based on your networking goals.
  • Make it personal: Adding a personal message to a LinkedIn connection request will help your request stand out. Remember if you worked at a big company or if it was a long time ago, you need to let ex-colleagues know exactly when, where, and how you worked together. Also take the time to personalise when you send an email, direct message or text: make it’s sincere, unique and all about connecting with the other person. Here are some ideas from The Muse on how to write a request to connect.

How to follow up with contacts

Last, but not least, you’ll want to keep track of and follow up with your networking contacts.

  • Don’t keep it online: Fix phone or video calls with a few people on your priority list. Ask for 20-30 minutes of their time. Keep in mind your goal  when you’re structuring your request and the call itself.
  • Keep notes: Remember to note down any follow-ups from the conversation: Did your contact give you additional contacts to reach out to? Did you get recommendations on important business articles to read? Did your contact ask you keep in touch with the progress of your job search in a month’s time? It helps to keep a simple spreadsheet with information such as: Name of contact, Background information, Date you last contacted, How you’re connected and Notes (e.g. your activities, possible next steps, or new leads).

For more tips on networking watch our pre-recorded webinar: How to Network Virtually presented by Catherine Kraus [12 mins]

How to prepare for networking at a conference

The Women Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference in London next month. The day will be packed with return-to-work advice, support and inspiration, with plenty of opportunity to network with like-minded women and meet our 10 Employer Sponsors.


We know many returners find the idea of networking quite daunting, so here are some tips to help you make the most of our Conference or other similar events. 

Set yourself a goal: This may be to speak to three people you haven’t met during the breaks between sessions, or there may be a particular employer sponsor you’d like to speak to. Achieving your goal will be a boost to your confidence. Just make sure your goal is achievable so that you don’t feel too much pressure. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’ve achieved it!

Plan your introduction: Although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to craft your personal story, it’s a good idea to have a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name, a brief description of your background, and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: Whether you’re focused on meeting an employer, or still working out your future direction, it’s a really good idea to do some advance preparation. This includes researching individual speakers and employers online and through your existing networks, and developing questions you can ask to specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find it uncomfortable to talk about yourself, ask questions when you meet someone initially – it’s an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you meet. 

Use LinkedIn to connect with other people: LinkedIn is a great way to find and connect with other attendees at a conference. You can do this manually, simply by looking up the people you meet. Or you can use a tech way if you have a smartphone: 

  1. Enable Bluetooth on your phone. 
  2. Click on the two people icon at the bottom of the screen in the LinkedIn app and then ‘find nearby’ in the middle at the top of the screen
  3. You will then be able to invite anyone at the event who also has this screen open to connect. 

If you’re coming along to our Conference in London on 13 May, and are on Twitter, do use the hashtag #WRConf and tag @womenreturners to join in the conversation on the day. We hope to see you there and know you’ll have a great time – remember everyone at the Conference is a returner so you can relax – you’ve found your tribe!

If you don’t have your ticket for the Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference yet find out more and book here. And you can find information on our Conference’s Employer Sponsors here.

For more tips on how to network successfully, see these blogs in our Advice Hub: Top tips for enjoyable networkingAre you missing the point of networking at an event?Do I really have to network?

How to map your network

I get that networking is important but I have no idea where to start? 
Most returners in this contemporary job market get the fact that networking is important. They realise that in this day and age, the majority of roles are filled directly from people’s networks and not from recruiters or adverts.
But for many of you there may still be a mental block when it comes to approaching your network – or even recognising that you have a network! Particularly when you throw a career break into the mix, adding to the overall effect by magnifying fears and worries about who and how to use contacts to help.
So let’s challenge some of the common assumptions that may be holding you back from thinking about how your network can help with your return to work.
I don’t have a network anymore. 
I hear this a lot from women who have had a career break. In fact, we all have a network. It may be a different network than the one you had before your break, it may be a combination of old and new contacts and it might even be a better one than you had before! You might just not be thinking of it as a professional network or be assuming that those you spend time with now won’t have any useful professional contacts.
I can’t ask people I know socially to help me with my job search. 
Would you help your friends if they asked you? We like helping other people. Remember you are not asking your friends for a job but simply for information or an introduction to someone in an area/organisation that interests you. It’s also a good way to begin practising your work story and re-engaging with the ‘professional’ you. A lot of leverage can come from a personal network, particularly after a career break.

Remember “Six degrees of separation”? The trick with networking is tapping into your wider network – most opportunities come this way. This means multiplying your contacts and reach by accessing your network’s network.

My current contacts won’t know anyone in my field of interest.
This is a common assumption, but you can’t have total awareness of your network’s network. One returner’s neighbour’s brother turned out to be very senior in the sector she wanted to get into and was able to make an introduction. You don’t know who might know who ..
We often meet women who have known potentially-helpful contacts for years but yet never had a conversation about their professional selves. You could be sitting on dynamite contacts right in front of your nose!
How to Map your Network


Mapping your network helps you to think about who you know and to prioritise who to approach.
  1. Create some quiet space and time to brainstorm different areas of your life in which you have contacts who might be able to help you. Be creative and think broadly!
  2. Consider contacts in Past and Present, together with ideas on new contacts you could develop in the Future. Here are some groupings to get you started (adapted from the excellent book Back on the Career Track):
    1. Past: School, university, professional training, work (colleagues, clients, suppliers, alumni groups)
    2. Present: Family, friends, neighbours, sports, hobbies, volunteer contacts, religious and community contacts, professional bodies, school network
    3. Future: Create local alumni network or job search group, volunteer, join an association
  3. Include all the people you know in each group. Make a rule not to rule people out. Remember to keep an open mind and approach it with curiosity – wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who people might know? Use LinkedIn to find people from your past and enlist others to remind you of people you may have forgotten about.
  4. Map it out in a way that works for you – it might be a spider diagram, post-it notes on a large piece of paper or a spreadsheet.
  5. Prioritise your 1st level contacts – those you will approach first – by creating relevant criteria such as: “Do they have relevant sector/function/technical knowledge?” “Do I think they will know a lot of other people who could help?” “Do I feel comfortable contacting this person early on?”   
  6. Then map out 2nd and 3rd level contacts – those you will approach later. John Lees’ book Just the Job is helpful in explaining how to work out different levels of contacts.
I’ve mapped my network. What now?
  1. Your primary goal is to use your network to make useful new contacts. Approach your 1st level contacts – tell them what type of work you’re looking for, relating it to your interests, skills and experience before and during your break. Ask them if they know of anyone who might be able to offer you advice or to provide information on your area(s) of interest, and if they would be happy to make an introduction.
  2. With each new person you meet, ask at the end of the conversation if they could introduce you to anyone else who would be interesting to speak to.
  3. Create a system for tracking your progress and adding to the network as you expand your list of contacts. A spreadsheet works well at this point.
  4. Reward your progress – it’s better to approach several useful contacts per week than to spend hours researching on the internet with no focus. Every time you set up a call, arrange a coffee or gain a new introduction reward yourself in some sort of way that’s meaningful for you – it will take time and effort but will be of great long-term benefit not only for your first role back but in terms of your ongoing career opportunities!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Are you missing the point of networking at an event?

This week’s blog is by Rachel Halsall, one of our Women Returners Coaching team.

One of my favourite ways to spend time is to work with coaching clients to design their networking strategy.

After having had the pleasure of providing coaching
sessions at the Women Returners Conference, it struck me that many of the women I spoke to were missing the point about what networking at an event is all about and what the benefits can be. What I heard in a number of these coaching conversations was a belief that networking is about walking up to somebody you don’t know, reciting
an elevator pitch and then asking them for a favour, an opportunity or a job.

Whilst it’s true that your next opportunity may well come about through your wider network, this is not what networking is about at all.

What is event networking about?

To ‘network’ at an event is …
  • To walk into a room of
    people and to engage in interesting conversations;
  • To find out more about another
    person and their perception and ideas;
  • To enjoy social interaction in person rather than through social
    media;
  • To share knowledge;
  • To build new contacts and widen your network of interesting people;
  • To find out what is going on in your or
    other sectors;
  • To make introductions to help interesting
    people meet other interesting people.

At the Conference I saw that some great conversations were happening all around the room, and that new relationships were being developed. I hope that these conversations continued after the event. Staying in
touch and nurturing that connection is essential – in most cases it is through this on-going effort, rather than the initial introduction, that
you will see the advantages of having a great network pay off.

How can you get better at event networking?
You can get better at this form of networking, and enjoy it more, simply by getting out there, attending some events and asking other people some questions. Practice listening
intently to somebody about their take on things. Be interested
in what you are hearing rather than worrying about whether or not you are interesting. Use the kind of listening skills that you would use on a first date and you will find that you remember much more detail than if you’re focusing on saying something impressive.

If I am paying attention to you, listening to you, enjoying your company, learning from you and sharing my knowledge with you, you are more than likely to want to stay in touch with me, to ask me for help and to help me should I ask. This is the point of networking.



To finish with an easy tip: Smile when you enter
the room and turn your ears on!
Posted by Rachel, Women Returners

Tips for networking at a conference

The Women
Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference next month. You will enjoy the
panels and workshops that we are presenting and there will be plenty of
networking opportunities. I know how scary the idea of networking is to many
returners so this post will attempt to reduce your fear and prepare you for
making the most of our Conference, which will be relevant for any other similar networking event.
3 Tips for Conference Networking
 
Set a goal: there are no rules about how many
conversations to have or business cards to collect, but if you set yourself a
goal, you can feel good when you have achieved it. For those of you who are
actively seeking to return to work, there might be a specific employer you want
to talk to, while for those of you just starting to think about your return, your
goal could be to practise speaking to a stranger. It is up to you to decide:
just make sure that your goal is realistic and remember to congratulate
yourself when you have reached it.
 
Plan your introduction: although one of the workshops will
cover in detail how to craft your personal story, you will help yourself by
having a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name;
your background; and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to
talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are
new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out
loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.
 
Prepare topics: whether you are focused on meeting an
employer or still working out your future direction, advance preparation is
essential. This includes: researching individual speakers and employers online
and through your existing networks; developing questions you can ask both to
specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find
it uncomfortable to talk about yourself initially, asking questions of the
people you meet is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation
means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to
say to the new people you will meet.
Finally, remember that everyone else attending the Conference is a returner, just like
you. You are likely to find something in common with most of the people you
meet and you will have taken yourself one step closer to getting back to work.
For other
posts on networking see:
 
Posted by Katerina

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to
work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your
specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the
freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice
following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I
found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane
Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her
expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking
about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or
jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.
There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of
which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle
those one by one in a moment.
What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing
something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going
networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment
from my job.
This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which
attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel
about networking and it’s:
Your service is a gift!
Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that
you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it
for.
That makes it, and you, a gift.
Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone
who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing
businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business
consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations,
the service you provide is a gift that others need.
If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear
on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding,
editing, copyrighting – take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something
you are passionate about doing.)
Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet,
where should you meet them?
Where to find potential
clients
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save
you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.
Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your
gift and who you would love to share your gift with?
Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies,
creatives – the list is endless!
When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them
and talk to them.
The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about
places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events
eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people
with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals,
Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.
Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the
people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.
What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to
having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.
Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is
a gift!
This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and
starting conversations.
Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a
question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?
Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations:
the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they
respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are
focusing on the other person.
It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t
want to feel heard?
When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find
out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.
If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask
them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about
it.
If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or
opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can
still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.
Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game
plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open
to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an
investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.
If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find
it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to
be extroverted and someone you are not.
In fact I know that networking works best when you are being
yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and
something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network
effectively.
If you want more support to do this then please get
in touch
with me!
Mary Jane Boholst is the
founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business
owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and
share their expertise. Find out more here.
For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option
Posted by Katerina

Five ways to build your back-to-work networks

Why networking is important for a back-to-work job search


We talk regularly about the importance of networking as one of the key routes to get back to work after a long career break. The value of networking has really been brought home to me by two recent experiences.

First of all, two highly experienced and qualified women who have successfully returned to work, one in investment banking and the other to a senior corporate role, told me how unhelpful headhunters were when they approached them. This included headhunters with whom they previously had relationships during their pre-break careers. The banker (who is now happily employed at Credit Suisse following a placement on the Real Returns programme) was told that her career break of 11 years was too long for the headhunter to place her. She was advised that the only way to find a role would be through her own network.

Separately in a meeting I attended to learn more about a new and growing professional women’s network, my contact told me about two roles that she was trying to fill, in a discreet way, that might be suitable for a returner. These two roles are examples of the true ‘hidden job market’ that really does exist: often managers want to make a hire quickly, quietly, inexpensively and without lots of administration. They rely on their networks to do this as they view their own contacts as reliable and credible sources of talented candidates.

Five ways to build your networks

To access the hidden job market and circumvent unhelpful headhunters you need to get networking. Networking doesn’t simply consist of walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself. More broadly, networking provides you with opportunities to connect with people who have similar interests, talents and concerns that you have. Through your engagement with them you will have opportunities to learn about potential roles and to talk about your own search. Ways to start making these contacts include joining any of the following:

  1. Membership organisations that match your professional interests. Networks exist for people with interests ranging from hedge funds to horticulture, oil engineering to oriental languages. These organisations commonly have informative newsletters, speaker events and training opportunities
  2. Relevant LinkedIn groups where you can initiate or contribute to discussions. In this way, you’ll learn more about the issues that are current, raise your profile in the group and gain openings to contact people directly
  3. Alumni groups. All universities and business schools and many employers and secondary schools have these in place, as they recognise the value of a long-term relationship with you. Many of these groups actively encourage members to talk to each other for employment advice
  4. Professional associations. If you have a professional qualification, your accrediting body will also have a useful network as well as offering other career support
  5. Informal networks. Aside from these formal routes, you can make valuable connections through broadening or taking a more active role in social or community activities – a community group, a volunteer organisation, a school parent body, a religious community. We rarely know who our local networks are connected to and the ‘hidden jobs’ they might know about.

As you build these connections, remember to talk to them about your background and what you are looking for, so that they will be able to help you. For your networking to be effective you have to be clear and convincing about the role you are seeking. See our previous post on Telling your Story if you are unsure how to do this.

For more advice on networking, see our previous posts
Do I really have to network?
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn – an essential tool for your return to work

Posted by Katerina

Top tips for Enjoyable Networking

You might think that enjoyable and networking are two words that can never appear together in the same sentence!  It is very common to find networking difficult, uncomfortable, too time-consuming and best avoided.  If this is your current thinking, take a look at “Do I really have to network?” to help you to approach networking more positively and with confidence.  If you’re ready to give networking a try, here are some key tips and ideas for making it enjoyable:

  1. You already know how to network.  It is part of life and you probably spend a lot of your time asking people for advice, information and recommendations in a natural, easy way.
  2. Practise telling your story before you start out networking, so that you are comfortable and fluent with it.
  3. Be realistic. You are unlikely to come away from your first meeting with a job offer. Or your 10th meeting. Or even your 20th. But each meeting you have will be taking you one step closer to your goal.
  4. Be really clear about your goal for the networking meeting.  It is much easier for people to be helpful to you if they understand what you need.  Are you looking for information about the requirements for a particular type of role that interests you?  Do you want to understand an industry or organisation better?  Are you looking for insights into specific people?  Do you need advice on how to find a particular role?  Are you looking for further contacts?  Do you want ideas on where your skills and talents might fit in an organisation?
  5. Work out why it would be helpful for the person you want to contact to meet you.  Remember that people are always on the look out for new information. What insights, knowledge, experience, skills, talents and network do you have?  You always have something to offer!
  6. Think, in advance, what will make each meeting a success for you and celebrate your success afterwards.  If you think of the meeting as a chance to talk about something that is interesting and important to you (an area that interests you & your future career), you are more likely to feel positive about your experience.
  7. Keep your meetings short.  People are busy and so if you say you’ll only need 20/30 minutes of someone’s time, keep to your commitment.  That way you make sure you don’t cause irritation.
  8. Find a networking buddy.  This is a supporter who can encourage you to get started and to keep going, someone to discuss your meeting preparation with who will also enjoy hearing about your experience.
Lastly, once you are in your new role, don’t stop networking.  It will continue to be important for you to learn new information about your field, meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as possible employers and even future employees.
Posted by Katerina

Do I really have to network?

Networking is an essential element of finding your way back to
work – and it can also be the most daunting!  For many people, networking means
entering a room of strangers or acquaintances, ‘working the room’ and leaving
with a fist full of business cards and the promise of some follow-up
meetings.  This is a very extreme example
of networking and isn’t likely to be the way you find your next role.  Nevertheless, networking will be an essential element
of your return to work strategy – so what’s getting in your way?



Why
do we find networking difficult?
Our
most common objections to networking are:
  • networking is only for political types. How
    true is this?   Are you being
    political in wanting to learn some new information, get ideas and advice, find
    a new role or develop your career?
  • lack of time. This is more a question of how important your job search is
    among your list of competing priorities.
    It will need to be near to number one, for you to put in the time
    and effort that effective networking requires.
  • shyness or reserve, not wanting to bother
    people
    .  This usually stems from
    lack of confidence.  It is really
    important that you start to work on your confidence level before embarking
    on your networking activity.  If you
    are completely lacking confidence, you certainly won’t find networking possible, let
    alone enjoyable. Click here for advice and tips on how to start to develop your
    confidence.  You need to believe you
    have something to offer the people you connect with.
 Some networking truths
It
might be helpful for you to think about the following realities of networking,
if you have any lingering objections to it.
  1. Networking is part of life.  Everyone
    does it.  The people you wish to
    connect with will all have been helped at some point in their career by
    someone with whom they have networked.
    They will all be networking to find information and to meet
    potential customers, suppliers, employees and employers.  You are not asking them to do anything
    out of the ordinary and you are probably doing it yourself, all the time,
    without even realising it.  When you
    ask someone you know for a restaurant, a plumber or a hotel recommendation, you are
    networking!
  2. Networking isn’t all about attending large events. Contacting a friend of a friend for a short chat about their role can be just as valuable.
  3. The most obvious reason why someone might be keen
    to talk to you is that most people are on the look out for new
    sources of information or insight and employers are usually looking out
    for people with talent and skills.
    You will always be of interest to the people you are meeting if you bring perspectives and insights, as well as your own
    network. When we’re working hard, we often don’t have time to keep up-to-date with industry articles and research; if you take time to read about your area of interest, you can bring this new information to your new contacts.
  4. Most people love to talk about themselves!  So, if you are asking about a person’s career
    path, their role, their training, their industry knowledge or their
    organisation they will often welcome talking to you.
In
the next post, I’ll discuss how to enjoy networking with tips and examples.

Is
there something specific you’d like to see included?

Posted by Katerina