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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]