Networking, an activity that often takes place over a cup of coffee, at a professional dinner, or during an event where people share a common interest, typically happens in person. There’s nothing quite like leaving a first impression having given a firm handshake, displaying genuine interest in the conversation that took place, and leaving your contact information after just a few minutes of connecting. However, given the current circumstances, these in-person meetings have had to shift to an online format, leaving students and professionals alike anxious and apprehensive to pursue networking virtually.
Despite these unprecedented times, networking can still continue in a virtual setting, and students and professionals need not fear. Even though connecting over emails and video meetings isn’t the same as connecting in person, networking in a virtual setting can be achieved in a variety of ways, from interacting on LinkedIn posts to taking advantage of companies’ virtual events. Moreover, taking the initiative to network virtually shows an individual’s ability to be adaptable and enthusiastic amidst this unparalleled situation, two valuable skills that employers will be seeking from here on out in today’s job market. Below are some ideas for building your professional network virtually, as well as ways to promote networking in this way for the foreseeable future (including during your CEA Virtual Internship Abroad program!).
1. Be active on professional social media networks, like LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a great place to develop your professional network. You can start small by connecting with friends with whom you attend school and grow your reach to supervisors, conference speakers, partners, and so much more. The more active I am on LinkedIn, whether that’s through sharing my own posts or commenting on others' content, the more I receive engagement from professionals. These quick interactions can be taken beyond a few words and transform into something far greater!
Another great social network for companies to interact with their followers and supporters is Twitter. Now, I know many of us know it as “that bird app” and very far from being deemed professional, but having a more sophisticated Twitter account is a great way for you to mindfully follow organizations you’re passionate about and engage with professionals in 280 characters or less!
The possibilities are really quite endless with social media networks, as Instagram, Facebook, and even TikTok have taken on professional roles in a variety of ways. Go with the network that appeals most to you, and start making connections with a simple “follow” in order to foster long-term relationships.
2. Follow companies you’re interested in, work for, or have worked for
Brand loyalty is huge in the professional workplace. When companies notice your dedication and strong affiliation with a particular brand, you’re going to be recognized as dependable and trustworthy -- two qualities that definitely don’t hurt in the professional world. By following the companies you work for and have worked for, you can continually support them and their efforts, even after you have moved on. This not only helps them retain a positive presence on social media and in everyday life, but it can also help you when it comes to needing recommendations from past employers and being known as a diligent employee.
Keeping up with the companies and organizations that interest you is also a great idea, as companies keep a close eye on their followers who interact the most with their content. Have you ever noticed the “Top Fan” badge on Facebook business pages? This “Top Fan” status makes you stand out amongst a mass of followers, earning you top priority and interaction with said company. Try to be a “Top Fan” when it comes to following and engaging with the organizations you’re interested in, because your ambition and commitment won’t go unnoticed, and who knows where that may take you!
3. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals
It can be daunting to reach out to professionals, especially during this time. As everyone is trying to navigate this new way of conducting business and making connections online, it can be hard to know when and how to reach out to those employed in your field.
However, I’ve found that having a purpose when doing so increases both the quantity and quality of responses.
Right now, professionals don’t want to be bombarded with simplistic messages. Instead, they want to know why you’re reaching out, presented in a way that makes it feasible for them to engage with you. If you’re going to reach out to someone in your network, it’s important to introduce yourself if you haven’t formally met, but be sure that the bulk of your message is more than just an introduction. A message along the lines of,
“... I noticed your post on LinkedIn, and I really enjoyed your encouraging message about overcoming hardships related to workplace adversity. I would love to know more about how you and your company specifically have handled these unprecedented times, especially as it may pertain to a young professional who is currently looking for a Human Resources position and who will likely face similar adversity. As a professional in the field, I would love your personal insight!”
clearly states the intentions of the sender and makes it feasible for the recipient to answer the direct question. There is a purpose behind this message, and when a professional sees that, they are much more likely to respond enthusiastically instead of letting the message sink deeper down in their Inbox.
So, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals! If they’re circulating around your network and have robust pages on social media, they likely love to communicate with others and are even looking to expand their own networks. Just make sure the manner in which you do so isn’t robotic and is instead personalized, straightforward, and response-provoking.
4. Participate in any professional networking events that appeal to you
My favorite part of having to network virtually is the fact that I get to attend so many different online events. The best part is, if you don’t want to fully participate, you can sit back, listen, and gain some insight on how you might be able to network professionally in the future. Online events, such as virtual career fairs, major-specific panels, and so much more, are great ways to get involved in the professional arena to build connections.
Likely, your home university is hosting events to encourage students to remain active as if they were “on-campus,” which are great opportunities to approach networking in a virtual setting through a place you’re already comfortable with and likely know some of the people involved in the events. My home university, Champlain College, hosted an event this week called, “You Can Do This: How to Succeed in an Ever-Changing World.” During this event, myself and a few other students had the opportunity to engage with alumni from our division and ask them questions, from how they’re facing adversity to what the transition from college to the professional world was like for them. Not only did I gain a lot of insight from professionals who were once in my shoes, but I also got to make professional connections I can reach out to if I ever have questions or need some guidance.
There are so many virtual events out there right now. All it takes is a bit of digging in the field you’re invested in to find ones that appeal to you. A quick Google or LinkedIn search can land you on the sign-up page for an event you’ll be glad you didn’t miss. Pay close attention to how your university is maintaining engagement with its students, as these opportunities are a great way to immerse yourself in networking and connecting virtually. From there, seek out events that resonate with you, as they will undoubtedly help your circle grow and foster your virtual networking skills.
Networking in a virtual setting is no easy feat. It took me months to build a well-rounded LinkedIn profile and to actually utilize it in a meaningful way. However, the benefits have been tremendous, and had I not taken the time to immerse myself in the online professional networking arena, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities I have today. Being active on social media, reaching out to those you admire, and attending events hosted by organizations you keep up with are all great ways to build professional connections in the virtual world we’re living in.
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Angela Richard is the Summer 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Champlain College.