Amy Lindgren: Tips for networking during a pandemic
By AMY LINDGREN
Remember when we networked at power lunches and conferences to keep our careers healthy? Things were simple then. You’d chat with the person next to you and you’d likely have a new acquaintance. Now that kind of activity could send you to the hospital or into quarantine.
Welcome to networking in a pandemic. Not only are there no in-person business events to attend, but in-person anything is on hold. If you’re home-based, it may already have been months since you’ve seen someone outside your bubble. And if you’re going to a job, you’re probably focused on getting home safely every day, not on making new contacts.
Is this really a good time to try networking? Oddly enough, this may be an excellent time to initiate or rekindle relationships with people near and far. The combination of feeling isolated and having a less restricted schedule could mean that those you contact will be more inclined to connect.
That’s good, but you still need a purpose for making the connection. Depending on your situation, some of your reasons could include:
- To reactivate a dormant relationship – perhaps with a co-worker or manager from an earlier job;
- to connect with a more recent colleague, perhaps to stay informed with what’s happening in a shared workplace;
- to compliment someone on an achievement;
- to seek advice;
- to initiate contact that could later lead to job opportunities or career advancement.
Basically, these are the same reasons you might network during non-pandemic times, but of course there are differences in how you can make the outreach. These days, the most reliable process might be to reach out with an email. This could contain a simple “thinking of you” message, or it could present an invitation for a real-time conversation by phone or video call. If you’re connecting with someone local, you might even offer a socially-distanced walk in the park or cup of coffee at an outdoor café.
Social media provides another opportunity for connection, ranging from sending a LinkedIn message to following someone on their Twitter account, to sharing posts via another platform. And of course, there’s always the direct connection you can make by just dialing someone’s phone number, if you have it.
How much networking to do will naturally depend on your situation. When you’re actively job seeking, you’ll want to connect with more people each week, but if you’re just trying to close the loop on long-lost acquaintances, occasional outreaches are all you need.
Now you just need to decide who to network with. Of course, this decision is entwined with the question of purpose. If you’re trying to rekindle relationships, your contact list will practically make itself. But if your goal is to initiate relationships that may introduce you to new career possibilities, you’ll need a little more preparation before jumping in.
One way to identify people to contact in a new field or to find individuals you haven’t met yet in your current field is to ask others for a referral. Another way is to use LinkedIn to search for individuals to introduce yourself to. Still another way is to identify a related professional association and scan their web site for individuals you can contact.
Speaking of professional associations – one of the odd bonuses of our current situation is that so many events have moved online. That means you can “attend” conferences, classes, or association meetings in any part of the country or world, without concern for distance.
Ready to try? Here a few final tips:
- Be kind-hearted when others don’t respond. These are challenging times, and you don’t know which of your contacts is struggling to cope. Simply renew your invitation and then let it go for the moment.
- Master at least one video tool. Having an account already set up will make it easy to extend an invitation if someone agrees to “meet” with you.
- Update your online identity if you have the time. If a new or renewed contact checks your LinkedIn profile after hearing from you, they’ll feel connected even before they agree to literally connect.
- Let yourself have fun with this. If it feels like a chore, let it go for now. But if you can turn it into something a little lighter, you might find that people are more responsive than you would have expected.
- Keep track! The people you’re contacting now could become friends or bosses or co-workers when we’re all able to finally get together again.
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