TAO Self-help

Title:Virtual Networking Advice You Can Actually Use

Author:Hannah Morgan

Date:February 2021

Source:Career Sherpa - Reprinted with permission

Virtual networking advice should include actionable steps not just theory. Here is virtual networking advice from 29 career experts you can actually use.

Networking virtually may have become the new normal for everyone — those working and those not working.

We all learned a lot about how to build relationships with people using social networks, online events and Zoom.

To help you refine your virtual networking strategies and just get more comfortable with meeting people online, I reached out to my career and job search colleagues and friends to ask for their best tips and virtual networking advice. You'll find tips, insights and advice about:

  1. Where to network virtually
  2. Who are good people to network with online
  3. How to find people to virtually network with
  4. What to say when reaching out
  5. How to overcome your fear/dislike of networking online
  6. Who and how to engage with people on LinkedIn
  7. And mistakes to avoid when networking virtually

A Must-Have Skill

Learning how to network online is a new skill we all need to develop as we move forward in our careers.

Actually, virtual networking is a complex set of skills. It's a combination of written communication skills, being aware of the situation (the forum/platform) and empathetic to those you are communicating with or who can see what you are saying. It's knowing when to be humble and knowing when to take credit. Sure, personal branding and getting your message out is important but virtual networking means you embrace the idea of giving and not just taking. You also communicate like a real human with compassion, civility and imperfections.

As an introvert (I know many of you are too), I have found networking virtually is much more comfortable than attending those large, in-person events. I pick and choose when, where and who I want to meet. And as long as I've psyched myself up for the networking encounter, I'm ready! Well, almost.

Many thanks to these experts for sharing their virtual networking advice: Brenda Meller, Jacob Share, Terrence Seamon, Brenda Abdilla, Bob McIntosh, Loren Greiff, Biron Clark, Jessica Sweet, Mark Anthony Dyson, Andy Foote, Matthew Warzel, Kenneth Lang, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, Austin Belcak, Erin Kennedy, Shelley Piedmont, Dorothy Dalton, Jessica Hernandez, Adrienne Tom, Lisa Rangel, Meg Guiseppi, Virginia Franco, Lezlie Garr, Donna Serdula, Jack Kelly, Dawn Graham, Donna Svei, Susan P. Joyce, Ashley Watkins.

WHERE TO NETWORK VIRTUALLY

Treat your career transition like a job and plan to spend the bulk of your "working day" on networking, learning, researching new positions, and attending as many free events as you can. While at the virtual events, introduce yourself in chat (wait until about 5-10mins after the webinar starts) and remind people of your targeted job title and geographic area, as well as your LinkedIn URL

Think about where you want your career to be in the FUTURE and then sign up for a class, certification or thought leadership group that relates to that future. Let's say you are a software engineer and your future interests lie in robotics. Take a robotics course and make a point of networking (in your own, authentic way) with others in the class as well as the instructor. You can offer to have a virtual coffee, start a sub-group or offer some assistance to someone you meet. Be sure to follow the instructor on social channels and if you can get a list, try and LinkedIn with all of the attendees. This is so easy to do and has multiple benefits.

There are so many ways to network online which are great for introverts and anyone who gets that sinking feeling walking into a crowded room. In some ways online events are much more time effective than live events and will be around for a while. Sign up for some of the many excellent online conferences, live podcasts or workshops which are either free or low cost during the pandemic. Make sure your full name is shown on your profile with your LinkedIn url which will display when you log on. If the event goes into breakout rooms ask the participants in your room if they would like to connect. Share your LinkedIn url with them in the chat or refer them to your Zoom or Teams profile. Super easy!

I ask people if they want to schedule a virtual walk. We can zoom or not zoom (you know, doing the old school mobile phone). Walking and talking takes care of two important activities we all need: exercise and socialization. Another option I give, since everyone can't leave their house and walk, is say we can not be made up for the Zoom Chat. This way we all come as we are — no makeup, dogs barking, etc. No stress on a Zoom presentation...just focus on Zoom conversation and connection.

WHO TO NETWORK WITH ONLINE

Where to start? Reconnecting with those you've worked with and for in the past. It's OK to even say, I know we've been out of touch for a while but want to hear about you — how you've been and what's happening with your work. Once you feel more sure-footed you can start reaching out to others you don't know... YET. Spare your agenda of getting what you want in the beginning but come with value. Show them you know them. Give first.

People Who Are Active

When it comes to networking, we always want to look for ways to boost our chances of making a connection. An easy way to do that is to find people who are active on online platforms like LinkedIn. If someone is creating content and engaging with content, they are going to be more receptive to connecting and they've given us an opening with the stuff they're creating. When someone creates a post, they do so with the goal of sharing information and adding value. They hope that people see their content, enjoy their content, and engage with their content. We can use this to our advantage! If we want to make this happen, we need to find people who are active online. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Run a Google search for "Top People To Follow On LinkedIn [Industry]." That will give you a list of relevant people in your target industry that you can follow.
  2. Run a search on LinkedIn for your target job title or a relevant keyword. Next, in the search sub-tab, click "Content." Then, under "All Filters" click "Author Companies" and include a list of your target companies. This will show you all of the content created around that topic by people at your target companies.

Now all you need to do is engage! Like their post, leave a thoughtful comment, or send them a DM continuing the conversation. This positions you as a supporter of their work and will get you on their radar in a positive way. Rinse and repeat multiple times and watch the magic happen!

People Who Can Help Your Career

I suggest "strategic networking". It's great to cultivate relationships with the vast numbers of interesting people out there, but you have limited time and specific goals, so you need to have a strategy. Instead of building your network with all those interesting people, which can be quite exhausting, think about who can be helpful in reaching your goals.

— What companies do you want to work at?

— What industry are you in, or are you breaking into?

— What topics are you an expert in or are you building expertise in?

— Where do you want to be seen as a thought leader, or be known?

— Where can you build "natural networks"? (your alma mater, for example)

— What leaders, if you could learn from them, would help you build your career?

These are just some of the questions that will help you narrow down who you should spend time building relationships with.

Experts & Thought Leaders

One of my favorite ways to network virtually is by following experts and thought leaders on LinkedIn whose content I enjoy or admire. Then, I engage with them. I comment on their posts, like their updates, add my own insights, thoughts, or comments. I've met so many amazing colleagues this way and now we support each other, collaborate on projects together, and ask about each other's lives. Most of them I'm never met in person and it's a true testament to the power of building relationships on LinkedIn. Remember, it doesn't have to be overly complicated or awkward. It can be as simple as letting them know you appreciate their work and then showing up consistently to support them.

Find People Who Are Relevant

In these strange times, virtual networking is an essential skill which will likely benefit us in the future when we are no longer required to remain "socially distant." Fortunately, we have LinkedIn and other social media to help us now. I have expanded my LinkedIn network by connecting with people after engaging in "conversations" with them via posts and comments in LinkedIn.

My tip is to find, follow, and engage with people who are relevant to you and your profession. Expand your LinkedIn connections to be more visible in LinkedIn search results. Build conversations and connect.

  • Search LinkedIn using keywords like a job title or an industry/professional topic that interests you (an important aspect of your profession, for example).
    • Click on "Groups," and join the Groups that are relevant to what you want.
    • Click on the "Posts" filter in the search results page to see relevant posts.
    • Click on "All filters" to see all the search options available, and choose something you might have in common with people you want in your network like a school, current/former employer, location, degree, skill, etc.
  • "Follow" those people in LinkedIn who seem to be the best potential connections for you, and monitor what they share.
  • Like, comment, and share their posts, as appropriate, interacting professionally.
  • Send a customized invitation to "Connect" on LinkedIn, or accept their invitation to connect. A large LinkedIn network makes you more visible in LinkedIn search results. When communicating with LinkedIn (and other social media), never post online what you would not say to someone in person. The world is watching, and nastiness can definitely come back to haunt you! Always assume the best, not the worst in someone's comments. This is a new way of communicating and building relationships now, with minimal face-to-face interactions. Consider Zoom and Facetime, but do not forget the good old-fashioned telephone call.
Common Connections

When it comes to inviting people to connect, look for common connections who can introduce you to the person you'd like to connect with. From another angle, find people to connect with who are already 2nd degree connections of yours on LinkedIn, guaranteeing that you have such a common contact who can introduce you. If there's no common contact who can help, reach out in places where the person is more likely to see your message than a cold email. If the person has a blog or posts actively on social media, leave one or more non-spammy comments to softly get their attention, such as a response to a question they asked, and if they acknowledge you in any way, try being more direct now that your name won't be completely unknown to

Recruiters

As part of your overall networking strategy, I'd strongly suggest that you get in touch with recruiters. These professionals have access to the hidden job market, maintain strong bonds with client companies, hiring managers and human resources. They can deftly navigate you through the labyrinth of the interview process and successfully negotiate a lucrative salary. Most recruiters work on a contingency basis. Their interests are aligned with the job seeker as they only get paid if their candidate accepts the job. They are paid by the company, not the candidate. You can find recruiters on LinkedIn, Indeed.com, job boards and Wecruitr.com. Firstly, check to see if the recruiter specializes in your field. You want to find recruiters who are active in your space. If they aren't, they may not be able to help since they lack the appropriate contacts. One of the best ways is to network and get in touch with a recruiter is via a personal recommendation. This puts you in the front of the line as the recruiter feels you are a most placeable candidate. Look for recruiters who post relevant jobs online and send them an email with your resume and brief description of what you're looking to do next. If you see a recruiter who posts a lot of relevant jobs on LinkedIn, send her an invite, along with a concise narrative of what you've done, what you are looking to do next and how much money you'd like to earn. Ask your colleagues, former coworkers and people who landed top jobs in your sector, which recruiters they used, then reach out to them. You can ingratiate yourself with recruiters by introducing them to friends and peers—after they've agreed to it— who have the relevant backgrounds for their job orders. They'll gladly repay your kind deed by keeping you in mind when the right job opens up for you.

TIPS TO FIND PEOPLE ONLINE

When you know you want to start networking with someone, but you're not sure what to say, you can use their LinkedIn Activity to help guide you. From the Activity section in their profile, you can click, 'See All Activity', which will bring you to a page where you can filter the results by 'Articles', 'Posts', and 'Documents'. Using those filters, you can read through their content and find something that really speaks to you that you can use to start a conversation. A few things to remember:

  • Flattery will get you everywhere. So, if you can find something to genuinely compliment, all the better!
  • Be genuine. Networking can be awkward, and the more you try to be someone you're not, the worse off you'll be. In all your interactions, try to relax and just be yourself. (or, ya know...the polished version of you.)
  • Lead with gratitude and respect others' time. NEWS FLASH: Everybody's busy, and we all think we're busier than everyone else. But gratitude goes a long way. So always be grateful when someone allows you into their networking 'bubble'.
  • Play the long game. Don't be the one who only networks when it's beneficial to you. Make it a long-term good habit. Building relationships takes time, so decide now that you're in it for the long haul.

For networking virtually when neither party is prolific on a social media platform, I'm an advocate of finding some sort of commonality — same alma mater, hometown, career journey, etc., — and making that a part of your first inquiry.

When networking with someone who is active on social media, I recommend commenting with insightful thoughts that add value to the post BEFORE reaching out privately. With both approaches — you've "warmed" up the connection and increased the likelihood of a response!

WHAT TO SAY WHEN REACHING OUT

Virtual networking doesn't have to be awkward — especially if using LinkedIn. Start with a simple message,

"Hi- I just read (and commented on) your recent post about introverts and extroverts. As an introvert, I can relate to your comment on feeling stressed out in company meetings when there are so many people jumping in with opinions all at once..." (or something like that).

Discussing someone's recent post with them starts a conversation that, when cultivated, can turn into an interesting discussion. You can relate your own story to their post or bring up something else you read that was similar — and share that link. Starting a conversation based on something they said can turn into a lasting business relationship.

What to say when networking: I like to ask for something simple to start to avoid overwhelming the reader. It never hurts to give a compliment, either (as long as it's genuine). For example, you could say,

"Hi Amy. It's impressive how quickly you climbed from HR Associate to Manager at IBM. I was thinking of applying to the HR team myself. Have you felt that it's a good environment since joining?"

Or, you could start with the same approach but ask a different question:

"Hi Amy. It's impressive how quickly you climbed from HR Associate to Manager at IBM. Are there one or two actions you took that you feel led to this success? I'm beginning my HR career and am hoping to emulate the type of path you took. Anything you can share would be great."

The key here is you're giving a genuine compliment, showing you did some research about them and customized the message, and you're asking for one single piece of info or advice to avoid overwhelming them. This is one of the best ways to begin a conversation/relationship online.

Here's a sample of a message you could send a potential recruiter/hiring manager:

Hey FIRST NAME OF COLD CONTACT ON LINKEDIN, I see we share a mutual connection, so I'm reaching out with the hope of getting your help breaking into NAME OF DEPARTMENT! I'm making a big transition out of NAME OF ROLE (at a remarkable time), so I'd love to hear what life is like for you as a NAME OF COLD CONTACT'S ROLE and how you've found success at NAME OF COMPANY. Thank you for your time and any insights on how I can improve my candidacy as a viable fit within your organization. Would love to connect! Here is my LinkedIn Profile (insert hyperlink, not full LinkedIn URL). Cheers! YOUR FIRST NAME

  • it shows action
  • it's simple and brief, and not hard to read with large words
  • it shows that you looked at their profile and that you're asking for them to talk about themselves
  • it shows a little about what you're looking for
  • it calls out the weird times we're in (could gain empathy)
  • it's inoffensive - it ends with a soft selling call-to-action
  • it's not asking for help, it's trying to build a relationship without being annoying - do not send a resume in this outreach
  • it can make them feel like it's work without having a relationship. Wait until the followup to include data like that
  • remember it's OK to reach out to someone up to 2-3 times before moving on

BUT BEFORE YOU CONNECT ON LINKEDIN...

If LinkedIn tells you that you have certain people in common. Why wouldn't you refer to those people in your connection request? The best connection requests I receive are from people who

  1. research me/my work
  2. understand that having things in common counts and
  3. are concise/well written.

Don't connect straight away. Follow that person first. The connection request will not come as a surprise, if you follow him/her. If they follow you back, there's a strong chance that your connection request will succeed. Comments in posts are a cocktail party waiting for you to say something relevant/smart/funny. Add value, make friends. Jump in. The water is warm. The bar is free.

REACH OUT MORE THAN ONCE

First off, only reach out to whomever you target between 2-3 times. That's your allotted amount of cold-messaging before moving on.

PREPARATION, ORGANIZATION & RESEARCH

One piece of advice that has served me well is to have a spreadsheet to keep all of my networking information. This helps with any networking — virtual or in person. My spreadsheet is not fancy. I keep the person's name, contact information (phone, email address(es)), when I made an outreach, how I made contact (email, phone, etc.), any followup information (when and how), and a notes section. In the notes section, I put any relevant information, such as what we discussed, business information, personal information, etc. The nice part of having this information on a spreadsheet is that you can design it however you feel will work for you, collect the information you find relevant, and filter or sort as needed.

When it comes to virtual networking, research always comes first. If your platform of choice is LinkedIn, take some time to view your contact's profile very carefully before sending an invitation to connect. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are also great places to gather intel. Use the information you uncover (recent promotions, awards, job changes, published book/article) to ignite a genuine conversation, keeping the other party as the focal point in any virtual interactions. Be open to sharing ideas, offering support, and actively engaging with others in your current or target industry. Just remember to start slow by liking and commenting on posts you find interesting—working your way up to tagging others to join the conversation and sharing your own posts, content, articles, and videos.

TIPS TO OVERCOME FEAR/ANXIETY

To make networking feel less like a chore, approach it with the mindset of having conversations and building connections. Everyone you speak with or cross paths with, both online and off, can become a vital part of your network. Consider how you can build improved rapport with people you know or want to get to know better online: Ask questions (send an email, IM, or text) Demonstrate interest in people's lives, work, or activities

  • Comment on social media posts
  • Send kind notes on special occasions
  • Offer assistance
  • Connect other people

Simple, authentic engagement can naturally grow relationships, open doors, and create opportunities. Instead of approaching networking as an end goal, make it a regular and consistent part of your every day.

I've found that the vast majority of people shy away from networking because they perceive it as being needy and they risk getting rejected. "Networking" (virtual or in-person) is not asking someone for something. Networking is getting to know a person so you can figure out HOW TO HELP THEM. By thinking of it in a more giving sense, the fear, anxiety, and dread goes away. Whether it's on Social Media or someday in the future, in-person; approach your networking with the goal of helping others, educating, adding value, and inspiring.

If you hate the idea of networking — virtual or not — you're not alone but that doesn't mean it should be avoided or de-prioritized. In fact, building (online) relationships or developing your professional & personal capital offers some of the greatest LTV (life time value) with unexpected and most powerful ROIs. But don't do it for a payoff — that will come in time. Think of networking like a bank account or garden. It needs your attention, nurturing and refinement. The best tip I can offer is to put some structure around it. It's not enough to say "I do it". If you're a job seeker I recommend 10 per week. That's 2 (1/2 hrs) per day or 1 hr. That's very reasonable!

Many job seekers worry about appearing inauthentic in their networking outreach. One antidote to this concern is to connect through curiosity. When you let curiosity lead your outreach, it means that there's a genuine spark that inspires you to connect with someone. Whether it was a great post they wrote, or something you discovered about their background from reading their profile, use whatever you're curious to learn more about as your reason for outreach. You'll be able to ask a question or make an observation about something you truly would like to learn more about. There are few emotions/behaviors more fundamental than curiosity. When curiosity is in the driver's seat, your intentions are pure, thus leading to more authentic outreach, upon which you can build a genuine relationship.

Reaching out to strangers causes anxiety for many and, as with anything new, takes practice. An effective job search strategy combines adequate research with consistent communication and follow-up. Don't give up after one or two messages. Building mutually beneficial relationships and ensuring networking success requires being authentic while showcasing your unique brand and personality. By keeping the "people hire people" philosophy as the foundation of a high-quality job search campaign, job seekers can more quickly align themselves with people who influence hiring and interview selection processes.

ENGAGE ONLINE

One of the easiest and quickest LinkedIn ways to network with people you want to connect with — or those whose radar you want to get on — is to engage in their activity on LinkedIn. You can do this by commenting on their LinkedIn updates. First, follow them on LinkedIn and then be on the lookout for updates of theirs in your LinkedIn stream, that you can intelligently comment on. Your comments don't have to be long — even a few sentences can have a big impact — but they should be meaningful and hopefully prompt others to chime in. You can also leave comments in LinkedIn Groups and on Pulse articles. Similarly, you can send messages to people who post LinkedIn Stories. Besides getting your name in front of these people, you'll make them happy. Your compelling comments can help generate more comments, views and reactions to their updates or posts.

DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY

Job seekers who do things differently often stand out. One way to be different right now while virtual networking is by doing your research or prep work before the Zoom call. Do as much preparation— or even more— for the virtual event as you would in person. Beforehand, you should write down 2-3 commonalities, talking points or thoughtful questions to ask during the meeting. I've found that a lot of people are "winging" virtual meetings but they can be high stakes.

Another way to differentiate yourself is by doing something thoughtful and a bit bold. If you were networking in person, you might meet for coffee or tea and treat the other person. When you are doing virtual coffee, it's harder to show your appreciation for their time. Consider sending a small gift card to Starbucks or a local chain for a cup of coffee on you or mail them your favorite box of tea. I've done this a few times recently and it seemed to go over well. I mailed my favorite Teapigs tea and the receipt emailed me immediately to thank me for the gesture which continued our conversation and engagement.

MAKE A BOLD MOVE

Industry focus your networking (OK, one or two) by becoming the insider. Start a podcast or video series. Ask people who are more advanced in the industry than you are. Think of it as an informational interview.

Use your phone's voice app and post it on your social media. The anchor app makes it too easy NOT to make a podcast as often or infrequently as you like. Instagram makes it easy for a video interview between two people. You can send questions to someone, and they will answer them. Publish it on LinkedIn articles. Follow-up, over add value, be gracious, and be grateful. Always send thank you notes, mention them as you learn from them on your LinkedIn updates and all social media. I mean this, in time, there is a payoff in ways you won't imagine.

MISTAKES TO AVOID

I lead a Job Club for MassHire Lowell Career Center. There are mistakes I see my clients make, some of which can be easily corrected, others of which take a little bit of effort. The most obvious mistakes have to do with their settings, such as lighting, sound, and the way they dress. Often the lighting is so poor that it looks like they're using a candle, giving off an eerie effect. Solution: if your lighting is poor, purchase a relatively inexpensive halo light from your nearest small business or online. Also, turn on overhead lights. Make sure your shades are drawn so sunlight isn't peeking in and out.

For sound, wear appropriate headgear which includes a microphone. Can't afford this device? Quality earbuds will do the trick. Some of my clients are barely audible which is a distraction and makes me want to say, "Jim, we can barely hear you."

If you are attending an online networking session, dress the part; don't dress as if you're just lounging around the house. A nice shirt/blouse/sweater is appropriate. To avoid possible embarrassment, wear proper bottom clothing. You never know if you'll have to leave your desk and your pajamas will be revealed.

Last but not least, arrive at the networking session with the willingness to contribute to discussions. If you need to prepare some bullet points of what to say and paste them to the top of your laptop, so be it. One thing you'll probably be asked to do is deliver your elevator pitch. Write it down NOW and memorize it. If conversation is not your strength, ask questions and listen to what your fellow networkers say. Playoff what they say by relating similar stories. Conversely, don't dominate the conversation. Remember that other people want to contribute to the networking session. A good conversationalist understands the concept of give and take in a conversation.

PRACTICAL VIRTUAL NETWORKING ADVICE

Networking doesn't need to be time consuming if you take advantage of the activities you're already doing. Simple steps like adding your name, location and title to your Zoom can help people learn more about you. Also, make it a point to connect with one new person after each virtual meeting to get to know them better, or at a minimum, sent them a personal invite on LinkedIn to add them to your network.

Don't reinvent the wheel every time you reach out to someone. Get yourself a good set of networking scripts and use them. As you practice calling, you will get increasingly comfortable and much of your anxiety will magically disappear!

My tip would be: Go ahead and do it! Don't wait for a return to normal. Normal may never come. Now is the best time. Pick up the phone and call a network buddy. Set up a zoom meeting. You'll be glad you did.

BEST NETWORKING TIP EVER!

  • So, where are you from?
  • What do you do?

These are such simple questions, right? Wrong!! Small talk like this, when approached from a place of curiosity and NOT knowing, as opposed to a confirmation bias, can result in real and meaningful relationships.

Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. After connecting on LinkedIn, send a 'thanks for connecting' reply message with a follow-up suggestion (like scheduling a phone call to learn more about your newest connection). After an online event, schedule follow-up conversations with other event attendees. Bonus networking tip: Connect with an event host and presenter before you attend their event

NEED MORE VIRTUAL NETWORKING ADVICE?
Not only can you follow all the experts who contributed on LinkedIn and/or their websites, but you can also get more virtual networking advice in these articles:

Hannah Morgan is one of this year's LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and a nationally recognized author and speaker on job search strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to combine her career expertise with her love of writing, speaking and social media. Her mission is to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today's job search process. Hannah is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, Aol Jobs, LifeHacker, The Muse, Business Insider, SmartBrief, Payscale as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.

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