Virtually (im)possible: how to network online

Networking for career opportunities is still possible, even when everything’s shifted online. Youth Ambassador Sophie shares her top virtual networking tips!

Networking in these strange and unprecedented times

Coronavirus has changed a lot of things, from the way we shop to the way we study and work. Network has changed radically too. However, just because everything has shifted online, does not mean that networking is no longer possible.

It may be challenging to not have the same face to face contact when reaching out to someone, but there are a number of benefits to networking online. Through online platforms such as LinkedIn you can connect virtually with almost anyone, including people beyond your immediate location. I have also found that for shy introverts such as myself, online networking can be less intimidating than face to face meetings.

What is networking and why should I bother?

Networking is a fancy word for building a network of professional contacts that you can exchange information and contacts with.

Why is this buzzword hailed by many career gurus as the key to professional success? When it comes to developing a career, staying on top of key developments in the industry and organisation you want to join is very important. In addition, your contacts may be able to alert you to professional opportunities as well as introduce you to others in their network of contacts. The kind of information you seek from contacts should be aligned to your career goals.

If you wish to pursue a particular role you may want to make contacts on LinkedIn with others who are doing that particular role. You may also want to find out specific knowledge about the industry and organisation. Having this type of knowledge is key to not only securing a job, but also developing with your role.

Don’t feel scared! People are ready to help.

Now, the idea of approaching someone online, particularly someone who is well established in their career may be intimidating. A key element to remember is to approach networking with a keenness to learn and an appreciation of the person who is giving up a portion of their time to help you. So long as you are polite and thankful, you would be surprised how many people are willing to help, they were one in your shoes too!

Tips for Networking Online

So, now that you know what networking is and why you should do it, here’s an easy 10-step guide to get you started.

  • Firstly, you should set up a profile on LinkedIn and make sure it is up to date with your most current experiences and interests.
  • Secondly, start out making connections with people you already know through school, work and extracurricular activities. From here you can begin to make connections with their connections and so on. Prioritise connections with people who are in the industry, role or organisation you would like to work in. You can find these people using the search function.
  • If you are connecting with someone you don’t know it is best to attach a brief message to your connection explaining why you would like to connect and show enthusiasm.
  • You may need to send an additional message briefly  introducing yourself, explaining why you are interested in the particular role/industry/organisation and ask if you can ask a couple of questions, making sure to express your gratitude and acknowledge that they may be busy.
  • Whilst you want to find out information from your contact, conversing is a two-way street. Make sure to listen and share your experiences too, so it feels more like a conversation.
  • Tailor the questions to what you want to find out. I have included a brief guide to some questions you might want to ask depending on your motivation below. Make sure to sprinkle in a few light-hearted questions too, to keep the conversation light.
  • Never directly ask for a job from a contact. Not only does it come across as a little sleazy and opportunistic, but it generally doesn’t work.
  • Networking is a two-way street; you should be thinking about how you can help the person you are networking with. This may feel slightly intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out but it could be something as simple as sharing an article about something, they are interested in.
  • Try to make sure your networks are up to date by posting regularly about what you are up to and what you are trying to achieve, people like to help people, and if you can make it easier for them to help you by keeping people in the loop, all the better.
  • Finally, many people overlook this, but it is very important. Make sure to thank people for their time and follow up with them later on. Try not to follow up randomly, but if you have a key update or piece of information you think they would appreciate.

 Bonus online networking tip

Not all networking has to originate on Linkedin. If you’re intimidated by randomly approaching people on Linked in, try to attend online virtual events about your desired industry/organisation/role, take note of who is speaking on the panel and approach them on Linkedin afterwards to thank them for their participation in the event and ask if they can help you with some further questions the event raised for you.

Useful networking questions to ask

Learning about a company

  • What opportunities for advancement are there in this company?
  • How is the company organised?
  • How can I learn more about the company?
  • What is the culture of the organisation like?
  • How accessible is management?
  • What makes your organization stand out amongst the competition?
  • Who are the organisation’s main competitors?
  • What are the key priorities for your organisation in the next few years?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing your organization?

Learning about the industry

  • What do you see as the major issues/ trends in the field today?
  • What sources (podcasts/blogs/websites) can I use to keep my knowledge of the industry up to date?
  • What is a common misconception about the industry which isn’t true?
  • What skills/knowledge do I need to develop to be successful in this industry?
  • What books or journals would you recommend that I read?
  • Are there any particular courses/classes which would help prepare me for work in this industry?
  • Who else would you recommend I connect with to develop my knowledge of the industry?
  • What opportunities for advancement are there in this industry?

Learning about a role

  • What does a typical work day look like?
  • What kind of projects are you working on?
  • What are your typical responsibilities in this role?
  • What type of skills would I need to develop to be successful in this role?
  • I have already developed x skills through y activity. In your opinion, how could I develop these skills further?
  • How much training did you receive?
  • What do you like/dislike most about your work?
  • What are the toughest problems and decisions you handle?

Learning about how to get a role

  • How did you get into the role you are currently in?
  • What experience did you have to get your job?
  • In your career is there anything you wish you would have done differently or known sooner?
  • In your opinion, what skills/knowledge are necessary for this role?
  • What recommendations do you have for me regarding a job search strategy?

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