For decades, college students and recent graduates have relied on in-person networking events, conferences and trade shows in order to make valuable connections that will help them launch their careers. Then, the COVID-19 virus arrived on the scene, and large-scale events and mass gatherings were canceled.
Now, rather than offering a handshake and a business card, many students and young professionals have been thrust into the world of online networking. Fortunately, with an abundance of online networking sites available, it’s easier than ever to build your professional network from the comfort and safety of home.
These tips will help you learn how to network virtually, regardless of your field or industry:
Create a Social Brand for Yourself
If you were going to be attending an in-person networking event, you would likely spend a lot of time on your appearance. You would wear business professional attire, and you would groom yourself accordingly.
In a virtual environment, it’s important to remember that your appearance still matters. In fact, it sometimes matters even more. In order to convey a professional and personable appearance online, you should first focus on creating a social brand for yourself.
Create social profiles on all of the best social networking sites, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Then, make sure that every social profile you create reflects your brand and image as a professional. Remember that every photo you post, every article you share and every comment you leave is a reflection of you in a professional capacity. When you create a cohesive social brand, you will more easily be able to connect with the right people in an online environment.
Look Beyond Traditional Network Opportunities
Online networking is not as cut-and-dry as in-person networking. When you are at a conference or trade show, networking often involves making introductions, engaging in some small talk and maybe talking business over a meal. In an online environment, you will need to be on the lookout for unique virtual connection moments that may help you stand out in a crowd of people trying to build their own professional networks.
Some of the virtual connection moments you should be looking for include:
- Question-and-Answer Sessions—A lot of organizations are hosting Q&A sessions on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms with their leading experts. These virtual networking opportunities are distinct from many others that have been offered in the past, and they provide you with an awesome opportunity to glean some insight from experienced professionals. When you log into these sessions and participate with thoughtful questions, your name will become more recognizable to the organization itself. It may open up opportunities for you in the future.
- Live Chats—Live chats are often less formal than question-and-answer sessions, but they also can be a valuable online networking tool for you to use. Participating in these live chats allows you to have the same types of conversations that you might have had at a traditional, in-person event. If you are participating in a video live chat, be sure to dress in professional attire.
- Social Commenting—Social commenting is another easy way to start networking online. You will want to comment on photographs, articles, videos and slideshows that are shared by the organizations you are most interested in. Make sure your comments are polite and valuable. They should prove that you are willing to engage in a professional manner online.
Join the Top Online Networking Sites
If you are truly committed to the online networking experience, then you will need to create an engaging presence on the best online networking sites. LinkedIn, of course, is an obvious choice because it has broad reach and appeal across nearly every industry. LinkedIn is not only used by up-and-coming professionals who have grown up with technology, but it also is used by older, established professionals who have had to adapt to this interconnected world.
While LinkedIn may be the obvious online networking website choice, there also are a few more that you might want to consider joining, such as: Meetup, Xing and Opportunity.
The more online networking sites that you join, the more luck you will have connecting with different people at all levels of your chosen industry.
Offer Value with the Intention of Building a Relationship
One of the most common professional networking mistakes that students and young professionals make is assuming that the only point to networking is to land a job. While networking can help you find out more information about possible positions that are available in your industry, the value in networking lies in building relationships with other professionals. This is true whether you are networking in-person or online.
It is incredibly important when you are focusing on online networking that you avoid being too blunt about your desire for a job. Rather, you need to create an online presence that shows that you offer value to your industry. You can offer value by promoting a service that you provide or by linking to a blog that highlights the research that you have completed.
When you highlight the value that you offer, it will be much easier for you to network online and form lasting relationships that will extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keep Your Communications Short and Simple
One of the benefits of networking in-person is that you have the opportunity to get involved in long and interesting conversations with people who are part of your professional field. It’s important to remember, however, that the online environment is completely different—especially in the COVID-19 era. All written communications, especially e-mails, should be kept to five lines or less. Get to the point, keep it short and quickly prove why you deserve a few more moments of their time. In a time when people are consumed with an ever-changing professional environment, it’s important to be respectful by keeping it short and sweet.
The new normal that has emerged in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is temporary, but some of our virtual habits may stick around for the long-term. As you work to connect with business professionals and carve out a place in your industry, you should keep in mind what worked best when you were networking online. You will have unique insight that can be shared with your organization, and your experience will allow you to actively improve your company.
If you are interested in sharpening your business skills, consider the Flexible MBA or 100% Online MBA program from UTC. Both graduate degree programs are designed for either full-time students or working individuals and come with the added services of a UTC career coach to assist with your job search and career planning needs. Request information today to see if either MBA graduate program is the perfect fit for you.
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