Written for Jobcloud.ch
With a lot of online work, online events, and just a busy schedule, it might be more difficult to casually meet new people, but this doesn’t mean networking is impossible. In my experience, it actually improves the quality of the network instead of focusing on the quantity. But how does virtual networking work and how to move from having many ‘empty virtual connections’ to making ‘ warm and beneficial contacts’?
Approaching the right contacts – who’s interesting?
One first and important expectation to manage is that networking has proven to be beneficial in many cases, however, not every new contact will be a direct link to a new job. Personally, my biggest ‘turn-off’ in networking is if someone I barely know approaches me to directly ask for a referral to the company I work for. Networking is a longer-term investment and you cannot invest in everyone. So, before you start contacting a lot of people, think about who you want in your network.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Which brands and companies are interesting?
What kind of roles and departments are interesting?
Where do you already know someone or do you have a second-degree contact (contact of a contact) that could be interesting?
Have you answered these? Then start searching for people who are either linked to the companies, titles or departments you are interested in. Often, it is as easy as typing in the company and/or role into a search engine and names and interviews will pop up. Next to searching for these new contacts, also ask around in your current network if anyone already has a contact in these companies or roles.
My advice; do some research and then be bold!
Find out via the company website who the head of the department is you are interested in. Find more information on them and try to find a direct e-mail address or professional social media account or, if possible, ask your mutual contact for these details.
Once you have the information and contact details, just be bold. Write a direct message explaining who you are and why you are contacting them. Do you just want to have a coffee to see what this specific person or department does? Do you want to work together with this specific person? Or did you see a job that is your dream job, but you got an automatic rejection, however you really (and only do this if you really believe it) believe that you are the perfect fit for this role? Write them!
Don’t let any fear or shame hold you back. What is the worst thing that can happen? A rejection or being ignored. Well, if that does happen, at least you tried and you can never blame yourself for not pursuing that path.
Once the person responds, invite them for a virtual coffee of approximately 30 minutes. Video-calling is less effort than meeting face-to-face, however still creates a warmer bond than only writing or calling each other.
Prepare some questions in case the conversation doesn’t flow. What does the person do on a daily basis, how did they end up in this role and what did they do to get there? However, also keep the conversation casual; laugh, show genuine interest, and show your personality but DO NOT directly ask for any benefits yet.
Connecting and building trust – how to keep a new contact warm?
If the first meeting was interesting, you might have decided you would like to have this person in your network, but of course, this needs to be mutual. Therefore, trust needs to be established, which happens by having multiple positive experiences together. This should be a combination of big and very small connections. Sometimes an experience could be as little as liking a digital post or commenting on a news item about the company they work for.
For some bigger experiences, you need to connect directly again. Make sure to write down the things that you have discussed in the first call, that bonded you. One or two weeks after the initial call, connect again via e-mail or professional social media channels on that mutual interest topic. Share something interesting you’ve read and they can benefit from, ask how the project they told you about is progressing, or if you feel it’s appropriate ask to schedule another coffee or face-to-face meet-up.
Remember to stay genuine and honest. Even though you might want to ‘use’ this contact in the future, this will only work if the connection isn’t fake.
How to turn a contact into a job opportunity?
After connecting multiple times and building a stronger relationship you can try to use the, now warm, contact. Inform them that you are looking for a new position or opportunity, you never know who they will talk to and where they can introduce your name. Maybe they can even help you meet the recruiter for that position you saw online, or they know that a role might come online soon.
Also here, do some research on what kind of job you want, which company you would like to work for, and what you expect in a role. In that way, you can ask specific things. Maybe your contact knows if their company is looking for someone like you? Could they maybe introduce you to other interesting contacts with specific skills? Do they have advice for you on how to improve your profile for a specific job?
In general, people love to talk about the company they work for and their career, and being asked for advice grows their self-esteem. So, don’t feel afraid to ask for help and advice. Remember… do research, build trust, and then be bold!