Networking is possible at a distance!
For some people it feels quite natural, for others it means stepping out of their comfort zone and is a source of anxiety. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for face-to-face networking. At a time when this unprecedented situation looks set to continue and with the majority of people working from home, how can we continue to build an effective network?
In the context of the global pandemic, where social distancing is the rule and physical gatherings are actively discouraged, we have had to find ways of reinventing so many aspects of our lives... and the way we think about networking is no exception! Now it is happening virtually, but that does not mean making less of an impact than with a face-to-face approach. In fact quite the opposite, it seems that it has become an even warmer and more human experience...
Why does networking at a distance work?
Isolation and lack of social connection are making people yearn to socialize and increase their human contact. The reduction in face-to-face networking events and the time saved in no longer needing to commute to and from work also leaves more time and flexibility in everyone’s diary to make connections.
The pandemic has also shown that networking at a distance offers new possibilities because it can extend beyond the usual borders. Everyone in the world is now at hand and more eager than ever to make a connection. Where previously contacts were made locally or at conferences, digital networking makes it possible to exploit the various social networks and create new links or your own virtual communities.
Here are some useful tips to continue building an effective network in these circumstances:
Before sending an invitation to anyone asking to connect, make sure your profile is professional and up-to-date on social media. Your profile is your shop window, so it is important to take good care of your online identity to reinforce the credibility of the messages you send when asking to connect. During this step, think about how people see you ... What adjectives come to mind? Do a survey among your relatives, colleagues or acquaintances to find out what impression your profile gives on social media ... their answers can help you find ways to readjust it if the image you are projecting is not the one you want!
Be interested in other people
During the pandemic, it’s essential to have an empathetic approach to others. Don't underestimate the power of listening. Ask them how they are dealing with this unprecedented situation and what challenges they are facing. By listening carefully to their response, you will have created a connection.
Whether you are approaching a member of your network or trying to make new contact, always be genuine and sincere.
As with face-to-face networking, there are some essential questions to ask yourself before getting started!
What’s the purpose of your networking? What are your goals? What do you hope to gain from it? Are you looking for a job opportunity or career advice? Do you want to learn from a professional working in a particular field? Do you want to get an opinion on a service you are offering? Once you have established your goals, make a list of contacts who would be useful to you. Finally, work out the right time to try to make contact as well as the most suitable format for your exchange (how long will it last, happy hour, brainstorming, coffee break, etc.) ...
It is absolutely essential to prepare for a networking interview. Make sure you write in a respectful and professional way. Also, as far as possible use a personalised approach to your contacts in the first instance: they will appreciate it. Then, during the interview, ask pertinent questions to guide the conversation and take notes on what your contact says. Careful preparation will show your contact that you are grateful for their time and will enable you to get the most out of your exchanges. Finally, the day after the interview, don't forget to send a thank you message to show how much you appreciated it. Never underestimate the power of feedback!
If you are approaching the network as part of a search for a new job, it is essential to be very clear about your career plan to be effective. Likewise, if you are offering a service, make sure what you are offering is intelligible to everyone.
Change your mindset
This is something that does not really change whether you are networking face-to-face or remotely, but which people do not always fully appreciate. Accept that the exchange is a two-way process. Think about what you have to offer or share and how you can help others. Remember, you might also be doing them a favour.
Dare to ask
For some people, daring to ask for help or advice is not easy. To guarantee your chances of success, there needs to be a change in perception: first, don’t put pressure on yourself to get results, go into it without any expectation, welcome what follows. If nothing comes of it, at least you will have the satisfaction of having dared to try. This is a huge step forward and is to your credit! Not getting anything out of it now does not mean that you will not get something out of it later ... Accept that the timing is beyond your control ... See making contact as an opportunity to bond with the people you are talking to and to value them. As “sources of knowledge” they will feel appreciated because, as a rule, people like to be useful.
Stand out from the crowd
Do you have a service to offer? Do you want to discuss an idea? Are you looking for people willing to take on challenges with you? Do you want to share best practice? Be original and, again, personalise your approach. In order to do this, find out about the person and see what they are interested in from their social media accounts. Networking is less about connecting people and more about connecting ideas and opportunities. Also, don't underestimate the importance of creativity ...
Often, you will find that your contacts will welcome you getting in touch as an opportunity to break off from everyday life or to open up to new perspectives. It’s quite possible that after taking the initiative, you will say to yourself: why did not I do it sooner!?
One last tip - build up your endurance
Networking is an endurance event with obstacles where perseverance is the key to success. Stopping at the first obstacle or giving up will only discourage you for the future ... Silences and refusals are an intrinsic part of the networking adventure ...
So to enjoy this journey, detach yourself from the result and also from the speed with which you get results ... Your future contacts’ work day is probably not the same as yours and you just have to accept it!
Finally, when contacting your network, take an approach focused more on how you can be useful rather than what’s in it for you. As you will have gathered, the people you contact will be more responsive to the intention behind the networking than the process itself.
Elizabeth TOUCAS – Executive Strengths Coach & Career Manager – IÉSEG Network
For requests for coaching or information about the Careers service contact: firstname.lastname@example.org ou 06.85.33.01.57