How to Network in the Virtual Era

Although it may seem like life as we know it is on hold for a while, the same isn’t true for your career. Thanks to advances in technology, work goes on—and so does professional networking.

You may prefer connecting with others in person, but for the time being, you need to embrace virtual platforms that help you connect with other professionals. Here’s how to make the most of them.

Be surgical

If the idea of virtual networking is daunting, think small.

“It’s best to be targeted in your approach,” says Cathy Francois, Assistant Director of Career Programming.

That means you must first identify a goal for your networking. Are you looking to switch fields? Would you like a bigger challenge at a new company? Are you seeking a mentor? Once you have a clear understanding of what you would like the outcome to be, you can zero in on who you need to connect with to get there.

“Instead of blanketing your network with a generic email, you can identify a handful of people who can help you accomplish your goal. Then reach out to them with a personalized message,” explains Francois.

Put it on your calendar

Telecommuting has blurred the line between our personal lives and our careers. It’s easy for networking to fall by the wayside when you’re trying to juggle work, family and household chores in the same space.

Networking doesn’t happen by accident, so it’s important to put it on your calendar. Each week, set aside a block or two of time to search for new contacts, connect with existing ones and conduct professional research.

“Be intentional about it,” advises Francois. “Get in the networking mindset and put 100 percent of your focus on the task at hand—and your ultimate goal.”

Surrender to Zoom

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Although not everyone enjoys virtual meeting platforms, such as Zoom and Skype, they’re not going anywhere. If the thought of another Zoom meeting makes you feel exhausted, shift your mindset. Consider how fortunate you are to have a tool at your disposal to help you connect almost face-to-face with others and maintain momentum with your career.

Optimize your virtual meetings. Have a quiet space available, make sure you look presentable on screen and clear any background clutter that may be distracting to the person on the other end. Here are some more tips on how to put your best foot forward during a virtual meeting.

Embrace virtual conferences

Now is not the time to let your skills grow stale. Like much of everything else, conferences have shifted to virtual platforms, so you still have the opportunity to learn, grow and connect from the comfort of your home.

To get the most out of a virtual conference or seminar, pretend you’re there in person. Dress the part, put an out-of-office notification on your email and set aside all distractions for the day.

“Make sure your video it turned on, which will help you give your full attention to the speakers,” adds Francois.

Although you won’t be elbow-to-elbow with other professionals during meet-and-greet sessions, you can still make meaningful connections. While webinars used to be one-way interactions, newer technology allows attendees to fully participate in sessions. Actively engage in Q&As with the experts, have real-time chats with other attendees and share your insights.

After the conference is over, connect with other attendees on LinkedIn, and keep the conversation going. Also, be sure to share any recordings or meeting decks with your coworkers so they can benefit from the conference, too.  

“With all the virtual tools at your disposal, there’s no excuse to neglect your networking right now,” says Francois. “Just get out there and do it. Your career will thank you.”

Visit CareerQuest for access to UMGC career resources, tools and information.