(NYTIMES) – Coronavirus pandemic or not, for people who want to accelerate learning about new subjects, strengthen career prospects or meet social goals, networking is at the heart of finding opportunities and exploring them.
Fortunately, while team meetings and industry conventions have moved online, the new normal has opened as many doors as it has closed.
EXPAND YOUR NETWORK
People you reach out to may be more open to connecting now because they are no longer commuting or taking business trips, and have more time to talk.
If the people already in your network are much like you in their education, race, geography and industry, focus on diversifying, said Ms Amy Waninger, author of Network Beyond Bias. Women, for example, may want men at their conferences to hear about the problems they are facing, “not to tell us what to do”, she said, but so they can help fix the office environment.
You could also diversify your network by aiming for more “cognitive friction” – connecting with people who have different ways of approaching problems and getting things done or have different priorities or values.
GO BEYOND GEOGRAPHY
The pandemic has levelled the playing field in some ways, according to Ms Tiana Clark, who has worked as an intelligence analyst in the US air force, a public school teacher and now in Chicago as a sales director for Microsoft.
People aren’t bound by location, personal obligations or financial circumstance that had prevented them from being able to attend conferences or join after-work events.
Networking from home can even offer higher-quality interactions, she said, because “you are reaching out to someone intentionally, someone you’ve done a little research on in advance, not just striking up a conversation with whoever you run into at a conference”.
There are a plethora of professional and interest-based organisations online to join.
Ms Miranda Kalinowski, head of global recruiting for Facebook, recommends Fairy Godboss and Power To Fly, which connect women with job openings and career advice, and Stack Overflow for software developers to learn and share programming knowledge, and check out job openings.
LinkedIn has suggestions for groups and newsletters that might be of interest based on your profile and recently began displaying suggestions of “Black voices to follow and amplify” in the app’s My Network page.
Also, many colleges have local alumni clubs now holding online meetups and lectures.
The easiest and best way to meet someone is for a mutual connection to give you a warm introduction and highlight what you have in common with the other person.
If you do need to reach out to someone you’ve never met, Ms Kalinowski recommends that you engage that person through some content, like a blog post that he or she has written, to start a conversation, rather than just showing up with a request.
When you do ask for something, for example information about a person’s job or industry, do some research on the topic and ask for the person’s opinion on what you’ve learnt, rather than asking him or her to explain it all to you.
And, of course, don’t ask for information that is readily available on the Internet.
FIRST ONLINE IMPRESSIONS COUNT
The way you present yourself can make the difference between getting a response and being ignored, Ms Clark said, so when she contacts someone new, she sends what she calls a “brand narrative”, a one-slide summary of who she is, her background, personal attributes and her proudest achievements.
It’s a quicker and more holistic view than a resume that focuses mainly on career, she said. The goal is to share what you are proud of and “inspire the person to want to meet with you and get to know you better”, she said. Including more aspects of yourself makes it more likely you will find something in common with the other person.
BEYOND ONE-ON-ONE INTERACTIONS
Mentors don’t have to be people you meet individually. “You can choose your mentor across time and space through a book or a podcast”, and adapt that person’s advice and outlook to your own circumstances, Ms Waninger said.
GO AHEAD NOW
Start perhaps with a goal of reaching out to one new person each week, even if you feel satisfied with your existing contacts. In fact, the time to invest in your network is when you least need it, so by the time you do require assistance, you have created a strong support system. “It’s like building up your credit score so when you need a loan, you’ll be able to get one,” Ms Waninger said.
Even those who are well-established in their fields should take stock. Networks can grow stale, Ms Kalinowski said, and a “fresh take” can be invigorating.
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