Social events are in short supply these days, but maintaining a social network is still essential – especially as millions of Americans are looking for work. Who you know is a large part of the job search, so it’s not a stretch to say that networking can be the single most important skill in your repertoire.
Most people associate the word “networking” with office parties, meetings over coffee, and professional mixers. But that’s not the whole picture. Any time you have a positive, productive interaction with someone you know, you are networking. When you chat with your cousin, sign up for your neighborhood committee or even participate in a Zoom call with your church group, you’re forming relationships that can impact your career.
Social distancing can make it harder to stay in touch, but it’s worth it to be proactive. Here are some ways to get started.
Review your digital footprint. A huge amount of our communication takes place online, so make sure your social media profile, posts, emails, texts and photos reflect polish and professionalism. If an acquaintance saw your social media feed, would they recommend you to an employer? Do you proofread your emails and texts? Do you have an up-to-date résumé and job history on LinkedIn?
Seek new opportunities. There are still plenty of ways to stay engaged, but you won’t find them unless you look. Tune into online seminars, professional panels and virtual meet-and-greets. Invite your contacts for a happy hour or coffee over Zoom. If you’re looking for work, be open about it – and be ready to give a brief summary of your experience, skills and career. You never know who might be able to open the door to your next position.
Show that you care about your network as friends, not just as contacts. When you meet someone new, remember their name and use it. Call or message your acquaintances to ask how they’re doing. Especially now, gestures of care and concern can leave a big impression.
Be professional. Not every networking opportunity is as formal as an interview, but the way you present yourself will influence how people view you. Dress a step above the dress code. (Yes, even on Zoom.) Speak clearly and confidently. Smile. Be punctual. If you’ve scheduled a meeting with someone in your network, be prepared to talk about their business or industry.
Be sure to follow up no later than 24 hours after a meeting – whether you send a letter, an email or a sincere LinkedIn message. Thank your contact for their valuable time and let them know how much you appreciate their help.
Make it a habit. Too often, people think of networking as something you do when you’re looking for a job. In reality, the best time to cultivate your network is when you least need it. That way, if you do end up in the job market, you’ll have a strong support system at the ready.
Job seekers can access free, one-on-one virtual help with a job connection team member at Goodwill for assistance with career counseling, résumé help, interview practice and more. During COVID-19, you can also tune in to virtual professional development seminars on a variety of topics. A list of webinars are posted at www.GoodwillCFL.org.
Jennifer Robertson can be reached at JobConnection@GoodwillCFL.org or by calling 407-235-1541.