Networking is as important as ever for accessing the top jobs, mentors, and opportunities in any field. But 2020 has changed the networking game forever – and as more people shift toward permanent work from home, it’s bound to evolve further. Changing with the times is crucial.
Luckily, there are many digital tools you can use to network effectively in the work from home era. Combining these with the human touch is the key to keeping your professional network robust and flourishing – and that creates a unique career asset that nobody else can match.
Here’s how to make networking work for you in 2021 and beyond:
In 2021, there will again be so many more events online. This opens up much wider opportunity for people to attend as digital events remove a lot of the barriers for participation, but it can also make networking more challenging. When you sign up for any event, be sure you know what the organizers have in mind for facilitating networking. Many event platforms and mobile apps include chat programs, breakout groups, or even give you the opportunity to pre-schedule personal one-on-one conversations.
In the meantime, work on your videoconferencing skills. Just like an in-person event, the confidence you project is vital to making a good impression. Practice talking to your webcam and positioning the conference window so you will naturally be looking directly into your camera. Learn to sit at the right distance, leaving a bit of space to both sides and above your head, but not so far back that you can’t be heard clearly.
It is a good idea for virtually anyone to create an online portfolio showcasing their projects and achievements. Your industry and companies will influence how much you can share, but with a little creativity, you can add a dash of interactivity to almost anything you choose. Think multimedia: A personal video message is ideal for demonstrating that you have the communication skills essential to this new world.
Another terrific resource for you to use is LinkedIn. LinkedIn stands out as a social network for serious business professionals. It is a wise idea to join industry groups and get active in discussions. When you answer questions and create value, you signal to others that you care about your work. This also gives you the opportunity to start one-on-one conversations that can further expand your contacts.
Sharing helpful and informative content is a great way to stay in touch. The more you know about someone’s circumstances and goals, the easier it will be to send relevant content their way. While it’s okay to “blast” content to all your social media followers, be aware that this gets limited traction. Feeds scroll by quickly, and algorithms may mute you. Direct messages are best for starting real conversations.
These days, more and more professionals are finding their voice and talking openly about the trends in their field. This can be the first step toward being recognized as a thought leader in your own right. If you have your own website, blog, or portfolio, writing articles about business trends will get you into a networking mindset. You can amplify your content on social media and may meet people your work resonates with.
As your network grows, be sure you don’t neglect those who have been around the longest. It is easy to get so focused on expanding your network that you don’t invest enough time cultivating strong relationships. That leads to a network that’s broad, but not deep. It is much harder to get buy-in for collaboration from people you don’t know well, especially if they feel you are not sincerely interested in them.
This is another case where it takes knowledge to get knowledge. For example, if you share certain important anniversaries with someone, know their birthday, or know what holidays they celebrate, it is much easier to connect on a meaningful level. The longer you have known someone, the easier it is to show genuine interest in them while still remaining appropriately professional. Always make time to reconnect.
The technology behind today’s networking has changed, but the fundamentals are still the same: Be proactive, be thoughtful, and look for ways to add value to your contacts’ lives. The hours you spend developing strong professional relationships could benefit you tenfold. The next time you are looking for a job or searching for the right person to support a big idea, you might find exactly who you need just a few clicks away.