Your network matters now more than ever.
✅ Your network is your innoculation against lay-offs.
✅ Your network is what will make sure your name gets to the top of a recruitment list.
✅ And yes, your network can still get you a promotion even during a recession.
And for anyone holding onto a job they don’t love because right now is ‘not the time’ to be changing jobs, then your network is also what can get you a new job in uncertain times or help you navigate improving your current job.
Your network is full of people with advice, ideas. Your network is full of advocates and allies. You can build informal and formal mentoring relationships with your connections. And you need that now more than ever.
So we all know that our networks are a must. But building them has always been an add-on to our jobs. And for many of us an uncomfortable, additional workload item. If you are introvert, like me, networking just feels awkward, at least at the beginning.
Right now, your relationship building should be your number one priority after staying safe and taking care of your loved ones.
Someone is more likely to vouch for you in a hiring discussion, put your name forward for a promotion and generally stick up for you/listen to you/recognise your value if you have built a connection that is current and maintained.
But now we are not going to face-to-face conferences and networking social events are out, what can you do?
The lowdown for networking under lockdown
Networking actually just became easier in many respects for us introverts! We can now do things, one person at a time, and start with an asynchronous message instead of an often difficult to start face-to-face conversation. Your impostor syndrome may well still kick in, but in all other respects, remote networking can more quickly build a set of meaningful relationships than just showing up at a conference dinner.
Here is how to start!
- Start by reaching out to your current network.
Your current network, whether it is a stack of email addresses, some business cards in your desk drawer, or your LinkedIn connections, are your place to start. Reach out and check-in with them. See how they are. What’s going on? What are they doing right now? It is a lovely idea to give people an update every 6 months or so. If instead you just reach out every few years for a job reference, believe me, they will not write the best ever reference for you!
Aim to reignite and strengthen relationships and let them know that you are thinking about them.
- Check in with your current network mindfully.
Simply asking ‘how are you doing’ doesn’t cut it during COVID! Very few people are doing ‘fine’ right now. But no one feels able to really complain! So instead, try something that encourages a channel for conversation. Don’t make it about you, but instead always be thinking about them. You should always be giving your networking more than you take. So start that today by asking yourself ‘how can I strengthen your relationship mindfully with this person and not be all about me?’. Some of the strongest relationships are built when it doesn’t feel to the other person that you are hoping for anything in return. So start with that attitude! Genuinely wish them well. A simple check-in that hopes they are doing well and that they and their loved ones are safe is a good place to start if you are stuck.
- Continue the conversation and if it feels right to suggest a catch-up video chat.
I aim to reach out to about 5 people a day and send them a nice note, let them know I’m thinking of them. I don’t expect a response, but probably one in five do get back to me. Every now and then we end up chatting and I will then suggest we hop on a call and have a proper catch-up! You are then further strengthening your relationships.
You don’t need or indeed, want, many of these calls… but you do want your relationship to deepen if it feels good to both of you. So let that happen. Remember, you are replacing those face-to-face conference conversations!
- Always give more than you take.
This goes without saying, but your network should not be something you always take from. Otherwise you will find your network dries up! Offer insights. Share articles of interest with relevant people. Offer congratulations appropriately. Say happy birthday. And at the end of catch-up conversations ask yourself: what could I do for this person?, Who would it be good for THEM to know?
- Ask for an introduction
If I feel good about the relationship I will also ask at the end of the conversation if there is anyone they think it would be useful for me to know. Getting your network to introduce you is much more powerful than a cold email introduction and will result in more useful interactions. But be mindful of not taking more than you are giving.
- Don’t feel bad about long absences in communication (either by you or by someone else!).
We are busy people, with busy lives and (hopefully) big networks! Some communication after a long period of time is better than none. Equally, don’t be offended if you don’t hear back. We all know how easy it is for emails and messages to scroll off the bottom of our screens.
- Be more empathetic to your network than you were before.
Life is currently in chaos. We are navigating largely unknown territory as a society and it is exhausting. Even for people who aren’t doing childcare/homeschooling/all-the-housework AND holding down that executive day job, life is hard. Don’t judge. Don’t jump into the mindset of ‘well they aren’t doing all these things that I am doing’. Instead, be patient. Listen and stay calm. Remember this is more about them than it is about you.
- Join some new groups. There is a burst of growth in online groups. Professional groups are available on many social media platforms (LinkedIn is a good place to start) as well as chat platforms such as Slack. Join a group, and start being social. Remember: just start!
- Reach out to new people
Once you’ve started re-engaging with your existing network you can start building new connections. It is fine to rely on your existing connections and the groups you’ve joined for this, but always try to be building. Cold emails/connection requests are always fine. Some people don’t like them, but that’s their personal choice and nothing to be offended by. Always try and include some reason for reaching out to them such as commenting on something they’ve written, a video you watched or an article they were mentioned in. If you have a joint connection you can ask for an introduction, but do it mindfully!
- Actively diversify your network
The more broad and diverse our network is the better it will serve us. Diverse backgrounds, diverse employers, diverse geographic locations, diverse education, diverse job titles, diverse domains… all diversity is good. A mixture will always open your eyes, challenge you and potentially lead to unexpected but amazing opportunities.
- Don’t be scared to reach out to those you admire.
Reaching out to someone you see as a superstar can be extremely daunting! It often triggers the impostor syndrome. But they are humans too! The worst thing that will happen is that they ignore you. (By the way: don’t make that mean more than it does! They might just have been busy!).
- Build real connections BEFORE you ask for a more formal relationship
Don’t ask someone to be a mentor on the first chat unless it has gone extremely well. And never ask someone by email that you’ve never communicated with before if they will mentor you. Make sure you are a good fit and that there will be a benefit in mentoring for both of you before asking.
- Make sure your online presence is up-to-date.
As this is all online, the first thing someone will do who is interested in you is Google you! So make sure your online persona is up-to-date. If you are avoiding being online because of privacy, remember that if you aren’t controlling your online presence, then someone else is! However unusual your name there is going to be someone else out there that people will mistake as you! So control your online presence and keep it up to date.
Ideally, this would be done first, before the other 12 steps above. But I don’t want you to use this as a tool to procrastinate! Get your online profile up-to-date, but if you are using it as a reason to not network, then remember, networking is more important!
✅ Just start! There is not better time to start networking than today. If you aren’t already checking in with your network, start today.
✅There is no perfect way to network
✅Always give more than you take
✅Make it a regular activity or a habit. Aim to send 5 people a message each day. Start with happy birthdays, hellos and thank you’s if you don’t know what else to say.
✅Personal touches will always win