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What Is Virtual Networking?

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Networking plays an essential role in your job search and career path. Not only is it an excellent way to meet people in your field, but building and maintaining your professional network allows you to learn more about your industry and help others in their job search (and beyond).

While professional networking often takes place in person, these days, virtual (or online) networking is just as crucial to your career success. And though virtual networking is similar to in-person networking, there are a few key differences.

In this guide, we’ll help you understand what virtual networking is and give you the tips and tricks you need to expand your network.

What Is Virtual Networking?

Virtual or online networking is similar to in-person networking, except it takes place on the internet.. The main difference is you can meet and connect with professionals with one click and in the comfort of your own home. However, the simplicity of connecting virtually means you could unintentionally build a professional network that doesn’t serve your career ambitions. 

Certified career coach Rachel Adkins, CPCC, CDCS, says the trick to successful virtual networking is to do it with intention. “Think of virtual networking as intentionally building your professional network to help you meet your current and future career goals. You don’t want to include anyone and everyone; the goal is to virtually surround yourself with people who will help you progress in your career or help you expand your knowledge in your current role and industry. While it’s important to have many connections, it’s even more important that these connections are purposeful.”

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How to Network Online

Adkins says one of your best bets is to connect with people who have similar job titles to yours or have a job title you’re interested in pursuing, and to connect with people at companies you want to apply to.

While finding all the information you need (and more) about who to connect with is easy, striking up an online networking conversation can be harder. At an in-person event, everyone is in the same room, often with the same purpose. Online, though, you may not have an easy way to start a conversation. So, how can you network online and find success?

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Start on LinkedIn

While you can use almost any social media platform for virtual networking, if you choose only one, it should be LinkedIn.It was founded specifically to give professionals a place to network, connect with other professionals, and search for a job online. And though it’s grown into so much more than that, LinkedIn is still one of the best ways to start virtually networking.

>>MORE: A Beginner’s Guide to LinkedIn

To support your LinkedIn networking efforts, Adkins says you should fill out your profile before reaching out to any potential new contacts. This includes:

  • Your picture
  • A headline that incorporates your skills and work interests
  • Personalized “about” section
  • Experience section with detailed bullet points about your accomplishments and results
  • Education
  • Skills section

This gives potential connections a detailed picture of who you are as a professional and helps them understand why they should accept your request.

Start by connecting with current and former colleagues and supervisors and reach out to them every once in a while to maintain the connection. Join a group or two related to your profession and contribute to the conversation. And if you aren’t sure where to start, LinkedIn’s algorithm will suggest individuals and groups you may want to connect with.

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Go Beyond LinkedIn

Outside of LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok (Career Tok in particular), and even Reddit are all places where you can participate in online networking.

But because there are so many options, it can be challenging to virtually network on all of them. Instead, Adkins advises people to “pick one or two platforms you’re most comfortable with and start following, liking, and commenting on peoples’ and companies’ posts. This can help boost your visibility at companies you’re interested in and continue to broaden your virtual network.”

Think Long-Term

No matter what platform (or platforms) you use for online networking, think long-term about the connections you make. Consider not only where you are but where you want to go, and reach out accordingly.

For example, if you’re currently a student and haven’t decided on a career but you know you’re interested in data science, data analytics, and machine learning, reach out to individuals in each of those fields. By seeing what kind of content they post and engaging with them, you can learn more about what those industries are all about.

Also consider connecting with students who are currently majoring in each of those fields. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the subject and how hard or easy it’s been to find an internship. All of these insights can help you make better long-term career decisions.

Personalize Requests

No matter what platform you use for virtual networking, try to avoid generic messages. Saying “I’d like to connect” is the truth, but it may not be enough to create a genuine connection and have that person accept your request.

Ashley Valdez, director of career planning and resources at Scripps College, advises people to personalize their connection requests using their elevator pitch as a starting point. “As you would in person, be sure to introduce yourself, mention something you have in common (such as an alma mater, professional interest, or hobby) and politely state your request. Be intentional and strategic when approaching someone, so your message is actually read and receives a response.”

Clean Up Social Media Profiles

Even if you don’t use other social media outlets in your virtual networking efforts, consider what your social profiles look like outside of LinkedIn. If your Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter profile is set to public and searchable, someone you try to connect with on LinkedIn may research you before accepting the connection request. If those profiles contain any red flags, they may pass on the connection.

Consider cleaning up all your social media profiles before you start virtual networking, or set them to private.

Start Small

Not everyone loves being on social media and you may think that to effectively network online you have to make a big splash on any and every platform. However, that’s not remotely the case.

You can start with small gestures, such as liking posts. From there, you can work your way up to small comments or words of support. Not every post needs to be insightful words of wisdom and career advice. Sometimes, saying “Good luck” is all you need to be noticed and to provide value to your network.

Provide Value

While the virtual network you build is there to help you, don’t forget that any networking relationship is a two-way street. No matter who or where you are in your career planning journey, the people you know and the knowledge you have might be helpful to someone else.

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So, give to your virtual network as much as you take from it. Provide people with contacts and introductions when you can. Share blog posts or articles that you find particularly useful or helpful. Even offering emotional support to someone who lost a job can go a long way toward strengthening your connection.

Thank Your Network

Finally, don’t forget that your virtual network provides value to you. “Thank them generously throughout your interactions,” Valdez says, “and keep them informed on how their support and insight contributes to your career development.”

Make It Routine

Finally, make virtual networking part of a daily routine. Again, you don’t have to create tons of content with graphics or videos. It can be as simple as liking a few posts in your feed.

Developing this habit serves two purposes. First, it will help make you more comfortable engaging and networking online. Second, the more often you’re on the platform and interacting with it, the more useful and relevant content you’ll see (like relevant and helpful connections you can reach out to).

What About Virtual Networking Events?

Between the pandemic and technology, online networking events are no longer a fringe affair. It’s easy to find and attend virtual networking events that can help you grow your professional network.

While each event is different, many of them include a small group session or breakout room. This gives you the chance to meet one-on-one with other professionals and connect on a more personal level.

Be ready to introduce yourself with a quick bio that includes your name, where you work and your job title, or your school and major. If you’re unemployed, you can mention what you do instead. If there’s time, you can also include a quick sentence or two about what you hope to get out of the event. Here’s an example:

“Hi, my name is [your name] and I’m [where you work, what you do, where you’re in school]. I’m here today to learn more about the industry and possible career paths in the field.”

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How to Find Online Networking Events

Start with places like Eventbrite and Meetup. But other places to check include:

  • Museums and theaters (sign up for emails)
  • College alumni centers
  • Your religious group or organizations
  • Slack groups
  • Local bookstores
  • Professional and industry organizations
  • Coworking spaces

Make Some Virtual Connections

Virtual networking allows you to connect with the people and companies that can help you move toward your career goals, whatever and wherever they are. Make sure to reach out to and accept requests from people who can help you learn and move confidently on your career path.

Want to learn more about your potential career and test it out? Enroll in a free Forage virtual job simulation today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I make sure my virtual networking is effective?

To make your virtual networking efforts effective, stick with the platforms you’re most comfortable with and make regular contributions. Even something as simple as liking posts is enough.

What specific platforms or tools should I use for virtual networking?

The best place to start networking online is LinkedIn. After that, try industry-specific forums and online networking events hosted by organizations or companies.

What are some common virtual networking challenges?

Common online networking challenges include a lack of face-to-face interaction and figuring out how to stand out in a digital crowd. Being proactive, following up, and engaging authentically can help you build your virtual network.

Is online networking as beneficial as in-person networking?

While in-person networking has certain advantages (like it’s easier to read body language), virtual networking gives you flexibility. You don’t have to be in the same time zone to connect and you’re not limited by geography.

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Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.

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