Networking plays an essential role in your job search and beyond. It introduces you to people in your field and at other companies, allows you to learn more about your profession, and gives you opportunities to help others.
While professional networking often takes place in person, these days, virtual 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 to be aware of.
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 networking is similar to traditional networking, except it takes place online. You can meet and connect with professionals from anywhere 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 full of meaningless connections.
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 Virtually Network
Adkins advises professionals to connect with people with similar job titles to theirs (or who have a job title they’re interested in pursuing) and to connect with people at companies they want to apply to.
While finding all the information you need (and more) online is easy, striking up a virtual networking conversation can be harder. At an in-person event, everyone is milling about in the same room, often with the same purpose. Online, though, people aren’t gathered in a room for a single purpose and may not have an easy way to start a conversation. So, how can you virtually network and find success?
Start on LinkedIn
While you can use almost any social media platform for virtual networking, if you only choose one, it should be LinkedIn. It’s designed to facilitate virtual networking among professionals in a number of ways.
>>MORE: A Beginner’s Guide to LinkedIn
But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by LinkedIn. Adkins says to help further your networking efforts, completely fill out your LinkedIn profile before you start reaching out. 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
- Skills section
This helps potential connections get a fuller understanding of who you are as a professional and why they should accept your request.
Start by connecting with current and former colleagues and supervisors — if you’re comfortable. Then reach out to them every once in a while to keep the connection intact. Join a group or two related to your profession and contribute to the conversation. Finally, take full advantage of LinkedIn and connect with new people to help grow your virtual network.
Outside of LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even Reddit are all places where you can virtually network.
But because there are so many options, it can be challenging to 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.”
No matter what platform you use for virtual networking, it’s crucial 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. “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 received 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 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 your social media on other platforms contains any red flags, they may pass on the connection.
Consider cleaning up your social media profiles before you start virtual networking, or set them to private.
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.
So, give to your 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 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.”
What About Virtual Networking Events?
Between the pandemic and technology, virtual networking events are no longer a fringe affair. It’s not unusual to find and attend virtual networking events and happenings that can help you grow your professional network.
While each virtual networking event is different, the one commonality you can likely count on is a small group session or breakout room. This gives you the chance to meet one-on-one with other people at the event and connect on a more personal level.
In every breakout session, you’ll state your name and the company you work for (or job title) or the school you’re at and your major. If you’re unemployed, you can state what you do instead.
Then, depending on the event, you may have to answer an ice breaker question. But if there’s not, you should have a quick line or two about yourself and what you hope to get out of the event ready to go.
“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.”
How to Find Virtual Networking Events
Because virtual networking events are so common, it’s easier than ever to find them. You can 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 Connections
Virtual networking can help you 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.
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