Networking. It’s a word we hear all the time, especially as college students. A lot of us are told that it’s the key to finding good internships and jobs. It’s also something a lot of us hesitate to do, especially if we’re introverted or shy (two categories that I can undoubtedly say are mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop even during an international crisis. So when we all are locked down at home, or have to stay at least six feet apart from each other at all times, a skill that was already so difficult to master becomes a hundred times trickier.
Don’t worry: it’s not all bad news. For those of us who prefer to interact with people virtually rather than physically, congratulations: networking just moved into a digital space. Read on to learn how to master the art of networking during COVID-19!
- Go to Virtual Conferences
Major networking events like career fairs and workshops are going virtual, and attending these can give your networking game a huge boost. I know — wearing business casual just for a video call at home and seeing employers only from the neck up can be amusing at best and mortifyingly awkward at worst. But talking to them virtually will not only show them how persistent you are as a potential employee but will also allow you to collect more numbers and emails for your network. Pro tip: after talking to a recruiter from a company you’re interested in, send them an email afterward asking if they want to hop on a call with you to discuss more about internship or job opportunities.
- Use Social Media Apps More Than Ever
Now that everything from classes to work has gone online, we’re spending a lot more time on our phones and laptops than we have before. I don’t know about you, but I find myself reaching for my phone every ten minutes. The good thing about everyone’s lives moving online is that it’s much easier to receive a quick response from people via social media. I’ll say this once: LinkedIn. I’ll say it again: LinkedIn! Creating a LinkedIn profile and updating it with your work is an excellent investment of time and will open up a whole new world of networking opportunities. This also saves a ton of time and energy as you don’t have to risk physically meeting people.
- Address the Elephant in the Room
Yes, I’m talking about COVID-19. The only thing harder than finding a contact is maintaining the contact. And the only way you can make someone interested in maintaining a long-term relationship with you is if you connect with them on a personal level! This is where COVID-19 comes in. Don’t be afraid to talk about the pandemic and how it’s affected you in your personal life. Being open about how COVID-19 has upturned your life will create a bridge of commonality between you and your contact that you can use to later veer into more professional topics. It’s a good way to establish a rapport and make friendly conversation to break the ice. Plus, it'd be really weird if you just didn’t mention it at all. Just keep in mind that COVID-19 has affected people in different ways, some bad and some worse, so try to be sensitive while talking about it!
- Ask Intelligent Questions Related to COVID-19
Going off of the previous point, be sure to ask about COVID-19 in the workplace. Networking can be an excellent way to gauge how companies have handled the entire pandemic situation. What you should be most interested in is the way companies treated their employees. Ask your contacts if they had to work from home or go to office, if they had company-sponsored mental health programs or therapy sessions, and if they had any benefits given or taken as a result of the pandemic. Inquire about the layoff rate as well, if you feel that it’s appropriate. This kind of knowledge will help you discern company culture and whether these companies provide safe and healthy working environments for their employees.
With the job market in tatters and millions of Americans laid off due to COVID-19, networking has become every student and professional’s liferaft. The unemployment rate in August 2020 was 8.4%, a 4.7% increase from 2019.