Thrivner ThoughtCast | Virtual Networking
Purpose: To offer insights on best virtual practices for strengthening and expanding professional business networking opportunities in the absence of in-person events.
Quarantining and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged us to become inventive with business practices that were once routine. For example, one of the casualties of canceled in-person events has been the networking opportunities lost, leaving people more isolated as they search for a job, strategize career development goals, and exchange professional and general information.
Networking is about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial professional relationships with the people you meet.
As we are now aware, virtual meetings require different methods of preparation and planning. Unexpected questions arise, such as: “How many devices can my wi-fi support?”; “Should I invest in a ring light?”; “Can anyone see if I wear my pajama pants?”. These uncertainties and many others are now at the forefront of every on-camera event, regardless of the size. To ensure everyone gets the best experience and help establish yourself as a polished, put-together professional, please review best virtual practices in our Virtual Meeting Guidelines.
New business acquaintances, prospective clients, and recruiters will likely check out your LinkedIn profile and other heavily resourced social media platforms. Your good name holds tremendous value and building a solid reputation takes effort, determination, and consistency. Alternatively, it can be lost in an instant. Take the time to scrutinize all your social media accounts, including comments, photos, and videos you “Liked” or re-shared, plus any online groups you joined, to make sure they represent how you want to be perceived. It is essential to keep your profile updated and looking sharp across all platforms; you want your digital first impression to present your best real self and highlight your finest qualities. Create a confident and distinct online introduction; it will be a determining factor if people are interested in connecting with you.
Below are some tips from a Personal Branding LinkedIn Checklist 2 on how to help make your profile stand out:
Personal Branding LinkedIn Checklist
- Profile Picture: Make sure it is a professional portrait headshot, wearing business formal attire, and smiling with your eyes. The photo should reflect how you currently look with a solid background.
- Background Photo: Choose an attention-grabbing photo to help your page stand out and reflect your personality.
- Headline: Make your headline more than just your job title. How do you see your role? Be imaginative. Include your company name and its location.
- Summary: Turn your skills into your story. Why do you do what you do? Demonstrate HOW you are what you say you are and not just overused buzzwords.
- Email Address Book: Synch your profile with your address book to grow your network, enabling the platform to suggest members that share a commonality as a potential connection.
- Skills: Select appropriate options that substantiate your Headline and Summary.
- Continuing Education: Add all course certificates from LinkedIn Learning and any other completed training or classes.
- Endorsements: Send notifications to others confirming they possess specific skills, and in turn, they may reciprocate. Politely ask those familiar with your work and whose backing you would value to boost your credibility.
- Recommendations: Achieve a higher level of credibility by personally requesting industry connections you respect to share their reflections of specific work experiences with you.
- Publications: Display your contributions (articles, white papers, blog posts) in thought-leadership content to give industry connections insight into your company’s identity and expertise
- Engagement: Talk and respond by posting useful and pertinent comments, images, and links. Share and create appealing content and videos. Follow industry influencers to keep up with developments and trends.
- Group Sharing: Create or join groups to discuss industry news and related topics. They can be a vital source for information, ideas, and support.
Note: It is important to have your LinkedIn profile page “ranked” as COMPLETE for the maximum platform benefits, especially if you are job searching.
Most people are longing for a return to the office and in-person gatherings. Until that day comes, update, maintain and maximize your platforms’ features to build and strengthen your personal brand.
The key to successful networking is to foster relations by supporting your networking team in their efforts to thrive. The intentional intertwining of your self-interests with that of others is vital. However, raising your professional profile and broadening your access to exciting career opportunities are secondary benefits. As you reach out to colleagues within your established community and the broader industry, keep your approach genuine and directed on “How can I help you?”. In whole or in part, try to craft a way to say ‘yes’ to anyone’s request: “Yes, I am very interested in consulting on that project. I can give you two hours on Friday.” This statement demonstrates your offer to help is sincere. It also respects whatever responsibilities were previously expected of you. If you have to decline, be honest and polite. Try to recommend other colleagues that may have time or be better equipped to assist in the request. As you establish connections, think ahead about what you can do for someone and conduct selective research to apply a personal context to your conversation or communication. Be prepared to invest in building relationships with energy, empathy, and emotion. Finally, remember the power of kindness. Merely sending someone well wishes could boost one’s emotional well-being and make all the difference in their impression of you, which could reap benefits well beyond the age of COVID.
Etiquette, or good manners, is based upon behaving out in the world with courtesy, civility, and sensitivity. Mastering the nuances of business etiquette can have an enormous impact on your professional success. The rules are uncomplicated, and while some are timeless, others change with advances in technology and the evolution of behavioral norms. The following are some important etiquette rules to put into use while networking virtually:
- Attire: On-camera dress code depends on your corporate culture. Business casual is the minimum requirement for meetings, and business formal for job interviews. Make sure you are wearing pants.
- Punctuality: Arrive on time. This single act conveys the powerful message that you value the invitation to participate and that you respect the commodity of others’ time.
- Be Prepared: Review the agenda and read other materials in advance. Activate “Do Not Disturb” or silence devices. Listen attentively, participate and ask questions.
- Introductions: Use full names. Introduce the lesser title to the higher title. Greet with a salutation, full name (use the professional title if included in the intro, i.e., Dr. or Professor), and friendly statement in a clear, steady voice. Create a version that best represents yourself. “Good morning, Ms. Harris. It is my pleasure to meet you.”
- Conversation: Use “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” Keep your speech polite, respectful, and positive. Avoid cursing, gossiping, and interrupting. When there is a break, refrain from oversharing or asking personal questions; instead, show interest in other people’s tastes.
- Thank You Notes: Send a handwritten note after a job interview, when someone writes a recommendation for you, when you receive a gift, after meaningful interactions, or when someone does something extra special for you. An email or text is now considered appropriate for small gifts and acts of kindness but not as impactful as a tangible one. Include specific details in your note, along with your thanks, and add a personal sentiment to make it stand out. Mail it as quickly as possible after the event.
- Social Media: Do not criticize, complain, or slam anyone online. It is not worth the risk of it getting back to your company, boss, or colleagues. Beware! What you post is permanent. Submit only encouraging comments and praises online.
- Mistakes: They happen to everyone. Sincerely apologize if you make a misstep and extend forgiveness if you are offended.
- Honesty/Integrity/Responsibility: Speak the truth tactfully. Always do what you say you are going to do. Honor your commitments and go a step beyond what is expected.
- Emails: Reply within 24 hours. Add a concise and specific subject line. Check spelling and grammar, and proofread content before you hit “Send.” Remove people from threads that no longer need to be involved. Sign all emails and include your title, company name, and contact information.
- Phone & Text: Silence your phone and resist sending and reading text messages during a meeting. Turn off your video and mute the sound if it is imperative to answer a call or respond to a text. When in direct communication with anyone, exhibit self-control, common sense, and courtesy. You command your phone, not the opposite.
- What are your hobbies outside of work?
- Tell me about your favorite restaurant?
- Describe your dream vacation?
- Where is your next travel destination?
- Can you recommend any movies you have watched, books you have read, or podcasts you have listened to recently?
It is best to choose one topic and let the conversation develop naturally; however, try to avoid hot-button issues. If the conversation begins to stray into these areas, do your best to redirect it as quickly as possible. Depart a conversation with, “It was a pleasure talking with you, Joe. Have a pleasant evening.” Personalize your statements to reflect your style, mindful of keeping all exchanges respectful and polite.
Having an actual plan for your career helps keep you on track when assignments and opportunities arise. It also allows you to consciously and selectively build your network, choosing people, groups, and content relevant to your interests and expertise. The more you challenge yourself in acquiring new skills, the more value you add to your résumé and company. Employers prefer to recruit or retain and advance employees that are proactive and self-motivated. With the right mindset and determination, virtual networking could propel your career forward and help you attain your development goals even during this unpredictable moment in history.
As you communicate with your contacts, there will be certain people mentioned outside your network that possess experience and insight within your industry that pique your interest. There will also be times when someone refers you to one of their contacts that they think might advance your inquiry for industry-related information. You may want to learn how to refine your skills in an industry sector, hear detailed experiences within your field of interest, or seek advice about a job search. To begin reaching out, extend an invitation requesting an opportunity to meet virtually or talk on the phone via LinkedIn or email. Briefly introduce yourself, clearly state the intention behind your request, and, when possible, add a reference or referral. If the contact declines your invitation, do not stress about it. Expect people to reject and even ignore your requests. If the contact is willing to arrange a meeting, let them choose the date and time. Preparation is crucial. Be ready to discuss your background, talents, achievements, and future goals. Customize a list of open-ended questions specific to your subject and not easily found on a basic computer search.
- What do you wish you had known when you started?
- What are the best and worst parts of your job?
- How did you translate your formal education and training to your actual day-to-day work?
Most importantly, LISTEN. As a general rule, you should be speaking 30% of the time.3 Exhibit genuine interest and curiosity, asking questions and jotting down notes. Once your conversation concludes, express your appreciation and offer your assistance to them now or at a later time. Send a message of thanks (see above) and highlight one or two things shared from the meeting that were particularly beneficial to you. Stay in touch with an occasional brief email or send an article of shared interest.
Congratulations! You are now on your way to laying a foundation for a mutually beneficial professional relationship.
- Hutchinson, A. (2020, October 28). LinkedIn up to 722 million Members, continues to SEE ‘Record levels of engagement’. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/linkedin-up-to-722-million-members-continues-to-see-record-levels-of-enga/587956/
- Fleming, J. (2020, February 20). 20 steps to a better LinkedIn profile in 2020. Retrieved February 09, 2021, from https://business.linkedin.com/en-uk/marketing-solutions/blog/posts/content-marketing/2017/17-steps-to-a-better-LinkedIn-profile-in-2017
- Https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-strategies-for-your-oneonone-networking-meeting. (n.d.). Retrieved 02/11/2021.