By Sharon Menchyk, Attorney, Tucker Arensberg, P.C.
We often hear that networking is important for career advancement, but why it is important and how to network effectively is sometimes not so clear. As a young lawyer I was told to network, but I was lost as to what that entailed. Years later, I’ve learned that it is not only important for those marketing goods or services, but for anyone who wants to advance their career regardless of their industry. I’ve also learned that networking is nothing more than making new acquaintances and strengthening the relationships you have already made in your career.
COVID-19 has changed how we connect with people. Virtual networking is often the only chance we have to meet new people and make connections. With some planning and preparation, virtual networking can be a successful tool in furthering your career goals.
The first step in networking, virtual or otherwise, is choosing the right path and developing a plan to meet your goals. In developing that plan, you should consider the following:
1) Long-term career goals – where would you like to ultimately be in five or ten years?
2) Goals at your current position – what do I need to do to get promoted or increase my compensation?
3) Personal considerations – how much time do I have to network and how much money do I have to spend on networking, either of my own or from my employer?
While virtual networking may be the current best choice, as circumstances change, your plan should include a mix of traditional, nontraditional and virtual opportunities. Traditional networking events, such as industry meetings, dinners or conferences, can be valuable and should be incorporated into any plan. Nontraditional networking opportunities include events we attend every day and can fit into almost anyone’s schedule, such as family gatherings, children’s school or sporting events and volunteering with a community organization.
The third type, and likely the most important given the current safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, are virtual networking opportunities. Virtual networking can and should include events planned by organizations that will lead to connections that support your goals as well as events you plan yourself, such as a happy hour with past classmates or an afternoon coffee with former colleagues to strengthen the connections you already formed. Despite the ease in locating and attending virtual events, this format can offer its own challenges – but if you prepare properly, you can have a great experience.
In attending virtual events, you should consider the following:
1) Prepare for the event: Learn the names and companies of the organizers, presenters and attendees; review the agenda or itinerary for the event; and research the topic of the event’s discussion. Most importantly, and this goes for both virtual and traditional networking, have your elevator pitch ready, i.e. a sixty second speech about who you are and what you do. This preparation will allow you to carry on an informed conversation and create credibility with fellow attendees.
2) Check your technology: Determine what platform is necessary for the event and ensure that any downloads or updates for any applications are completed prior to the day of the event. Make sure your device is charged and you have good cell or data service. Get familiar with the application before the event. Technical issues arise often but taking these steps will ensure that you look prepared and are not fumbling with your computer or phone.
3) Look the part: Dress as if you were attending an event in person and make sure your background is appropriate for the event. Wearing a complete outfit is recommended, especially if you might have to stand up unexpectedly – you don’t want everyone to see your old gym shorts! Also, make sure you are located in a quiet, private space to avoid interruptions.
4) Follow-up is key: Keep a notepad or tablet available to write down names and/or contact information of the event organizers and any key attendees. Asking for the spelling of names and for email addresses is not rude when done so at the proper moment – making connections is the point of these events. Follow up shortly after the event, even if it’s simply to say you enjoyed meeting the person virtually.
5) Stay focused: Keep the conversation and your comments focused on the topic of the event or career related topics. Be a good listener and ask others about themselves which will make you and your new connection more comfortable. Virtual events sometimes lose the personal connection we have at live events. People come from a variety of backgrounds, and a virtual event is not the time or place to introduce topics that might be considered controversial. Focus on your goal to meet people and advance your career.
Finally, remember, networking should not be stressful and can lead to great success if you take the time to plan, follow these tips, and set yourself up for success.