How to Build Genuine Virtual Networks

It seems these days we are living in a world of six degrees of separation. Working professionals have colleagues and clients all around the globe, yet all are connected via the virtual web. This means having a limited network of only local businesses or individuals is a thing of the past. It’s great news.

“But I hate networking.” 

It’s a sentiment that unfortunately is real for many people - students, professionals, executives, job seekers. Networking makes them feel uncomfortable. Planned connections make them feel fake, manipulative, phony. The rock and the hard place? While you may hate networking, in today’s interconnected, virtual world, networking is necessary. In some cases, it can be a game changer.

Research seems to back this statement up, with evidence that having networks shortens the time it takes to find a job. Some survey estimates suggest that up to 70% of all jobs are not published publicly on search sites. A 2019 Job Seeker Nation Survey by Jobvite reported that despite the fact that most applicants applied for jobs via job boards or career sites, 35 percent found job postings via social media, 50 percent heard about jobs from friends, and 37 percent said they heard about the jobs from professional networks.

Finding a job is not the only positive outcome of networking. Evidence suggests quality and job satisfaction come into play too. A 2016 paper by economist David Wiczer and his coauthors found, after analyzing survey data collected from the U.S. and Europe, that jobs found through networks often will have higher wages and last longer compared to jobs found through direct contact. For women and minorities, who often have limited access to organizational networks, networking is especially crucial to developing social and knowledge capital. 

The bottom line: no matter where you are in your career, networking is a key building block to career success. So how do you network when you hate it? 

We’ve come up with four strategies to help you network effectively:

1. Change Your Perspective and Approach

Changing your approach or perspective is the first step to learning to love, or at least not hate, networking. If you feel networking is disingenuous, bringing to mind faceless crowds who you need to smile for and/or sell yourself or product to, ask yourself why. Likely it’s because you are approaching the interaction as a one and done deal. Instead think about how you would like to be approached. Be genuine about it. Stop thinking about volume or immediate results. It's a person-to-person connection. 

2. Be intentional with your connections

If you are networking for job reasons, you can sometimes feel a pressure to attend every event, webinar, and function under the sun. It’s exhausting. Ditch obligatory attendance. Commit to showing up to events that suit you and your style. Are there any people whom you admire? Who are the leaders or organizations that you find impressive? If you don’t know, make a list. You need to first determine for yourself what connections would be meaningful. Then consider what kind of event you enjoy. Do you like efficiency? Look into speed networking events. Do you enjoy being a part of an organization? Consider joining a networking organization or a group where you can learn about relevant topics and meet your peers. Interested in chatting with peers or connecting casually? Look into Slack or Facebook groups to join. Often these groups will have great options for networking or chatting with others. 

3. Adjust the focus 

Another way to help make you feel more genuine in networking is to shift the focus to who you are meeting. Ask people about themselves, their company or role. What do they enjoy about their work? You should build trust and connection before expecting something in return. Doing that will mean not just a more genuine connection but you’ll get higher quality and more thoughtful conversations too. 

4. Quality not Quantity  

A concern many will raise is this: “But what if I’m wasting their time?” It’s a valid concern. Many professionals or individuals who are reached out to on LinkedIn, Twitter or email will admit that they get tons of reach outs. Be polite and respectful of that. Some people will be burnt out from the overload of the number of people who are trying to connect with them. Rather than trying to force a connection, understand that they are busy and seeking out different contacts. This isn’t to say constantly seeking out new individuals or connections. Relationships take time to build, so appropriate approach and respect of time is key. 

Consider informational interviews as a strategy. Informational interviews offer you an opportunity to talk with someone about what they do. They are usually brief and focused, so the aim isn’t to walk away from a job interview or find job openings. Rather, the point is for you to gather information and share resources with the other person. Come up with specific questions so you are focused in the conversation when you chat. Follow up with a thank you. If the conversation went well there will be natural talking points that you can bring up to spark a second conversation. For example, if you meet someone in common, or see exciting news they may find helpful or interesting, mention it in a quick note. These are genuine and easy ways you can stay connected in a meaningful way. 

We hope these tips can help you create new networks. Interested in connecting with us? One way you can is to follow, tag or comment on our Instagram or LinkedIn page! We try our best to respond and share content that you can engage with and enjoy. 

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