Networking can be intimidating, especially when you consider the traditional approach: going to events, delivering your elevator pitch, and handing out business cards. For people who are naturally introverted (like yours truly), networking in the midst of a pandemic has removed the one element that thoroughly intimidated me, but that doesn’t mean that networking has suddenly been made easy. There are still simple ways to build your network during a pandemic!

So, if you’re on the hunt for a new job, or want to make a career switch overall, stop applying blindly to online applications and focus on your network. You can still keep your distance and stay safe while you meet people and make connections!

Here are 4 ways to build your network during a pandemic.

1. Remember: Your Contacts Are Not Your Friends

This may sound obvious, but your contacts (particularly those in your professional network) are not your friends and should be treated as such. You wouldn’t speak to your college professor the same way you would treat a college roommate, would you?

This means treating people with respect, being conscious of their time, and refraining from oversharing. Your contacts don’t need to know everything about you, particularly if you just met. Keep it limited to what they need to know. As your relationship develops over time, you can decide when to share personal information (if it is appropriate).

This was crucial for me working with adults in Japan, particularly during the beginning of my contract, where I would be meeting anywhere from three to ten new people a day. I kept introductions short and professional, allowing time for client’s questions afterward (if they had any). Eventually, I worked the introductions down to a formula: my name, where I was from, how long I’d been in the country, some of my interests outside of teaching.

I shared what I needed to share in order to build rapport and establish my credibility. This was helpful for me because it allowed me to maintain my sense of professionalism.

While this formulaic introduction did not stave off questions entirely, it was extremely helpful in establishing the foundation for the relationships between myself and my clients. It also served to quell the client’s curiosity and ease the tension of meeting someone new, which is important when you want to build your network.

While it may be tempting to throw formality out the window, especially if the person you’re interacting with is addressing you in a less formal way, it’s best to keep interactions polite and professional. 

2. Offer Help Where You Can

Again, this may sound obvious, but maintaining a network is a two-way street. If, for example, you know someone who could benefit from an informational interview with a contact, send an email to that person, asking for permission to give that person their contact information.

While I was still in Tokyo, I received a message via LinkedIn from a younger student who had attended my alma mater. Like me, he was Japanese-American; he contacted me because he had similar career interests and was curious about how I was using my language skills in Tokyo. A few months later, we discovered that we had both relocated to opposite sides of the world. 

I recently connected him with one of my contacts in Tokyo who I thought could be helpful for him (with the contact’s permission, of course). 

The more you offer to help and follow through, the more the person on the other end will be appreciative and willing to help you out when you need it, and you never know when you may need help.

3. You Should Be Doing More Listening Than Talking

We are social creatures by nature. Over the past year, I have been working on curbing my desire to jump into a conversation. I have found this particularly helpful when it comes to informational interviews and working to build your network.

The more you interrupt or speak, the higher the possibility that you could miss something helpful or important. For me, the key lies in reminding myself that you are there to learn about them and not the other way around. Asking questions underlines your genuine curiosity about the person and their career trajectory.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend who is working in one of the roles that I’m considering. I started by asking her how she had gotten into this line of work and her motivation. After recounting her story, she asked me about my motivations. By sharing our respective stories, we built a rapport by finding common ground, but it was only when she invited me to speak that I took the opportunity to do so.

Asking questions allows you to learn more about the person, their motivation, and build rapport as a result. You can learn a lot about a person just by listening to them.

4. Follow Up Promptly (And Check in Periodically)

It goes without saying that follow-up is key. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve followed up with a contact, and that simple email has yielded invaluable information. However, in light of the pandemic, I would advise against following up too frequently. 

I would also recommend checking in periodically with some of the contacts you haven’t spoken with in a while. Too often, we fall into the trap of turning to our contacts only when we need something. 

How do you feel when someone constantly comes to you when they need something?

Not a great feeling, right?

By extending that same respect toward people in your network, you ensure that you maintain a strong relationship with them. Just check in from time to time.

I totally get it-the pandemic has thrown off everyone’s plans (including mine). And yes, networking can be challenging for some. But I’ve found that networking is a great way to do something that is both productive and (somewhat) social. 

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