Networking Online is the Real World

Your professional network is a critical tool to build your career and a significant support to help you navigate challenges and recover from setbacks. For all those reasons, it is more important today than ever before. Although networking has moved online for now, there are still huge opportunities (maybe even bigger ones) to build professional connections uniquely suited to today’s challenges as you embrace every opportunity for growth.  
Networking is alive and well with online tweaks
Big chunks of our lives have moved to the virtual world for the moment, but that is no excuse to give up on networking. In fact, you likely need your network now more than ever. Others also need you and opportunities to connect have actually increased. One of the best ways to connect is by reaching out in genuine caring.
“This is the time to show yourself as a servant leader,” explains Judy Hoberman, executive coach and President of both Selling in a Skirt and Walking on the Glass Floor. “Everyone is struggling and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself. Start with your first-level connections and simply reach out to see how they are doing and how you can support them.”
Career growth, satisfaction, support
Research consistently shows the impact of networking on career growth, salary growth and career satisfaction. In fact, a longitudinal study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology not only confirmed the connection between networking and career success, but demonstrated that networking is related to accelerated growth in career success.
Networking helps you improve skills, stay on top of industry trends, meet prospective mentors, identify trusted vendors, connect with potential customers and develop critical support for your career journey. It also provides opportunities to support others, perhaps raising your profile and increasing feelings of contribution and satisfaction.
Make it personal
“People want connection at this time,” Hoberman says. “Networking is the answer because it’s all about building relationships, and that doesn’t change whether you are online or in person.
The biggest networking mistake she sees is people immediately trying to sell. Instead, Hoberman advises, keep the spotlight on the other person and show genuine interest in them. “One of the most effective ways to connect is to simply ask people about themselves,” she says. She suggests replacing the worn out, ‘How are you?’ with more engaging openings such as, ‘What has changed for you in light of the current crisis? What are you most excited about right now? What is something interesting you have experienced this week?’
Once engaged in interesting conversation focused on them, most people will also ask about you or take the conversation in interesting new directions likely to reveal mutual interests.

Real life happens online
Large gatherings may not be on the horizon but connection still is. Everyone has to get comfortable with the virtual world,” Hoberman advises. “There are some small differences in the mechanics, but what you’re trying to achieve is the same. If you met me for the first time in person, you might invite me for coffee. So, invite me to a virtual coffee.”
Hoberman encourages networkers to get comfortable on camera. “It can actually feel more personal to connect over Zoom when you can see people at home,” she observes. “People like seeing where you come from, your artwork in the background and your dog running through.” Hoberman recalls a 12-session women’s leadership panel she hosted where the participants looked forward each week to a welcoming wave from one woman’s young child.
Nurture first, then expand
You can expand your network by identifying who you want to connect with, such as colleagues in a specific part of the Food Industry, within a certain association, particular thought leaders or speakers. Starting with fellow WFF members gives you an immediate foot in the door.
Build on your first connections, then rekindle old connections and finally progress to reaching out to new people. If you ask for help in expanding your connections, be specific. “If you tell me exactly who you want to meet, I will try to support you in that,” Hoberman says. “You have to ask for what you want.”
That might mean seeking a contact with expertise in a specific area where you need input on a project. Or an introduction to a trusted vendor. Or a lead to top people for a position you need to fill. Reserve job search requests for those you already know well.
See the benefits
Everyone is anxious to connect in person again. But the virtual world has plusses too. With zero travel, you can network more or find an extra hour to exercise. You can also conduct short meet-ups for 10-15 minutes that work online but might feel awkward in person. And, the whole world is open to you now to connect with people who live anywhere.
As you embrace new ways of working and connecting, you will likely become less change-resistant and more change-excited.   

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