By Vonnie Alexander, Founder of Vonnie Alexander Executive and Leadership Coaching
Most of us feel at least some discomfort around the need to network; to keep going to events, pressing the flesh in service of our careers or our businesses; making small talk, hoping that we will find someone whose company we enjoy and fearing that we might be the wallflower on this occasion. In this Covid year, it has mattered more than ever. The possibility of a chance encounter has all but been removed and suddenly we find ourselves realising how very important it is to be connected, as we sit behind our screens.
As I’ve been reflecting on the value of my network this past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of it was built over time, very gradually, almost unwittingly. My hypothesis is that for all the very deliberate attempts to network, real networking, or not-networking is about making simple, human connections that matter and, doing so, without an end in mind. It’s not contingent on face-to-face – it can, and should, be done remotely.
Link In intelligently
A friend told me the other day that he had had a clear out of contacts on LI and had shed some 10,000 contacts – leaving him with a much more manageable 5,000! The truth is you have to be savvy with your networking on LI. If you know someone or have recently met them, it is ok to request connect with them. Indeed, you should. If you don’t know them and want to connect then make the effort to be explicit about why. A random request from someone you don’t actually know will more than likely be ignored, and you might have missed your opportunity to make an important connection.
Be a connector
If you know people who might find common ground, introduce them. I have lost count of the introductions I have made. There is no vested interest other than knowing that you have introduced two people who might be able to help each other – it doesn’t need to be specific, it doesn’t require gratitude, or follow up, it’s just a simple invitation to two people to connect. And you can leave it there.
Stay in touch
Being in lockdown, working virtually and not being able to meet socially needn’t make us all social pariahs. We needn’t be shy or reclusive. Remember to stay in touch with people you know. You don’t need a reason, request or to be selling something. Networking is essentially one human being connecting with another on any level. It doesn’t require an agenda or a motive.
Help the job seekers you know
Especially now, it is going to be really very hard to find work and we would all wish for a helping hand. For many who have lost jobs, this is an unsettling and scary time. Write recommendations, offer help such as interview preparation, mentoring, and support. Remember always that a recommendation reflects on you too so make sure you really do know the people you are recommending.
Become more socially active
By posting, writing, commenting, applauding and joining in the discussion you give others a reason to notice and engage with you. If you have something to say, find your voice and put it out there. The worst that can happen is that no one will read it, and the best, is that someone you don’t know will find their way to you – which could lead to fruitful conversation.
As in life, it’s how you make people feel that matters
Every meeting or interaction, whether it’s in a Zoom room, a seminar, a discussion group, breakout or virtual coffee morning is an opportunity to connect. Remember, the same adage is true online as offline – people will always remember how you made them feel. And they will remember the people who made them feel good. It happened to me last week. I entered a forum with nearly 40 people I didn’t know. One person took the trouble to welcome me by name and make me feel at home. It mattered. And made a difference. It helped me settle. And was so welcome.
Virtual not-networking is simply connecting with people because you share a common interest or goal. Be curious. Be open. What can you learn about the people you meet? How might you be able to help them? It should never feel like a huge effort. Ask the first question and see where it takes you. And just maybe, over time, you will have built yourself a network that will stand the test of time and be invaluable in a crisis.