It’s not easy being a graduate student in 2020. On top of all the stresses and pressures of pursuing an advanced degree, the ongoing pandemic has brought worsened physical and mental health, life disruptions and a devastated economy. Many graduate students understandably fear for their career and employment prospects. With this new reality in mind, they must use the tools and strategies at their disposal to prepare for an uncertain future. Building a network is an integral part of any successful career journey, and this remains especially true during the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, the idea of networking could elicit negative emotions in graduate students, from feelings of anxiety to sliminess. Despite these emotions and certain preconceptions that some feel toward networking, it is vital to any professional’s career. The pandemic has upended and disrupted traditional in-person networking practices and events such as informational interviews, job shadows and career fairs. Even if you’re legally allowed to meet up with friends, colleagues, or new people in your physical location, many people simply aren’t comfortable meeting in person at this time. Thus, networking has shifted primarily online, which leaves us with a significant question: can you network effectively during a pandemic? The answer is yes!
There’s no good excuse not to have a functional LinkedIn profile
In our new virtual world, LinkedIn is more important than ever before and can be crucial to networking during the pandemic. It is much more than a social media platform. LinkedIn can be your online resume, a job search tool, a list of contacts and a platform for sparking new connections. It also allows you and others to find and learn more about each other online more quickly. Think of it as the backbone of your online professional network. You can connect with your colleagues, friends, supervisors, mentors and many others.
One of the best ways to utilize LinkedIn comes from connecting with alumni from your program. Alumni who are currently in the workforce can be valuable resources for learning more about industries of interest. When you reach out to connect with someone on LinkedIn, make sure to use the space provided to add a message. Most students just hit “connect” and put very little thought or effort into introducing themselves and the reason for connecting. If you were to add a message with your request to connect, the individual’s probability of connecting with you would increase tremendously. After connecting, make sure to follow-up and engage in further conversation.
Get one-on-one face time
Real networking and authentic connections happen when two people have a conversation and learn from each other. If you want to have a video meeting with someone you haven’t met in person before, make sure to send them a message to introduce yourself. Provide context for why you are reaching out to them, and give them the option to get back to you with potential meeting dates and times that work with their schedule. You could also write that you understand if they cannot meet with you in the immediate future for whatever reason. If this happens to be the case, make sure to keep the door open for a future meeting by offering to follow up. If they agree to meet with you at a particular date and time, as the inviter, make sure you complete the task of setting up the meeting and sending a virtual invitation with a meeting link.
Online tools such as Google Meet and Zoom make it easy to connect with almost anyone virtually, even if they live on the other side of the country. However, a few more things are essential to keep in mind when meeting. A poor internet connection, various distractions (visual, audio, etc.), and an unprofessional environment can detract from one-on-one interactions. The same rules of preparation for in-person meetings also apply to online ones. Make sure to do your research and prepare good questions to ask. Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to or could find out on your own. Prepare to talk about yourself. Practice an elevator pitch in advance. Remember: the goal is to learn while developing a meaningful connection. Networking is about giving. Have a message ready about an important development in your field. You know things! Be prepared to offer your assistance, if warranted. These approaches help take away the slimy feeling of networking. Finally, remember to be appreciative if someone is willing to share their time with you. Send a follow-up and make sure they know that their time was appreciated and valued by you.
Career fairs, speaker series, panels and conferences
As the professional world transitions into virtual spaces, geography becomes less of a barrier for impactful networking events. Many events are now free or affordable and active on virtual platforms. One can attend an event incredibly quickly by opening up a computer and putting on appropriate clothing. Despite this, it is vital to take an “easy to attend” event seriously and make the most of every opportunity. Showing up ready, eager, and keeping yourself accountable is incredibly essential.
Professional and industry associations are another great avenue for networking with people in specific fields. Many of the associations’ national conferences, events and meetings are now online and accessible. Many of these organizations are doing more to connect with their membership using LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Checking these spaces will give you a never-ending list of activities to take part in and connect with professionals, and they are usually looking for new members.