At-Home Networking Strategies
Stephanie K. Eberle suggests seven actions you can take to stay market ready while in the safety of your own home
With growing anxiety and isolation spreading across the globe, COVID-19 affects all aspects of our lives. The job market is no exception. While networking remains the top way to find and secure your career of choice, it’s typically practiced in person. As we begin rethinking our day-to-day work, the way we find new work deserves another look, too. The plan below outlines actions to take over the next month to keep you market ready while in the safety of your own home.
Identify current connections. Whether or not you realize it, you already have connections. Your mentors, advisers, roommates, friends, parents, classmates, Zumba instructor -- they all could have connections who may help you find your next position.
Action 1: Start today by reaching out to your strongest allies. Let them know you are on the job market and ask them to introduce you to at least one of their connections in your preferred career of choice.
Updating your brand. What do your LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms say about you? It’s time to find out. This imperative step determines which recruiters and hiring managers actively seek you out, and it increases the likelihood that they will respond when you contact them. Try to accomplish both of the actions below within the next week.
Action 2: Ask a friend to type your name into Google to see what comes up. (Note: they need to clear their cache first.) Then ask for feedback on your various social media platforms. What details and themes exist about you in cyberspace? Do they reinforce your desired brand?
Action 3: Now, update your brand with the content you want out there. Add keywords, photos/videos, professional experiences and publications to what currently appears about you on social media. Add other professional media outlets, where possible, including those listed above and, perhaps, your own webpage. Be sure to ask friends and career coaches to review these materials once complete.
Consider using the recommendation feature on LinkedIn; many people underuse it out of fear of pushiness. Asking key allies, customers and colleagues to write a brief recommendation for you goes a long way toward boosting your brand and connections. In turn, write one for them as well; it can take you both minimal time for maximum benefit.
Define new connections. Many career offices still maintain their regular services online and offer videos of their workshops. Those services include assessments and coaching to help you define the potential companies and connections that best align with your interests, skills and values.
Action 4: Within the next week and a half, research the many potential connections in your desired field. With whom do you most relate and have the closest connection? Of those people, select at least 10 of them whose expertise could inform your potential career options and/or provide future job leads.
Make new connections. Even in the best of circumstances, meeting new people requires authenticity and clarity. The biggest networking mistakes involve random emails that never acknowledge mutual interests, very long emails that do not get to the point fast enough and generic ramblings with no point at all. For people with more downtime, try crafting something much more concise and meaningful.
Action 5: Over the next two weeks, reach out to the 10 people above, inviting them for a Zoom/phone conversation or coffee/lunch post-COVID. Use the following guidelines for your invitations:
- In the first sentence or two, explain what you want and why they are the ideal person to help.
- Compliment them and show a fit with your own experience. Make it clear this is not a waste of their time.
- Provide a very brief description of your background and future goals.
- Show flexibility by giving a time frame: “Do you have half an hour to discuss …?” Also provide format options: “I would like to schedule a Zoom call or perhaps send some of my questions via email, at your convenience.”
- Keep it very brief and use a compelling subject line to maximize the likelihood that the person will read the message.
Maintain connections. Staying home makes it even easier for you to do the research and outreach necessary to keep in touch with connections, old and new. In front of your TV or between Zoom calls, the following action takes almost no time and can mean a lot to those in your network.
Action 6: Throughout the next month and beyond, spend anywhere from five to 30 minutes on social media. Read, like and comment on the articles your connections post. When you see particularly relevant achievements or posts, email the person directly, telling them why those achievements or posts matter or asking them to clarify points. That starts a conversation beyond mere job-search content and shows you care.
Stay market ready. Finally, make time for strategy. Lack of time in our everyday lives severely hurts our job search. Who has time to tailor each cover letter and CV they send? Well, now you do! Whether on the job market today or in three years, it is never too early to create documents that intentionally tout your interests and brand.
Action 7: During your time at home, create application documents that speak to your specific skills and interests, showing fit with your career of choice. Myriad videos and articles exist to help with this process and, once complete, career coaches and friends provide excellent opportunities for feedback.
Undoubtedly, our job prospects and very lives feel uncertain right now. Self-isolation does not, however, mean complete detachment from humanity. Remaining intentional and active now can turn downtime into a strong network when our community convenes once again.
Stephanie K. Eberle is executive director and assistant dean of Stanford University’s BioSci Careers community, which serves PhDs, postdocs and MDs in the STEM fields; vice chair of the board of directors for the National Postdoctoral Association; and a member of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing an international voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders. They were the resident fellow of a frosh arts and humanities residence hall for 10 years and adjunct faculty at the University of San Francisco. The ideas presented here are their own.