Networking has changed for everyone during the pandemic. Whether you’ve taken advantage of connecting virtually or went on prolonged hiatus from developing new relationships, here are three important considerations to revitalize your networking strategy with a clear direction forward.
What Is Your Purpose?
Get back to basics. Consider what you want to give and/or gain from developing relationships with new connections and reinvigorating existing ones. Networking without defined objectives can hold you back from making progress. Understanding your “why” is key to making an effective plan and investing your time and attention wisely to reach your goal.
- Gain more insight into an industry or functional area?
- Expand geographies of contacts?
- Meet people at a more senior level, befitting of where you are at in your career today?
- Diversify referral sources?
- Get exposed to more board directors as you pursue a board seat?
- Mentor and help the next generation?
- Lend expertise to a cause?
Once you determine your purpose, then you can assess your network for gaps and plan to fill them strategically. Clarity will enable you to evaluate and adjust your approach to be more effective.
Where Can You Find Ideal Connections?
After clarifying your purpose and identifying network gaps, think about where you can meet those with whom you’d like to connect. You may need to explore new avenues to find the right people as your networking needs evolve.
When you ask trusted contacts for introductions, be clear about who you’d like to meet (or the target profile) and why, as well as what you have to offer new connections. Look to professional associations as well as client, vendor and business development events to help meet people and develop relationships in your desired areas. Don’t overlook the power of alumni associations and affinity networks too. With renewed clarity, consider your networking habits since the pandemic started and evaluate if you need to step outside your comfort zone or drop any bad habits.
- If you’ve limited yourself to a small window of time to network and aren’t getting any traction, adjust the amount of time you spend and when/where you spend it. Conduct outreach and organize or participate in events accordingly.
- If you’re more of a wallflower at events or shy away from initiating contact with someone new, change your habits and be the one to reach out first. Build confidence by getting in touch with common connections of colleagues or those whom you know can help.
- If you consistently register for events but don’t attend, refocus on prioritizing commitments. “Just showing up is half the battle,” after all.
Adjusting your recent routine to align with your purpose can make networking efforts more successful. This then boosts motivation and interest, having a further positive impact on relationship development.
How Can You Show Empathy During This Challenging Time?
Today, networking is not only about developing mutually beneficial relationships; it’s about doing so while also navigating new norms that account for diverse preferences and health requirements. Showing empathy and acknowledging others’ needs is just as important as the information, introductions and social capital you have to offer.
- If meeting someone for coffee, ask what settings they’re comfortable with – indoor café vs. one with outdoor seating.
- When reconnecting in person, check before initiating physical contact. Not everyone is ready to shake hands, embrace a hug or swap business cards. For some, an elbow bump or wave is preferred. The best move is to ask first in warm manner with a smile (and politely communicate your preference if you have one).
- Be mindful of personal space when networking at the office, too. If a coworker routinely wears a mask in the hallway, don’t drop by for a chat in their office without your own mask. Instead ask if they’d like to meet in a more distanced or neutral place like a conference room.
Your reason for networking, who you’d like to develop relationships with and how you do so should evolve as both your career and the business landscape evolve too. This will enable you to maintain a strong network, which has a lasting positive impact on your career. It increases chances for success, whether generating business, gathering information to excel in your current role or securing a new job or board seat. Evaluate and update your networking purpose and approach — the results will be worth the effort!