How to Virtual Network as a Student
The correct answer: Now. It takes times to build a solid network and it’ll be too late if you wait until you graduate. Once you’re ready to start your job search, you should have your updated resume, cover letter, portfolio and a significant list of connections ready to go. Even when you have limited opportunities to network now due to enforced social distancing measures, that is no excuse as you can still start to make connections through virtual means.
In fact, for you introverts out there especially, it may be even easier for you to network if you have to do it online. You don’t have to worry if you’ve bad breath, something stuck in your teeth after lunch or sweaty palms if you reached in for a handshake. That doesn’t mean you can take virtual networking less seriously or strategically. This guide will highlight the most important points for each step of virtual networking.
1) How to start
The first step is the easiest step – look through all your social media accounts. Remove any traces of embarrassing posts or photos. It may be good enough to just set certain personal posts to ‘Private’, but with social media companies frequently changing their privacy policies, don’t be surprised if your settings changed without notice overnight.
Once that’s done, look at developing your LinkedIn profile. Refer to other professional profiles and look at how yours can match up to theirs. Look at the language used and copy the relevant keywords. It doesn’t bode well on you to have zero connections, so link up with people you already know offline, such as your friends, lecturers and even family members. Look for and join relevant groups on LinkedIn, whether the groups are related to your future career or simply your hobbies. Take part in the discussions to increase your knowledge and make connections along the way.
Once you’ve set up your digital presence, you may think it’s time to start adding everyone to your list. Actually, hold your horses. Take some time to understand how you should act and communicate with others.
2) Adopt proper networking etiquettes
It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make connections if you don’t have good manners to begin with. When it comes to etiquettes, the differences between networking virtually and face-to-face are slim, but it’s still worth a reminder of how to behave in a professional setting. One good tip is to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes and re-read your messages before clicking ‘Send’. Ask yourself if you don’t dare to say something to someone’s face, then don’t say it online at all.
Now that you know how to speak to someone online, do you know what to say to them?
3) Connecting with someone
When you’re ready to connect with someone you don’t know, it’s important to craft the right personalised message. The first thing someone will ask themselves when they receive a connection request is “Do I know this person?” and if they don’t, you have 300 characters available to explain your intention and convince them to not only accept your request, but also to reply and engage with you. Always be sincere, transparent and polite when reaching out to others.
Once you’ve made your connection, don’t just ignore it on your friends’ list!
4) Strengthen your network
Ultimately, it’s not about how many connections you have but how strong your network is. This means bringing the relationship beyond LinkedIn and preferably to video calls, which are practically today’s version of face-to-face meetings anyway. Look at having virtual ‘dates’ to make the setting more comfortable and less awkward. For example, order your favourite warm drink and get on a video conference to discuss your career aspirations and get advice on how to prepare for your future job search.
Other questions to keep the sparks alive
It has been a couple of months since you’ve last spoken to one of your contacts. Why not pick up the conversation again through the following questions?
Networking works better if you don’t look at it as a means to an end. It’s not about just getting a job, but a way to progress in your development throughout your career. You’ll never lose out by having a strong network, so take the time to build meaningful relationships in your professional circle. Your future self will thank you for it.