In a time where communities are keeping their social distance and offices are closed in favor of working from home, networking looks different than it did a few months ago. People are rightfully distracted by COVID-19 and the economic challenge of our current situation. With reasonable expectations and a genuine desire to help your connections, you can continue to grow and deepen your network—even in these uncertain times.
Adjust your expectations.
Sometimes we go on networking autopilot and don’t stop to adjust our networking practices to the world we’re living in right now. Consider the present situation. Everyone in your network is flooded with information on COVID-19. They are under a tremendous amount of pressure, making hard decisions for the future of their organization and getting used to a new way of working and living, all while trying to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.
You must adjust your expectations accordingly. You can’t expect to call someone up and get an immediate response, or assume they’ll have an opportunity for you. Networking is not about hunting down job leads. This is true all the time, but especially right now. This is not the season to push your candidacy too hard or sell what you do. Rather, show concern for others, asking nothing in return. Start making sincere deposits early.
Call one of your network contacts and ask, “How are you? What is your take on the COVID situation? What challenges are you facing?” You will learn something new about this person, their company’s values, and our world. This can provide you with information to share with others in your network regarding concerns about our current situation.
Approach with sincerity and a desire to help.
People don’t want to be sold something—especially in a pandemic. When you reach out to your network, it is important that you are sincerely interested in their well-being.
Connect over topics outside of work and on a personal level. I called up a CEO friend of mine the other day. He said he was so glad to hear from me. He just wanted to talk. So many people are isolated at home, and it takes a toll on your mental health. Reaching out to those in your network can be a lifeline for them—and for you.
The best networking calls are the ones where you go in asking, “How can I help them?” Before you call, consider if there is something in your toolkit that might be useful to them. What skills do you have that may allow you to help in a unique way? Volunteer some of your time to help the people you reach out to. When things start to open up again, your contacts will remember that you took the time to have a conversation and genuinely cared about them.
For many people, getting personal with those who are part of their professional network is a step outside their comfort zone. But if you want to grow and be successful in this world, you have to push yourself. Personal conversations will eventually become comfortable, but you have to push through the discomfort first.
Let go of what you can’t control.
Looking to make a career transition in the midst of a pandemic can be frustrating. Rather than giving in to discouragement, consider what you can and can’t control, and choose to be content with doing what you can.
You can do your research to find common ground with someone in your network or learn about companies you are interested in working with, but you can’t make a job appear out of thin air. You can leave a message expressing sincere concern for a connection’s well-being, but you can’t make them call back. Do what you can to invest in and help those in your network, and be content with your efforts.
Now is the time to make deposits in your network. Once we get through this, once we see the light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll see some reciprocation. The results of your networking efforts may be deferred, but a genuine connection with your network is a more worthy investment than ever. This approach takes the right expectations, a sincere effort to help others and the belief to know that the investment you make today will pay off in the future, but you must be patient and follow the process.