MBAs know networking is a big part of a successful job search, but it typically causes many candidates a good bit of anxiety. With networking now being conducted primarily through virtual channels, anxiousness about navigating this process is heightened.
We want to assure you that even though networking may feel different during the novel coronavirus outbreak, the basics remain the same:
- Networking is an exchange of information—the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, and engage in conversations about topics of interest.
- Effective networkers seek to build relationships versus engage in transactional conversations with contacts. Generosity and graciousness are important themes in networking.
- Candidates should prepare to maximize each networking opportunity. Research the company/contact. Know your story and how it relates to the event/person. Determine your goal before the events begin.
We encourage you to read our previous networking advice that also applies to virtual interactions: “Do You Know What Networking Is?,” “Take the Transaction Out of Networking,” “Effective Networking Openers,” “Stop Talking About Work at Networking Events,” and “Overcoming Networking Nerves.”
So, what is different about virtual networking? Mostly, it is just the logistics and the formality of interactions. Here are six tips to make the most of both small and large group virtual networking events:
- Learn about the format of the event. Will there be small or large group interactions? Are you expected to turn on your camera? Should you use the direct message/chat function during the presentation? Will there be breakout rooms? Should you dress in formal business attire?
- Commit and engage fully. Do not try to do a problem set while an employer presentation is taking place in the background. Participate in the breakout rooms and Q&A chat sessions.
- Prepare interesting questions based on the presentation content. Ask questions about things the speaker expressed knowledge on or was passionate about.
- Take notes and follow up. Use the information you gathered to personalize your proactive post-event networking outreach. Thank the speakers for participating in the event, mention something specific you found compelling, and ask for one-on-one time to discuss that particular topic in more depth.
- Speak, but avoid talking too much and interrupting others. Find the appropriate venues for engagement, and let your peers get airtime too! Make it feel like a group conversation versus an interview or several separate conversations.
- Follow virtual meeting best practices. Mute yourself to avoid background noise. Make sure your background is professional. Look into the camera when speaking, not at the image of the speaker.
Despite these tips, we want to set realistic expectations. It is uncommon to develop a deep relationship with a company representative at large virtual events. This is not surprising; in fact, it rarely happens at large in-person networking events. Instead, you need to find smaller group or one-on-one opportunities where you can connect with people who share your interests or experiences.