Moving past networking discomfort and toward authentic connection — even virtually

Let’s be honest: networking can be uncomfortable. Many people feel uncertain striking up a conversation with strangers and don’t want to appear overeager. These concerns can be amplified when asking to connect virtually through email or LinkedIn. Yet networking remains one of the most important skills for job seekers. Some research suggests up to 80% of jobs are filled through networking.

Luckily, with a little practice and good advice, it’s possible to nurture authentic connections virtually. Here are some tips for growing your network from the W. P. Carey Career Management team.

Leverage your existing networks
When you are looking for contacts in your field of interest, search to see what you already have in common. That might mean searching for former Sun Devils, other shared institutions or contacts, professional organizations, or even majors of study. “Reaching out with a shared background makes it easier for you to start a connection,” says Toni Rhorer, director of career management, “and might give that person more of a nudge to respond.” LinkedIn is a great place to find those common connections, because you can see information about someone before reaching out.

Send a friendly and clear note
While being cordial is a given, it’s also important to remember that most corporate employees get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails or messages every day. So while being polite and professional is important, you also want to be specific. Rhorer explains, “Briefly introduce yourself and explain your interest in connecting. But then make sure you include a clear call to action. Do you want to set up a call? Do you have specific questions you want them to answer over email? Make sure they know what you’re asking for.”

Make the most of one-on-one conversations
Once someone agrees to talk with you, it is important to make the most of that meeting. You don’t want to waste a connection’s time or your own. “Make sure you go into that conversation prepared, almost like you would for a job interview,” says Rhorer. “Have questions ready that speak to that person’s unique experiences and insights. Don’t ask something you could have found on Google.” For example, you could ask how they got involved in the industry, if there’s anything they wish they would have known going in, or if they have found any training or skillset particularly useful.

“Make sure to listen,” reminds Rhorer. “Sometimes when we’re nervous, it’s normal to focus on what to say next instead of being a good listener. But remember you are meeting this person because they have important insights to share.” And, of course, thank them both in person and in a follow-up email. Tell them why you appreciated their time and don’t be afraid to send them an article or podcast down the road. Networking isn’t supposed to be a one-time meeting, but the start of a mutually beneficial professional relationship.

Learn from the experts
Remember, the W. P. Carey Career Management team is here to help you learn more about virtual networking and feel confident in your skills. Sign up to meet with a Career Coach in Handshake to get personalized advice and practice.

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