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How to network in a remote world

At a glance

  • Remote networking relies on a certain skill set to nurture online relationships and grow your network.
  • Try setting aside time each month to strengthen your relationships and join select networks and groups (like an alumni association) to expand your inner circle.
  • Even though many of today’s connections happen remotely, practicing common courtesy is still important. Be sure to maintain a professional presence online, avoiding contentious posts and offensive language.
  • University of Phoenix supports its students and alumni in their career goals. Learn more about our Career Services for Life® commitment, which includes complimentary career advisement and numerous resources.

New workplace = new norms

These days, remote work is commonplace, and your strategies for career growth and success have to take this new reality into account. How? Through digital networking.

Leveraging existing relationships and making new connections are two vital ways to expand your network, but doing so virtually can sometimes require a little creativity. Let’s explore what it takes to bring your networking game online, along with common dos and don’ts for happy (and productive!) remote relationships.


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How to engage your existing network

The transition to remote work didn’t necessarily happen overnight, although the COVID-19 pandemic certainly sped things up. Today, as employees find themselves working online, they have to figure out how to network virtually.  

Invest in developing the relationships you already have

Having contacts is one thing. Having contacts who would go to bat for you is another. One way to turn acquaintances into team players is through meaningful and authentic connections.

Try setting aside time weekly or monthly to nurture and deepen relationships with colleagues, classmates and mentors. You can do this through thoughtful conversations in which you express genuine interest in their lives, well-being and achievements as well as share your own struggles and triumphs.

The modality you use depends on how you currently keep in touch. Maybe it’s through a virtual classroom or office. Try creating a standing check-in if you’re co-workers, or consider emailing or messaging outside of class if you attend school together. You want to do so frequently enough to stay in touch but not so often that communication becomes a burden. Once a month is usually ideal.

And don’t be afraid to shake things up! If you need to break out of business as usual, try suggesting a virtual happy hour to get to know your colleagues or classmates better.

Seek referrals and recommendations

If you want to apply for a new job and need a letter of recommendation, or if you want a new job but don’t see anything on the job boards, or if you just want to connect with someone outside your network, you need a referral or recommendation.

Reach out to your contacts to see if they know anyone who can help. Be clear about your goals and the type of opportunity you’re seeking, so your contacts can provide targeted support.

For example, you might reach out to ask a former co-worker to serve as a reference while you’re applying for a new job. Or, if you’re just starting to explore what job opportunities are out there, you might reach out to five or so people you know on LinkedIn who work at companies where you could see yourself on staff.

The idea is to know what you want and communicate that to your network to see how they might be able to help bridge the network gap.

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How to expand your virtual network

When it comes to making friends — or at least professional contacts — online, a certain adage still applies: the more the merrier.

Join alumni networks and professional groups

Alumni groups and professional organizations are two excellent options for individuals interested in meeting more like-minded professionals.

Ideally, you’ll find others who share similar backgrounds or career paths. If you’re exploring professional groups, do your research first to find one that fits your expertise and goals so that you can confidently engage in discussionsbuild rapport and share your knowledge in order to create intentional connections.

LinkedIn has groups that are organized by career, expertise, software, location and more. That translates to countless opportunities to join online communities where you’ll be an asset. Most likely, you already know someone in one of these groups or have a friend who can join with you!

Alumni groups, meanwhile, have a built-in commonality among members: the alma mater. But in contrast to groups organized by profession, alumni groups can open up a breadth of careers and industries that wouldn’t normally be available to you. This not only helps you build a more robust network, but it can also help grow your awareness of other opportunities or even careers.

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Embrace mentorship opportunities

You no longer have to travel to conferences to reap benefits of continued learning. Virtual events, including industry-specific conferences, webinars and online meetups, offer ample opportunity to stay up to date on trends and news.

Make sure you build a certain number of these into your schedule. Attending something every quarter or two, for example, is a good way to stay current and connect with new people.

In our increasingly remote world, mentorship has also adapted to remote formats, presenting unique opportunities for building a supportive network. Seek virtual mentorship through platforms like MentorCruise, where experienced professionals offer guidance and advice remotely. 

Remote mentorship eliminates geographical constraints and opens up possibilities to learn from leaders who represent diverse backgrounds and industries. Before you commit to such a relationship, however, get clear about your goals and expectations for the relationship. Are you looking for career advice? Management guidance? Access to new opportunities?

Understanding what you want can help you make the right connection.

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The dos and don’ts of virtual networking

Networking has significantly transformed with the rise of a remote landscape, leading to the evolution of etiquette and protocols. While core values of courtesy and respect remain essential, the virtual landscape has introduced a whole new set of norms. Follow these dos and don’ts to maximize your networking.

Dos

Mind your online presence

Mindful networking in the virtual age means being mindful of how you come across to others. Generally speaking, you should maintain a positive and professional demeanor across all platforms, as your reputation can have a significant impact on potential connections.

What does that look like online? A general rule of thumb I use is to look at a post or comment through the lens of your potential boss or a potential date. Are you saying anything that would turn off a potential boss or potential life partner? If so, clean it up or set the post to private.

Engage in mutual support

Networking is a two-way street. If you receive support and insight, be ready to offer the same when your connections need it. It is the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, and it also benefits you: Participating in a supportive professional community enhances everyone’s professional experience and opportunity.

I’ve also found that those who have needed help from their network at some point in their career are likely to be more generous with those who need help. So, if you’re worried about feeling needy or asking too much from your networking connections, remember that you can always return the favor or pay it forward.

Customize your outreach

Tailor every message to your recipient. If you’re looking to connect, highlight shared interests or connections. If you’re requesting a reference or recommendation, specify why that person is qualified to offer it. Tailoring your outreach demonstrates that you value each connection’s unique professional qualities and interests.

Additionally, be prompt with responses and open about your expectations. You want people to feel good when they see your name in their feed or inbox.

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Don’ts

Spam connections

Avoid sending mass messages or spamming others with irrelevant content or requests. Wasting someone’s time sets you on course to be ignored, resented or blocked.

Neglect thank-yous and follow-ups

Failing to follow up after an initial interaction can diminish the impact of your networking efforts. Instead, make sure you always thank others for their time and assistance, whether it’s after a virtual coffee chat or receiving guidance from a mentor. Showing appreciation creates a positive impression and encourages ongoing support. Everyone loves being appreciated!

Also, be consistent about proactively following up after networking interactions. In addition to expressing your appreciation, you can reaffirm your interest in staying connected. This helps solidify in the mind of your new connection how interested and committed you are. Plus, it polishes the good impression you’ve already made.  

Finding the balance between authenticity and convenience

While improved technology and multiple platforms have yielded fast and reliable access to people across the globe, they have also opened a Pandora’s box of superficial and spammy ways of networking. As a result, it’s more important than ever to be mindful about how you network.

Take advantage of the opportunities to expand your circle but take care to nurture the relationships you have and continue to make. By practicing authenticity and intentionality with your network, you’ll create lasting and fruitful relationships, even if you never meet IRL.

Career resources at University of Phoenix

Networking is an important part of the career journey, but it’s not the only part. Explore a variety of career resources at University of Phoenix (UOPX), including:

  • Career Services for Life: Available to UOPX students and graduates, this offering provides complimentary career coaching, including help with looking for a job, building a personal brand and writing a resumé.
  • Free career resources: Explore a range of downloadable guides and templates to help you optimize your LinkedIn® profile, write a cover letter and get ready for a job interview.
  • The Career With Confidence™ newsletter: Get career insights every week via UOPX’s LinkedIn newsletter.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kara Dennison is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), an executive career and leadership coach and a Forbes contributor. She’s the CEO of Optimized Career Solutions. Her dream job is helping high achievers and leaders live authentic lives, starting with their careers. When she’s not writing for University of Phoenix or coaching high achievers and leaders, you can find her hanging out with her husband and two black cats or swinging in the hammock out back in her small, remote town in Tennessee.

 

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