Maybe you were never comfortable networking at the office or striking up a conversation over a boxed lunch at a convention, but after half a year of working inside your own four walls, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to meet new people?

Pandemic or no, for people who want to accelerate learning about new subjects, strengthen career prospects or meet social goals, “networking is at the heart of finding opportunities and exploring them,” according to Miranda Kalinowski, head of global recruiting for Facebook. Fortunately, while team meetings and industry conventions have moved online, the new normal has opened as many doors as it has closed.

Connections can and should come from every facet of your life, including your civic, school and social groups, Kalinowski said. They can also be discovered in new settings, perhaps on the neighborhood walks you take to break up the work-from-home day. People you reach out to maybe more open to connecting now, Kalinowski said, because they are no longer commuting or taking
business trips, and have more time to talk.

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Kalinowski said you could also diversify your network by aiming for more “cognitive friction” — connecting with people who have different ways of approaching problems and getting things done or have different priorities or values.

Go beyond geography

The pandemic has leveled the playing field in some ways, said Tiana S Clark, who has worked as an Air Force intelligence analyst, public school teacher and now in Chicago as a sales director for Microsoft. People aren’t bound by location, personal obligations or financial circumstance that had prevented them from being able to attend conferences or join after-work events.

Networking from home can even offer higher-quality interactions, she said, because “you are reaching out to someone intentionally, someone you’ve done a little research on in advance, not just striking up a conversation with whoever you run into at a conference.”

There are a plethora of professional and interest-based organisations online to join. LinkedIn suggests groups and newsletters that might be of interest based on your profile. Many colleges have local alumni clubs now holding online meetups and lectures.

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“Research some options, try one out and see if it’s helpful,” Kalinowski said. If it’s not, try another.

Introductions

The easiest and best way to meet someone is for a mutual connection to give you a warm introduction and highlight what you have in common. If you do need to reach out to someone you’ve never met, Kalinowski recommends engaging that person through some content, like a blog post that he or she has written, to start a conversation, rather than showing up with a request.

When you do ask for something, for example information about a person’s job or industry, do some research on the topic and ask for the person’s opinion on what you’ve learnt, rather than asking them to explain it all to you. “Don’t make them do the heavy lift,” Kalinowski said. And, of course, don’t ask for information that is readily available on the internet.

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The way you present yourself can make the difference between receiving a response and being ignored, Clark said, so when she reaches out to someone new, she sends along what she calls a “brand narrative,” a one-slide summary of who she is, her background, her personal attributes and her proudest achievements. It’s a quicker and more holistic view than a résumé that focuses mainly on career, she said.

Go ahead now

Perhaps, you can start with a goal of reaching out to one new person each week, even if you feel satisfied with your existing contacts. In fact, the time to invest in your network is when you least need it, so by the time you do require assistance, you have created a strong support system.

“It’s like building up your credit score so when you need a loan, you’ll be able to get one,” Waninger said.

Even those who are well-established in their fields should take stock. Networks can grow stale, Kalinowski said, and a “fresh take” can be invigorating.

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