Growing your professional network has become more difficult than ever. Gatherings and events are called off indefinitely and there’s no certainty when we go back to normal. While many professionals have found themselves challenged by this new situation, the “new normal” is not entirely full of gloom. There are better ways to build your network and maintain connections, or even create new ones without ever going out through smart networking.

Smart networking is all about strengthening your presence in your existing professional networks and pursuing new ones. To maximize your networking, and make sure it’s a smart one, there are a few things to keep in mind during these trying times.

Understand the current space

Initiating conversations and establishing relationships with other professionals can be a challenging task. You don’t know where to start or if starting conversations with them is the right thing to do. In spite of this, it is reassuring to know that kindness and random acts of altruistic activities are celebrated all over the world.

Some people lost their jobs, and one way or another, we’ve all been affected by the pandemic, too. Adam Shaw, a health promoter and speaker, advises that people should take a clinical approach to smart networking. He highlights the importance of establishing empathy considering what you can contribute, instead of seeing it as a one-way professional feat. So don’t just contact people on LinkedIn or through email, especially those you haven’t spoken to in a while, with the intention of “establishing or maintaining a network of contacts.” Show that you care and check in with them how they are doing. 

Networking, in a nutshell, is all about nurturing relationships. And thankfully, this has been amplified by the pandemic. Use this time to say ‘hi’ to your friends, former colleagues, professionals who you want to genuinely connect with.

Take the advantage of the current advent where professionals are working from home. While it’s nothing new, there is an increase in virtual networking where it ultimately bears the same goal. It has somehow become a more authentic experience because of the home environment where a lot of natural interruptions can happen.

Authenticity is seen as an accelerator to the trust-building process that fosters openness and communication.  Networking was typically seen as a “transaction process” that’s why a lot of people avoid it. But if the intention is clear and genuine that you’re providing value and you’re worth their time, it’s expected that they will reciprocate.

Tie smart networking with a job hunting strategy

Job searching is a frustrating and exhausting activity. It becomes challenging especially when you don’t have anyone to reach out to. Smart networking is one of the most successful ways to find a new job as everyone you come across and establish meaningful relationships with can help you refer to a job or potentially get you a job you look for.

Here are key advantages of combining networking with a job hunting objective:

  1. It gives an idea of who to reach out to. With a solid clarity of where you want to work and what type of industry you want to focus as part of your job hunting strategy. You’ll also have an idea of what type of people you can ask help from. Maximize the use of technology and social media where you can find their information and how to reach them.
  1. Professionals who are good at networking are good at finding jobs because they know that smart networking is not simply focusing on sharing a CV. Beyond it, there are more steps to take to get noticed by recruiters. And these steps will require time and focus to accomplish them.
  1. It provides an insight into the skills and knowledge you lack. Smart networking allows the exchange of information and industry  insights. Oftentimes, members in your network would offer free advice about the skills you need to know to qualify for the job. You can work on the skills you need to acquire using this valuable information. At the same time, it’ll refine the job hunting strategy you have.

Define what your network looks like

At the end of the day, it’s all about quality. You don’t need a thousand connections if all of them will become dormant. Think of those potential connections you can have in your desired field, and who those specific ones would be. How can they help your career? Would they be comfortable if you ask for help from them for job leads, for example?

Put your network into these three levels:

  1. Decision-makers – They are outside of your network and usually  consist of hiring managers, recruiters, senior leaders. Those who can have potential  job leads. They are the most sought after individuals and their network is expansive.
  1. Information sources – They are still outside of your network but they don’t have work for you. However, they bring unique industry information or insights that make you a competitive talent by being more market-ready.
  1. Supporters – These are connections who are willing to provide recommendations, testimonials — anything that vouches for your professional track. These things can give you enough support and encouragement whenever you need one. This can be a friend, a former or current colleague.

There’s no right or wrong way to build a network but it would be best to still follow the maxim: quality vs quantity. Smart networking is not a numbers game. It’s all about relationship-building and finding ways to interconnect them into your personal network. And to do that, you need to have a quality list of people who can fall into different levels.

Pay it forward

Smart networking is about two-way communication so provide answers to others who are seeking answers, too. If there’s a job opening you saw, for example, don’t be selfish and share the information with others. Everyone’s struggling and a lot of people lost their jobs due to the crisis. But one way or another, if you want to build a meaningful career, help others along the way.

Gatherings or no gatherings, it is not simply what or who you know. It is how well you know each other that makes smart networking possible. Turn current relationships into stronger ones by carefully picking who you want to be part of your network. Help them however you can and forge genuine relationships.

Invest time in building quality relationships with others. With a clear intention plus a strategic approach, you can surely build and expand a powerful network that can be helpful to your career.

Related article: Facing Reality by Reinventing Your Career During COVID-19

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