There is no denying the power of networking. It is no secret that high quality opportunities are obtained through networking. Having a strong professional network is a key that not only unlocks job opportunities, it can also guide your professional success throughout your career. Understanding the power of networking is one thing, but knowing how to do it well, and how to network during difficult times can help create opportunities when there seemingly are none. Here are a few key insights on how to network during difficult times:
The Nature of Networking
The nature of networking is often misunderstood. Many professionals are under the misguided notion that networking means “what can I get out of this relationship?” or “how can this person help my career?” However, those who truly understand the nature of networking realize it needs to be an effort to build a relationship for the purpose of sharing resources for mutual benefit. Networking is a genuine act of generosity.
So, it is important to understand how you can bring value to your networking interactions. Ask yourself, “what unique perspectives do I bring?”, “what problems can I help solve?”, “What opportunities could we pursue together?” and “what can I do for them during this challenging time?” Starting with a generous and collaborative mindset is critical.
This is even more important during difficult times. The person with whom you are seeking to build a relationship will have their own challenges; they are likely looking to solve problems, find answers, and open opportunities for themselves. Highly collaborative people tend to excel during a crisis. The Harvard Business Review recently published a report that during a crisis, highly collaborative professionals were able to grow their business and continue the upward trajectory afterward. (Gardiner and Matviak, 2020)
With the understanding that networking is a collaborative, mutually beneficial pursuit, spend some time thinking about those who might be the most worthwhile contacts for you. Remember that networking is an investment in a longer-term relationship and not just job hunting. Sometimes, difficult times and crises provide unique opportunities to reach out to new people.
When you are ready to make contact there are some key things to keep in mind:
Strategic Introduction. Even before attempting to make contact with someone, try to find out if there is someone already in your network who can provide a strategic introduction. If you are ready to make contact, start with an email, using a positive and friendly tone. State your interest in connecting and how you might assist and serve as a resource, especially if you can relate it to a specific issue. Ask for an informal conversation to explore the opportunity. Do not forget to express your thanks for their time and effort.
Prepare for your meeting. Before you meet with your potential new connection(s), do a bit of research to discover what they are passionate about, both professionally and personally. Look at the charities they support, the awards they’ve received and the projects that they are proud of. Being prepared in this way shows your sincere interest in them as an individual, not just as a contact you want to exploit.
Connecting and Beyond
Having done all of the lead-up and preparation work, what are the most important elements to good networking interactions and beyond? Here are some more considerations for effective networking during difficult times.
Networking style. Have a sense of the networking style that works for you. Are you comfortable in a one-on-one setting? Do you enjoy going to an event where you can keep it light and connect with more than one person at a time? The current pandemic has resulted in a lot of online meetings and interactions. Are you comfortable being on camera in a group call? Would you prefer a telephone conversation? Organize your meetings according to your strengths.
Ask questions and listen. Don’t try to dominate the conversation and resist the urge to launch into an immediate pitch or providing a verbal resume early in the conversation. Show genuine interest in the person and the challenges they may be facing; there will be plenty of time to discuss your strengths later in the relationship.
Share your passion. Cultivate a positive energy in the conversation by expressing your passion for your industry, your knowledge and your skills. And, ask other people to share their passions. It will create a memorable two-way conversation.
Follow-up. If you’ve clicked with a new connection, be sure to follow-up after the conversation. You can begin to make good on any action items mentioned during the meeting and you will be able to leverage your new relationship more effectively when the time comes. A follow-up email or phone call that references the conversation or specific ideas shows how much the conversation meant to you.
It is true that during the best of times, networking is an effective way to open up opportunities and advance your career. However, during difficult times, collaborative people are open to getting support from, and giving support to their networks. Don’t let a crisis lead to paralysis. It is precisely the time to seek to connect with others and take care of each other.
Gardner, Heidi and Ivan Matviak. 2020. “7 Strategies for Promoting Collaboration in a Crisis.” Available online at https://hbr.org/2020/07/7-strategies-for-promoting-collaboration-in-a-crisis