Pre-pandemic, the world ‘networking’ brought to mind days-long conferences and after-work mixers. In the past few years, the shape of networking has changed dramatically, but its importance has remained the same.
31% of people report finding their next job through networking. It facilitates an exchange of ideas, connects you with mentors, and can boost your professional and social confidence. In a time when people feel more isolated from one another, networking can also represent a chance to form meaningful connections in a lonelier-than-usual world.
That being said, networking while working from home necessitates a different mindset than networking out in the real world. You can’t merely swing by a networking event like you may have in the past; today’s networking requires you to become a Zoom expert, join online interest groups, and get comfortable with cold outreach.
It can be hard to know where to begin. Here are some tactical tips to help you get started.
Become a Zoom Expert
Regardless of the state of the pandemic, video conferencing in its many forms is here to stay. The best thing you can do is embrace change in this regard, and develop ways to not only endure but gain value from the many virtual events available to you.
Invest In Your Setup, and Yourself
Many of us don’t miss getting dressed up for work, but there is something to be said for showing up at your best.
It’s less about dressing for the job you want, and more about dressing for the attitude you want. So as difficult as it may be, ditch the pajamas in favor of something more professional. It may feel silly at first, but seeing yourself on camera in that button-down will boost your confidence, and may be just what you need to break out of your networking comfort zone.
In an article for The Ladders, writer Sharon Green surveyed a group of stylists and psychologists about the importance of “getting ready,” even if you aren’t planning on leaving the house. Here’s what they had to say:
“It’s very easy to get caught in the work-from-bed vortex when you first wake up, reach for your phone and start firing off emails. Before you know it, it’s 11 am, and you haven’t left your bed. Failing to get out of bed and adequately preparing yourself for the day ahead can leave you feeling just as disheveled as you look.”
In the article, two core reasons for investing in your clothing choices emerged: getting dressed has a positive impact on your self-perception and it signals a shift in your day, that you’re about to enter “work” or, more specifically for us, “networking” mode. Variety’s important, even if you can’t physically move around a lot–so make sure that your work days, whether you’re planning on networking or not, don’t feel like a blur.
In the same vein, it’s worth it to invest in your desk setup. If at all possible, set up an area of your house for work and professional events, and have that area be separate from where you hang out and unwind.
Make sure you have a good quality camera, adequate lighting, and clear audio, and that the background behind you is neat.
First impressions do count, after all, even from thousands of miles away.
Always Have a Goal in Mind
Without a goal in mind, it’s difficult to know which events to attend, what to pay attention to at those events, and how to conduct targeted outreach. Understand yourself and what you want to gain out of networking.
In an On Deck Fellowship, fellows have dozens of opportunities throughout their fellowship to attend fireside chats, workshops and get involved with Mastermind groups. Often, the problem is less “how to find an event to attend,” and closer to, “how do I know which one to invest my time in?”
This is true in On Deck, but it’s also true outside of it.
The number one piece of advice that On Deck alum give prospective fellows? Create some high-level goals before you even start your program (or your remote networking journey).
It’ll help you narrow down which events to RSVP yes to.
Here are some examples of potential goals to get you started:
- Do you want to find a mentor by the end of the year?
- Do you want to find a co-founder?
- Learn more about a new software or programming language?
- Meet people in your area?
- Make connections with three other women in your industry?
Knowing what your goals are allows you to narrow your focus when you are identifying online networking opportunities, and optimize your time in them. Setting goals also helps you better set boundaries and budget your efforts to make sure you’re only investing your valuable time and energy into those conversations and endeavors that bring you closer to where you want to end up.
Attend Online Networking Events
On Deck is filled with opportunities to network, but what if you’re not a fellow? How do you separate the signal from the noise? After you have a few goals in mind, you still may be overwhelmed by everything that’s available.
The internet is chock-full of online networking events for every profession and interest group imaginable. An Eventbrite search yields over fifty pages of virtual networking events — and that’s just today. From Climate Startup Pitch Contests to Farmer Social Nights, there is no lack of programming with which to fill your calendar.
Nonetheless, many of us already spend most of our days on video conferences in front of a computer screen. Before you start RSVPing to events, remember that each one is a time commitment! Make sure you’re making choices that will be right for you.
Another helpful tip? Check to see who else is attending an event before signing up. Jared Kleinert, co-founder and CEO of Offsite and author of books like Networking: How to Meet Influential People, Deepen Relationships, and Become a Super-Connector, calls this the “snowball strategy”:
This is where the "snowball strategy", as I call it, can help you find the right events to attend (either in-person or online) and leverage one great event to meet dozens of amazing people.
Rather than seek out events for their content, I look for events where a "super-connector" I trust and admire is hosting or participating in the event.
A super-connector is someone who is well-regarded and well-connected, and therefore, once you build trust and intimacy with the first “super-connector” in an industry or community, that person will guide you to other meaningful interactions with like-minded individuals, thus starting a snowball of connections that can provide you with access to entire industries, markets, and career paths.
Here are a few more ideas for making the most of online networking events.
Look Out For Breakout Rooms
The term ‘networking’ can be vague and lend itself to a variety of events, some more conducive to making connections than others. With such a broad realm of activities that can be considered networking, it can be difficult to narrow your scope and identify the ones that will bring you the greatest return on your time.
We’ve all experienced poorly run virtual events where most of the attendees have their cameras off and the host asks questions that are met with complete silence.
If a networking event lists break out rooms on its agenda, take that as a good sign.
Break out rooms allow you to connect directly with a small group of people and make more intimate connections. They are great if you tend to zone out or multitask in large groups, and can also be ideal for those who find it more difficult to contribute or speak up in large Zoom rooms.
To make the best use of break out rooms, come prepared with a story to tell about yourself. This story should be delivered in a minute or less, and tell others who you are, where you are in your career, and where you’re headed. If you tell your story efficiently, others will be empowered to tell theirs, and you’ll be able to best identify common ground to form a relationship upon.
Remember, Be a Good Listener
Here’s what not to do if you want to establish connections in a virtual event: keep your camera off, keep yourself on mute, multitask, only ask yes or no questions, and only talk about yourself.
By practicing active listening and being attentive, you will get more out of whatever virtual event you are attending — whether it's a formal meeting or a casual happy hour.
Being a good listener is easier said than done, but the secret to staying engaged on a Zoom call is, well, staying engaged. Try using a notebook to jot down notes and potential open-ended questions to ask. You can always return to your notes later, but you don’t have to. The goal is to use note taking as a tool to stay focused on the conversation at hand, and maximize your participation.
Remote networking requires a level of preparation that showing up to a casual networking mixer does not. Look up the speakers or event facilitators as well as the organization that’s hosting the virtual event. If there’s an agenda, look at it in advance and begin to think about questions you can ask, and how your areas of interest connect to the subject matter.
Staying attentive and making sure you’ve done your research are the best ways to set yourself up for success when you attend Zoom events.
Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Early
If you’ve been at an event for 15, 20 minutes, and you don’t feel like you’re getting much out of it–don’t be afraid to click “leave meeting.” Time is your most valuable resource! Sometimes it’s better to conserve your energy, rather than force yourself through an event that you’re not getting much from.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Did you hit it off with someone in your break out room? Did you appreciate how deftly your event host moderated the conversation? Throughout your virtual event, jot down notes on things you could follow up with other attendees on, and follow through on those intentions.
A thank you email to an event host or organizer is always appreciated. If you want to reach out to another attendee, the best practice is to refer to something that they said during the call, and ask a question to further the conversation.
We’ll dive deeper into how to conduct cold outreach later, but for now, here are a few examples:
Hey there! I was at the virtual networking event yesterday and I thought your comment on the future of cryptocurrency was thoughtful and original. I just read this article and thought I’d share it with you — I’m curious what you think about it.
It was great speaking with you yesterday. During the event, you mentioned that you admired Stripe’s product strategy. I was just wondering if you could expand on that a little bit?
Hi! We spoke yesterday at the Zoom meet-up. You mentioned you wanted to learn more about the startup scene in Buenos Aires. I subscribe to a great Substack about LatAm tech–I thought you might be interested in it. Excited to hear what you think!
Keep Notes (or a CRM!)
Let’s say you attend a wonderful, engaging networking event and reach out to someone on LinkedIn afterwards. A few weeks later, they reach back out and ask you if you want to get a coffee and talk shop. The trouble is, you’ve attended half a dozen networking events since your initial outreach, and you’re struggling to remember what drew you to reach out to this person in the first place.
This is where keeping notes comes in. You can use the notebook you used in order to better pay attention during events, or another system altogether. Tools like Google Sheets, Notion, AirTable, or even more specialized apps like Clay are easy to turn into a personal CRM where you can keep track of who you’ve met, where and when you met them, their job title and employer, and what your commonalities are. Spend a little time every few months refreshing this spreadsheet to ensure it's up to date.
You can also tailor your notes into unique outreach that will set you apart from the pack. For example, post your three main takeaways from the event, or advice someone shared, on Twitter and tag the speakers and attendees. Or collate your notes into a blog post and share it with the event hosts — more often than not, they’ll be open to sharing it with other attendees or colleagues.
Your notes also help you report back on the efficacy of an event. Did you successfully apply the tactics you learned in a virtual event to negotiate a raise, or grow your customer base as a freelancer? Document your results and report them back to the event hosts. Not only will they appreciate the opportunity to gather testimonials or case studies, but you may even find yourself invited back as a panelist yourself.
Not to mention, if you find yourself on the job hunt or starting a new venture down the line, your notes will be a great place to start in order to make your cold outreach a little less cold.
Refresh and Recharge
You can’t properly attend to discussions if you’re exhausted or strained. To make sure that virtual networking doesn’t begin to feel like its own part-time job, make sure to take plenty of time away from your computer, and set reasonable boundaries, like putting your phone away after dinner or capping your after-work Zooms to three hours per week. Find what works for you and stick with it.
And if virtual events aren’t for you, see what you can gain from online communities.
Join Online Communities
“When Covid-19 made it necessary to switch to remote, I got stuck in a small French village for over two years. I joke that I felt exiled, like Napoleon.
But eventually, I started meeting and building my network in Europe online, with the help of On Deck. The productivity gains were magical: I remember one day I spoke with 10 people each from a different country.” - Ash Ravikumar, OD50/ODBD alum and Entrepreneurship Development Officer at CERN
Now more than ever, you can jumpstart your career, meet new people, and uncover exciting opportunities through online communities. Unlike communities in real life, you are not limited by geography or time zone. Joining an online community is a great way to expose yourself to new people and ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to in your immediate surroundings.
Jared Kleinert had this to say about the importance of online communities, “This type of "one-to-many" networking allows you to meet lots of new people at once, prioritize and follow-up on the most valuable connections you are making, and easily stay in touch with your growing network.”
The internet is rife with advice on how to grow your network on different social platform communities like Facebook, Reddit, TikTok, and more, but not all advice is created equal. The important thing is to find the platform you enjoy most and start small with sustainable, productive actions.
What are your favorite online community platforms? Here are key strategies for Slack and LinkedIn.
Find a Professional Slack Group
Over ten million people across the world use Slack every day, and they don’t just use it for their day job. There are thousands of active Slack groups built with different industries and demographics in mind.
Whatever you’re looking for — from women in STEM to amateur woodworkers of the pacific northwest — you can find a Slack group if you do some online digging.
So you’ve joined a Slack group, what’s next? Most groups will have a channel for new members. Introduce yourself with your name and some fun facts and engage with people who respond.
Then, go through your Slack workspace’s directory of channels and find the ones that interest you. Join them and look at some recent posts. Does anything pique your interest? Make a point of interacting with other people’s posts, either through a comment, an emoji response, or a direct message to the poster.
As you continue to check in regularly, fellow users will begin to recognize your name, and you’ll establish rapport and trust just by showing up and engaging in small ways. Over time, these small social interactions will build on one another and you’ll find yourself with a community of people you can both support and receive support from.
At On Deck, every fellowship has its own Slack server, and from there, every Slack server has a multitude of channels where you can do everything from ask questions to connect with other dog owners in the On Deck community.
Our Slack communities are what enable people across the world to connect with one another, there’s real power in asynchronous communication:
“Even after I connected with people over social media, I still continue to communicate with other On Deck fellows in my cohort and previous cohorts on our Slack group. I know you’re probably thinking, “Oh no, not another Slack group”. This one is special. It's an incredibly active and engaged online community where past and present fellows are constantly helping each other. People form close connections on Slack. This is not a community where people only post random messages in public channels.”
Read more about this fellow’s experience here.
Not only is the fluid nature of online communication a great way to get to know people, it can also create serendipity. After all, you never know who’s reading your posts. For Amy Yin, posting a message on Slack led to her startup’s first angel investor:
“Sharing the news of the progress that OfficeTogether was making in the On Deck Founders Slack channel, Amy inadvertently attracted her first angel investor. She wasn’t raising but was in the process of prepping her deck. He reached out and wrote Amy’s first check within 24 hours of meeting her.”
Read more about how On Deck helped Amy Yin launch her startup, OfficeTogether, here.
Engage on LinkedIn
The best advice for networking on LinkedIn is to start with your immediate network and build out.
Connect with your friends, family, and colleagues, and start engaging with their content.
Need some advice on your job search? Want to celebrate a professional or personal win? Level up your engagement by sharing your own insights and stories, either by posting or by commenting on your connections’ posts. Remember to stand out from the crowd when posting about job announcements in particular and limit the use of generic words to pull your reader’s interest as they scroll past many similar posts in a day. To extend your reach beyond your immediate connections, try to include relevant hashtags in your content.
If one exists, consider joining your alma mater’s alumni LinkedIn community. Joining an alumni group assumes that you would be open to referring fellow alums for open positions, and that they would do the same for you. Employers will also conduct targeted outreach to these groups, offering you unique opportunities before they’re available to the general public.
Go one step further in your LinkedIn strategy by reaching out to people you’ve lost touch with. Are they doing work you admire? Are they living in your city? Consider connecting with them and engaging in small ways, like congratulating them on job milestones.
For those you admire professionally, make a habit of checking in consistently to see what they are working on. For example, you can set yourself a reminder every three to six months to message that old friend who is now an executive at your dream company and congratulate them on a work achievement, or wish them a happy birthday.
Conducting consistent communication in a genuine manner is the key to long term networking gains.
“Consistent, thoughtful communication drives momentum in your job search. As a recruiter it always helps to see when job applicants are active on LinkedIn as this provides social proof and credibility. It also helps to see how thoughtfully they engage and reach out to me about job postings. When executed well, Linkedin engagement and outreach helps candidates stand out in an applicant pool.” Neha Khurram, Career Coach & Talent Consultant at On Deck
Get Comfortable with Cold Outreach
Were you impressed by a virtual panel participant’s career path? Did a friend-of-a-friend on LinkedIn post about a topic you’re also geeking out about? Cold outreach can feel awkward, but when done well, it can be a highly impactful way to form connections.
So how do you conduct effective cold outreach?
The goal of networking is to build real relationships, not network for networking’s sake. Only establish a connection if you have a genuine interest in that person or what they do, and truly want to further a relationship with them.
If you trust your gut and come from a place of curiosity and excitement, people will be able to sense that, and will be more open to connecting with you.
While it’s easy to send out one hundred copy-and-pasted messages to interesting people in your industry, it will be impossible to maintain a true conversation over time with each and every one of them.
Instead of casting a wide net, start with one to three people you are most interested in connecting with, and craft personalized outreach for each one. This outreach should be short and sweet.
On Deck’s VP of Expansion, Erika Batista, has some practical tips for cold outreach.
She says you should break it down into three core paragraphs:
The first paragraph should outline what you’re asking ( “I’m in your city for the week and would love to connect and meet for coffee.”), the second paragraph should go into why you’re reaching out (“I enjoyed chatting with you during the network event on Thursday and would appreciate the opportunity to pick your brain about your time in the B2B software space.”), and the third paragraph should be a straightforward call to action (“Does Wednesday at 3 PM work for you? Looking forward to hearing from you.”).
Ensure your outreach is proofread, well-formatted, and concise. It should be written the same way you speak: not overly formal or overly casual.
In the introduction of your message, explain why you’re reaching out to the person in question: call out something specific that person has said or written about online, and mention a commonality that you share, like attending the same university or working in the same field. Name drop or reference shared connections where you can.
Your call to action should be immediately clear: make sure that your email asks for one thing and only one thing so that your recipient immediately knows how to respond.
Here are some examples to help you get started:
Hi Jaime, my name is Pat Smith and I work at HealthTime Solutions. I attended your talk yesterday for professionals in the wellness field and the way you approached the topics of mental health and work-life balance truly resonated with me. If you have the bandwidth, As someone who is just breaking into the field, it would be wonderful to meet with you and learn more about your experience in the industry. Thank you for your time and looking forward to hearing from you. Cheers, Pat
Using these best practices will help ensure your outreach is as efficient and effective as it can be.
Networking is not only about making connections for yourself, but about serving as a connector and as a high-value contact for your current network. Have a friend who is an ace climate technology consultant, and then meet someone who is looking for advice on their own green endeavor? Consider connecting the two. Check in with each party to ensure they’re interested in meeting one another, and then start an email thread to introduce them.
Showing generosity and serving as a connector helps you build trust with your network, and accumulate goodwill in case you ever need an introduction yourself.
You Can Network From Anywhere
The idea that you can connect with anyone in the world at any time should be exciting, not intimidating.
If you hone your Zoom skills, join virtual communities, and nail down your cold outreach strategy, you’ll find yourself privy to new conversations, ideas, and opportunities that you may not have had access to within the constraints of in-person networking.
Armed with the strategies laid out in this piece, you can best position yourself to build a powerful, lasting network from the comfort of your own home.