With millions of redundancies worldwide already attributed to COVID-19, and the end of government support schemes fast approaching in many countries, economists predict that before the year comes to a close, millions more around the world will find themselves unemployed.
Others have projected this number could be even higher. This will mean a large number of people seeking employment at the same time.
There are ways to help yourself stand out in a crowded jobs market, whether you’ve been made redundant or you’re feeling less secure about your future.
Working on your personal brand and making time for professional networking are a great place to begin but with the pandemic putting the stoppers on physical meetings, events, and conferences, it’s more difficult than ever to build a rapport with new connections.
Fortunately, there are a number of digital alternatives in the form of webinars, online communities and forums, social media platforms and virtual events, where individuals can meet and connect with new people, exchange ideas, as well as showcase their skills.
The starting point for many is LinkedIn, and with an estimated 700 million active users, it’s not hard to see why, but it shouldn’t be the only place you’re active.
The sheer size of LinkedIn means the chances of finding people to connect to and network with are very high. But more recent changes to the platform, including useful features from Groups being removed, an increasing number of ads in the feed, ‘won’t take no for an answer’ business development contacts and ‘spammy’ behaviors from some people, can make it feel a little impersonal and irrelevant at times.
If you’re ready to forge more meaningful connections, stand out professionally, secure a new role or simply take your career to the next level, it might be time to branch out and try additional and less obvious places for professional networking.
Professional online communities and forums
One of the most valuable things about online communities and forums is that you can find really niche groups to suit your industry, skills, region or circumstances.
This allows for some especially insightful conversations with people you’ll often end up staying in contact with for years to come.
Remember, professional networking isn’t just about trying to land your next position, it’s about sharing ideas, best practice, listening and engaging and building long-term relationships with people who may play an important role in your future career.
It’s also about building confidence and communities are fantastic for this. While there’s absolutely no shame in being made redundant or losing your job, especially during these current circumstances, it can be difficult to pick yourself back up and get back out there, but the support and encouragement of your fellow peers can work wonders.
As can a personal recommendation. If someone you speak with regularly is well acquainted with another person you’d like to get to know, or even someone is hiring for a role you’re interested in, don’t be afraid to ask for a personal introduction.
Video conferencing and virtual events for professionals
Whilst most physical events have understandably been unable to proceed in their original format, virtual alternatives have become the norm, whether that’s logging in for a full day’s itinerary of online presentations and keynote speeches, or your usual networking group hosting an informal Friday afternoon Zoom session for a catch up with your favourite drink in hand.
Virtual roundtables are also a great way to get discussions flowing with valuable contacts in your industry, if you’re looking for a more targeted conversation.
If you don’t already belong to a networking group but would like to, check your industry body or membership association for options, or have a look to see what’s available in your local area.
You may also find some specific and more informal groups, such as networking groups around a specific sector challenge, e.g. diversity or best practice in your industry sector or groups for a specific level of professional seniority, such as business or marketing leaders or freelance digital marketing specialists.
Online profiles and portfolios
How you actively engage on professional platforms online only accounts for half of your personal brand. What people discover when they come across your name online also forms part of your professional identity and this could come in the way of content, social media and online profiles.
Ensuring consistent wording, imagery and information across these platforms, as well as making sure they’re up-to-date with the right skills, experience and talent you want to showcase helps you give the best version of yourself online to the right people, and helps others start networking conversations with you.
Understanding the etiquette of online professional networking
Adapting to professional networking in a predominantly digital world, is largely about understanding the etiquette involved. When you’re behind a keyboard, without social and non-verbal cues to take lead from, it’s even more important than ever to listen and engage before sharing.
Think of it less as an elevator pitch, and more of a two-way conversation. And don’t expect to walk away from that conversation with a ‘sale’ or a ‘win’. Give more than you expect back. This is especially true when it comes to forums where a hard sell often won’t be tolerated. Such groups often take years of hard work to cultivate the kind of atmosphere and culture that’s been created by its members, so it’s important to respect and maintain that.
It’s also best to think twice before sharing controversial views. Whilst these may be ok in person, and in your personal social media networks (depending on your privacy settings!), it’s critical to read the room first before you share these on a professional platform – and that’s not always easily done online. If in doubt, keep it to yourself.
Like with any relationship, the bonds you form through networking need nurturing. Getting in touch with like-minded professionals is only half the journey; taking the time to nurture these connections can provide meaningful support that lasts throughout your career.
Ashley Friedlein is the CEO & Founder of Guild, an app designed for business, professional groups, networks, and communities who want the advantages of messaging – ease of use, immediacy, intimacy, engagement – but who also care about proper privacy, quality, legal compliance and professional standards of support and service. As easy to use as WhatsApp, advertising-free, and GDPR compliant.
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