Networking has become a whole lot tougher under the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when many people need to build their professional contacts to scope out new job opportunities, in-person networking events have become all but impossible.
Not all is lost, however. According to LinkedIn's co-founder Reid Hoffman, now is the perfect time to try out experimental new tactics, while overcoming some classic mistakes.
Speaking on LinkedIn's Hello Monday podcast this week, the networking professional said that most people rush the process: "The mistake that most people make is: They too often try to move to the immediate things." For instance, asking contacts what job they should take next.
That may work occasionally, particularly if your contact knows you very well. But more often, they won't have the answer and will be consumed by their own issues. Instead, you should think of networking as a "two-step process," he said.
First, think about the people you could speak to and the things you could ask that might lead to an interesting opportunity; then work out what you can do to get noticed in that space. That might include writing an article on an issue you're passionate and knowledgeable about, or showcasing your work on a blog.
"What you want to be doing is what a lot of other people aren't doing," said Hoffman, noting it will help potential contacts distinguish you from the crowd.
That personal branding has become especially important lately, as many industries have moved online during global lockdowns.
"Now you have these difficult circumstances, so you need to put more work into that. You can't just be delightful at breakfast," he said, referring to traditional breakfast networking meetings.
But the pandemic has also spawned new ideas, such as virtual talks and networking dinners, which the entrepreneur says is helping change the traditional perimeters of networking. He recommended using, learning from and trying variations of new tools to see what works best for you.
Even more importantly though, he said, now is a good time to show how you can be a helpful connection for others.
"The really key thing about networking that most of the people who call themselves networkers miss is that giving is more important than taking for establishing a relationship," said Hoffman. "Most people say 'I want,' but what you're showing is that you view it as a relationship."
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