With in-person conferences and events no longer a possibility in the COVID-19 world, students who are looking to build a professional network are having to learn new skills to take their networking virtual. Professionals who are already in their careers are no longer bumping into people at the water cooler or at a work-related conference, so they also are needing to learn how to network virtually. Virtual networking is a different way of looking at an old-school tool, but it can still be effective as you look to increase your opportunities.

1. Have Video Coffee Dates and Meetings

Do you remember how you would meet people for coffee pre-pandemic? A video coffee meeting can have the same effect, though without the cool coffee shop vibe. Grab your favorite warm beverage and get on a video conference to discuss your ideas and brainstorm with someone else.

How do you set this up? If you can think of someone who could benefit your professional goals, ask them if they have time for a quick video chat. Try to bring something to the table that can benefit them, as well. Brainstorm business ideas together and see what connections you can glean from the conversation.

2. Send a Text

If you have people you have met in the past and swapped phone numbers with, consider sending them a text. Inc.com indicates this can be an effective virtual networking tool.

Texting can bring you to mind for future job options or conversations. Make the text more conversational in nature, such as checking in to see how someone is doing or asking how an important work presentation went. By making texts more personal, instead of your normal work-related texts about meetings and emails, you can grow your network by building relationships.

Remember, these are challenging times for everyone, not just you. By checking in via text, you show that you care and make yourself available for future opportunities.

3. Make LinkedIn Your Friend

If you haven't done much with your LinkedIn profile, or don't have one at all, this is the time to start maximizing your presence on that platform. The platform currently has over 600 million members, including 303 million active monthly users. Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn is designed specifically for business networking. As many as 63 million decision-makers are using the platform, which means you will be putting your information in front of the people who make decisions for their companies.

How can you leverage LinkedIn as part of your virtual networking plan? First, make your profile as professional and robust as possible. Target the keywords you want to be found for, and make sure your profile picture is professional and appealing. You can also target specific companies you are interested in, or those that are on the cutting edge of a particular industry.

Then, start communicating. Message connections weekly and ask if they want to catch up by phone or video. While some will ignore you, some may respond, and this can help you set up some of those virtual coffee dates. Always check and respond to messages so you stay in the forefront of people's minds.

4. Convert Existing Networking Dates to Virtual

Do you have dinner or lunch meetings already on the calendar? Instead of canceling them, see if you can transition them to an online format. Take advantage of these already scheduled events to network online.

5. Tap Your Existing Relationships

One of the more challenging aspects of trying to network online is the fact that you can't have those chance encounters that large networking events provide. What can you do? Instead of relying on chance, rely on the relationships you already have.

Do you have a supervisor from a past job or a professor you've become close to? Ask them to help you with your career aspirations through a virtual coffee date. When you are done discussing your goals and getting advice, ask them if they can recommend some additional people you should talk to. Get the contact info, then set up a meeting. Leverage your mutual relationship to help establish some credibility with the new contact.

6. Attend Virtual Events

Many conferences and other similar events are taking a virtual platform this year. They are getting creative to set up networking meetings even within the event. If you would normally be attending these events in person, make a point to attend the virtual format. You may end up getting some options for networking online while still gaining insight into your field from industry leaders.

7. Join Professional Organizations

Consider joining professional organizations in your career field. This can help you expand your network and may also give you access to a mentorship program. By getting paired with an experienced professional in a group dedicated to your career field, you can build an instant relationship that can lead to additional networking opportunities. If you are still a student, take advantage of reduced student rates offered by many of these groups.

Many of these groups also publish membership directories. This gives you contact information for others who are also working in your career field. Use this to pick a few people to introduce yourself to on a weekly basis. Send an email or text to say “hi.” See what develops. If someone does lend their expertise to you, send a thank-you note afterward.

Networking doesn't have to stop because of the pandemic. With some creativity, you can transform your face-to-face networking into a virtual and digital platform. By being creative now and networking online, you can set yourself up for future business success and a robust professional network.

Online education is another option to help in this new virtual world. If you’re interested in earning your bachelor’s degree or graduate degree, enroll at University of the Cumberlands today. Request more info via our website or contact us at 833-958-0560.