You may have heard the advice before to network in order to benefit your career, even if you’re still in college. However, networking can feel unnatural and insincere. Trying to do it online can add an extra layer of difficulty because you can’t see people’s body language or hear their tone of voice. But online networking is a great way to expand your connections beyond both your geographic and professional limitations. The online world can be a great leveller; you may find yourself in conversation with someone prominent in your industry that you’d never the opportunity to talk to in person. The tips below can help you avoid common pitfalls of online networking.
Do Understand Networking
If you think of words like insincere and selfish when you think about networking, then you’re going about it the wrong way. It should be neither of these things; instead, it should be about connecting with other people in your field and building mutually beneficial relationships. In order to become a better networker, you need to practice and do it often, so it becomes second nature and part of your routine instead of feeling awkward and chore-like.
Don’t Start by Asking for Things
The first time you connect with a superstar in your industry or the industry that you hope to work in can be heady. You may feel as though this is the time to be bold and go ahead and ask them for a big favor or something similar, but there are a few things wrong with this approach. First, this person doesn’t know you at all; connecting online is even more ephemeral than if you connected in person. Second, there’s no reason to rush into things since social media offers you a really unique opportunity to make low-stakes bids for connection over a period of weeks or months before taking the plunge. Finally, it just doesn’t look good, and not just to the person you’re asking. It makes you appear awkward and not conscious of social norms, not a great look if you’re trying to get attention in an industry you love.
Do Offer Something of Value
Cultivate an online persona as someone who is polite, friendly, and helpful. You don’t have to send money or spend enormous amounts of time doing things for others but providing useful advice to those who ask for it and responding in a friendly way to queries, even if you’re saying no, will take you a long way. If you’re still in school and feel as though you may not have much to offer, think again. You can give advice on getting into school and succeeding. There are options like a private student loan to help pay for your education, you can explain the process to others, showing them how it’s relatively easy to apply and giving them some pointers on what to look for in a lender. They’ll remember your helpfulness and may repay it in kind later.
Don’t Overemphasise Status
As the section above points out, digital networking is not just about what others can do for you. It’s also about helping those who aren’t yet where you are. You never know when those people will be in a position to help you in turn. There’s a saying in show business that can apply to every industry that urges you to be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet them again on the way down. That doesn’t mean every career trajectory is doomed to failure, but it’s good to keep in mind that you never know who a valued colleague could be or even your boss in the future.