Networking in the time of COVID19

Learn from the past to prepare for the future

By: Joe Findaro

As an extrovert, networking has always come easily to me.  At my 1st son’s wedding, the toast focused on “putting yourself out there” and “going out of your comfort zone.”  If you don’t take risks, you can’t network. I know that introverts have to work harder at it.

At my 2nd son’s weddings part of my toast included: “When you are invited to an event, be sure to attend, because you never know who you will meet.”  This resonated the most with the millennial crowd at the wedding evident in our conversations at the reception.
At the time, they understood that there is no downside to attending social gatherings with good people — in fact you might meet your future spouse or employer!

Networking

To develop relationships, one must know how to network.  The Merriam Webster definition for “networking” states: “The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions…specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” A network is essentially made up of an interconnected system with a myriad of relationships developed along your life journey.

When I advise graduating college seniors entering the job market, I have often asked them to fill in the blank of a statement I make: “The most important word in your future career and personal success is ‘blank.’”  Very few answer with my preferred response,  “relationships”.

We network to help others and ourselves. When we connect two people in a particular field because of a job hunt or a graduate school admissions process, we do so because we like to help people, not because we expect something in return. Mentoring and advising are important tools for networking.  Always take the time to help others.  Good karma will result.

Simply stated, meeting a new person involves sharing information about yourself (school, job, etc.), asking questions, and listening. It is amazing how you can be an “icebreaker” in just five minutes if you take the right approach with people when you meet them.
And try to remember a person’s first name, always!

Successful people have developed different types of networks that revolve in an orbit around your life.   Networking groups of mine include: hometown/childhood, high school, college, law school, church, business, Boston marathon, Ironman triathletes, bicyclists, neighbors, dog lovers and former federal government employees.  I regularly maintain and build upon these different networking groups and they often intersect when I connect friends.

Networking in COVID-19

Given the new world order due to COVID-19, we must be creative when it comes to networking with the closings of restaurants and offices and cancellation of sporting or music events and family celebrations like weddings.

In place of in person meetings and meals, we now have to leverage technologies like Zoom calls, face time and video chats. During times surrounding a pandemic:

  • Why not reach out to 3 or 4 friends or business colleagues a day to see how they are holding up?
  • Instead of a voice call, why not ask if the person you are calling would like to face time?
  • Instead of the gym, soccer and other team sports, look to running, biking, surfing, paddle boarding, and golf. A smaller group of people can lead to better connecting with others. Try to bike on roads where you can actually have conversations!
  • Unable to attend major social events also forces us to focus on fewer people with social distancing.  Meet at a park, an outdoor cafe or on your large patio with a very small group of people.
  • The one-on-one video chat or dog walk with another dog lover have also become a regular part of my daily regimen, and I plan to continue these in the future more frequently.  You might as well have fun during this difficult time period.

Finally, an effective use of social media can also enhance your networking and strengthen relationships, particularly now.  Through Linkedin, congratulate a friend on a job promotion. Through Facebook, remember friends’ birthdays and send a private message. Through Instagram post a photo of your popular pet (in my case Martha, the Newfoundland) and scores of people from around the world will respond — and you will realize your friends are out there and connecting with you!So don’t let the current public health pandemic keep you from finding the inner “connector“ or “node” that you can be.   Use this time wisely to maintain and build your various networks in a creative way.  Think of it as a training period, so that when we see the “new normal” in society you will be back in the game and be better equipped to connect with others like never before!

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