Networking is all about making connections. One of the reasons networking is essential is to establish a connection with relation to your job or a field you’re interested in. Of course it would be ideal to meet in-person, but you don’t necessarily need to in order to establish this connection. It certainly can be hard to overcome physical limitations – say the company and individuals you want to connect with is in the heart of Silicon Valley in California for example. You may want to connect in-person with the executives at the particular company located there, but since you live in British Columbia, a flight down South isn’t exactly the cheapest or most timely option. So what options do you have?
Let’s start with social media. All that effort in perfecting your Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter profile isn’t effort going to waste. Your social media profiles are the first thing a prospective employer will see, so they should be accurate, inviting, and well presented. A 2010 survey indicated that “social networks are now actively used by between half and three quarters of companies worldwide for various networking functions.” The number could very well be even higher today, as this information is somewhat dated. It is evidently clear that having an online presence is an important aspect of your professional development, and its importance cannot be overstated.
The primary way to connect professionally outside of an in-person meeting would be on LinkedIn. Your skills, achievements, organizations, etc. are all there, and should aid in establishing your professional image. Remember that before initiating a connection with a prospective employer, you should have at least 150 connections as a general rule. That’s not to say you should have quantity instead of quality, but having a larger network with more people you know allows you to utilize them as references to an employer. Make sure to follow groups and associations you are interested in, and interact with them. Doing this allows employers (depending on your privacy settings) to see where your interests lie, and what you’re passionate about. Finally, remember to post frequent updates about your professional life or interesting articles related to your field. It would be hard to engage with your profile if it remains static in its appearance (see also: ‘Nine Mistakes You’re Making on LinkedIn’).
Twitter and Facebook can also be used to create online connections. Though you’re limited to 140 characters in a Tweet or direct message, this can allow you to craft your message concisely. Remember though, that interacting with an employer on Twitter is still a professional matter, even though your character count is limited. Twitter has a lot of potential for creating connections, as this post by Forbes’ Lois Geller discusses. Even though it may not directly result in you getting a job, it’s worth the effort. Doing this allows you to build an online connection with an individual you haven’t met offline before, and may lead to future opportunities. You can also impress prospective employers by ensuring your Twitter account reflects your personality while still maintaining a professional standard (i.e. no profanity, vulgarity, etc.). Use Twitter’s design tools (background, cover photo, profile image) to help visualize what your brand looks like in digital format.
A popular method of showing off your work (especially if it’s visual) is to set up a personal website. A simple website with your work could certainly help you in making connections. It doesn’t have to be hand-coded – it could just be a domain name with a pre-made template – but it should show off your work. Employers likely won’t be able to see your portfolio on Facebook depending on your privacy settings, and Twitter and LinkedIn are limited in what they can show (although LinkedIn does allow you to link to a personal website). Your website could even be a blog, most definitely if you consider yourself a good writer. Even if it’s about current issues, it’s still worth linking to, because it’s better to have a sample than no sample at all. Just make sure the URL you decide on is professional before you start creating.
Other ways of connecting include the likes of Dribbble (a website where designers share their portfolios), and can even include video-sharing services such as Vimeo (where video producers can share their work). Having your work ready in digital format on these types of websites can certainly help you in creating online connections – in addition to your solid LinkedIn/Twitter profile, you also have work online to back it up with. Plus there really isn’t a downside to having it available online, because even family and friends can see the work you’re so very proud of.
Email also has its place in online networking, but it’s hard to say if it would be an effective method of connecting. Of course it could be considered the most ‘formal’, but we all get bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of emails a day, so it can be hard for an employer to find that one email that is not directly related to their work. It’s worth a try, but other forms of communicating such as LinkedIn may end up being more effective – especially because an employer can quickly see your previous experience, as opposed to having to reply to the email you just sent asking for more information.
I hope this helped you find ways to connect online; best of luck with your networking!