With connections more important than ever in uncertain economic times, here is advice from experts on virtual tactics to advance your career when you can’t schmooze in person
Maraya Camazine, a third-year medical student at the University of Missouri, had long anticipated schmoozing with others in her field at the big conference of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma held every September.
“Your third year is essentially your last chance to make good impressions on people,” says the 28-year-old. “All of these trauma surgeons go to the same conferences every year, and so as a med student your goal is to find a research mentor, go with them and then meet all of these doctors and be able to sit and discuss next steps in the field.”
But in June the association announced the conference that was to be held at the Hilton Waikoloa in Hawaii would take place online instead because of the pandemic. It wasn’t the same. “There’s something very easy about sliding into a conversation where you’re being introduced by someone who’s already accepted in the field,” Ms. Camazine says. “This was more of a stagnant chat room.”
As the coronavirus has forced many people to work from home, it’s also disrupted a fixture of career life: networking, a quasi-business, quasi-social activity that typically happened everywhere from conference halls to bars to corporate mixers and golf courses. With social distancing in effect for the foreseeable future, networking online—which some businesspeople were already doing pre-Covid as a secondary pursuit—has become the primary way to connect.
With economic uncertainty fueling job concerns, many employees say they see networking as essential for their careers. More than a third of 2,022 U.S. adults responding to a Harris Poll conducted in September said it is more important than usual in the pandemic, with work-from-home and no-travel rules in place at many companies.
Some people may be relieved to not have to attend business-card-swapping events—a 2014 study found that participants reported actually feeling dirty after networking.
But a move to virtual networking brings other concerns. “What that is going to do is enhance the advantages of those who are well-connected,” says Exequiel Hernandez, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “For those who are disadvantaged, it’s going to be harder to develop the new ties they need to advance their career. This is not helpful for new graduates looking for jobs, or those on the periphery of professional networks.”
Online networking comes with challenges and awkwardness. But it can be done. Here are tips from the experts on how to navigate.