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How to Effectively Network in the Virtual Era

November 17, 2020 the Bradford Group

(Post written by our 2020 fall intern, Emily Stembridge)

Job seeking during a global pandemic with the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression is a unique challenge. It may seem impossible to secure a job right now, or even get an interview. So, how can you network and get a job during a time when so many industries are economically affected by COVID-19? Are companies even hiring right now?

The answer is yes. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are still hiring. The difference is that many companies are only posting job listings on their own websites instead of platforms like LinkedIn or Indeed, encouraging employees to personally refer others to the open roles. If you want to get hired in the next six months, odds are you are going to need to master virtual networking.

The Myth of the Cover Letter

One the most useful things I’ve learned about virtual networking is that the classic cover letter is slowly becoming a myth. While you may still need to write a cover letter to meet the technical requirements of applying to a job, the thing that will set you apart from the rest is a brief, well-written LinkedIn message to someone who works at the company. If you can narrow it down to the exact department, you’re even more likely to get a response. 

To deal with the mass amount of people who apply to a singular job on LinkedIn or Indeed, companies have started to use an applicant tracking system (ATS). ATS scans your resume and looks for specific keywords that fit the job description. if yours doesn’t match, your resume will be instantly eliminated from the pile, and no human will ever lay eyes on it. This is why networking with people in the company or department you want to work for is so important. If you can get an actual person to see your name, there’s a much higher chance that they will walk down the hall to the hiring manager and ask to see your resume.

To start this process, first apply to the job you’re eyeing on the company’s website. Then, hop on over to LinkedIn and search for that company. You should then be able to view everyone who works there. Start reading job titles, and try to find several people to message, depending on the size of the company. Connect with a few employees and customize your invite with a short message that tells them you’ve applied for a position and you would love to chat with them about their own role and any tips they could provide to stand out in the applicant process. Bonus points if you’re a student and incorporate that – people (especially alumni of your school) love to help students. 

Odds are at least one person will reply to you willing to chat. Set up a time to have a phone call or a Zoom meeting, prepare some questions and be ready to listen and learn from them. I have done this three times as a student, and every time the person on the other end has offered to directly send my resume to HR or mention my name to the hiring manager. While you shouldn’t expect someone to do this, or may not feel comfortable directly asking someone to do this, if you have a great conversation, it’s likely they will offer to do it anyway. Now you have a great new LinkedIn connection you can stay in touch with for future opportunities, and a much better chance of getting that initial interview.

Thank You Notes

If there’s anything I’ve learned from growing up in the south, it’s that a hand-written, snail mail thank you note can go a long way. However, since many people are now working from home and it would be inappropriate to ask for your interviewer’s address, this may not be possible. For the time being, an emailed thank you is just as appropriate and will be appreciated regardless.

If you interviewed before noon, try to get your thank you out before the end of the day. If you interviewed after noon, send it first thing the next morning. Make sure you email each individual that took the time to chat with you, and try to name a specific thing you discussed with that person during the interview or something you found interesting. This will show that you were listening and paying attention. Lastly, make sure that your thank you is solely a thank you and not a sales pitch. They have already read your resume and spoken with you, so keep this just about them and the time they gave you. 

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far into the job search, congratulations! Now all you can do is sit back and wait for your hard work to pay off. If you don’t get the job, remember that it isn’t a reflection of you, and that it is a “no,” not a “never.” Stay in touch with the contacts you’ve made through the process and you might just be the first call when a new position opens up. 

It’s never been a better time to network virtually. People are so used to being online for work now that your LinkedIn message won’t throw them off in the slightest. Plus, you don’t have to go to in-person networking events! Think of networking online as a unique opportunity, and the results will follow.

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