The purpose of professional networking is to meet and build relationships with people in your industry (or an industry you’d like to work in). Networking is definitely helpful for finding a job – it’s estimated that up to 85% of jobs are obtained this way. And if you’re not actively looking for work, networking is still a great way to expand your contacts, gain knowledge, research careers and find potential mentors.
During the global pandemic, many events have shifted from in-person to online, and professional networking opportunities are no exception. Until we can safely gather again at large-scale events like career fairs, open houses, conferences, trade shows and expos, networking will remain virtual.
Not sure if attending a virtual event is worth your time? Many employers have moved their recruiting efforts online due to physical distancing guidelines. “Now, more than ever, it’s important for job seekers to connect with career centres and go to career fairs, rather than relying solely on online job postings,” says Christopher Sooknanan, Talent Acquisition Supervisor at Carecor Health Services in Toronto, who often participates in career fairs. “Before the pandemic, we relied a great deal on meeting and hiring candidates in person in large groups. To maintain our hiring volume, we need people to attend virtual events!”
For the foreseeable future, online is where the action is – don’t just sit on the sidelines! Career fairs (also called job fairs or hiring events) are excellent opportunities to meet recruiters, ask questions and apply for jobs. You can find career fairs through Jobs Canada Fair, Career Fair Canada, college and university career centres, community and settlement agencies (such as YMCA Employment Services), municipal governments, trade or professional organizations, online event platforms (such as Eventbrite or Meetup), and individual employers. Virtual events typically require advance registration – sign up early to save your spot.
Here’s how you can make the most of your next virtual meet-and-greet.
You’re more likely to benefit from a networking event if you plan ahead. A career fair, for example, might include dozens of employers, plus presentations and chat forums. To use your time effectively – and avoid feeling overwhelmed – think about what you want to achieve. What type of job are you looking for? Which companies do you want to learn about? Which scheduled talks do you want to see? Study the event information, do your research and write out a plan for the day.
Get ready for the event as if it were a job interview. Update your resumé and gather your references. Polish your LinkedIn profile and prepare a short “elevator speech” that explains who you are, why you want to work for a certain employer, and what skills and experience you can contribute. (Also, give your social media accounts a quick scan and delete anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see.)
If the virtual event includes video chat, dress appropriately, find a good spot (quiet and uncluttered) in your home, and ensure you have good video, sound and lighting. First impressions matter, even if they’re online. If you’re not comfortable in front of a camera, try practising with a friend.
If the event offers discussion or chat forums where you can engage with fellow attendees, recruiters, guest speakers, experts, etc., take advantage of the opportunity. It’s a great way to meet people and share information – and you never know what connections you’ll make or where they might lead. Another good way to engage: look for social media posts related to the event (see if it has an official hashtag) and connect with others who are sharing or posting about it.
During the event, take notes about your new contacts, including their names, social media handles and email addresses. A day or two after the event, get in touch or find them on LinkedIn and reintroduce yourself with a brief message – it could be as simple as “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.” See if you can keep the conversation going by sharing a relevant link or asking a question.
Networking doesn’t always yield fast results – think of it as planting the seeds to grow your contacts and career prospects. Stay positive and keep your eyes open for other opportunities to make connections.