For years, I’ve been telling clients and friends that it takes a village to raise a career. You need to build contacts across your industry, cultivate those relationships, and be as helpful to others as you want them to be to you. But in the pandemic era, your village has shrunk.
Unsurprisingly, numerous studies show that with so many people working from home, we’re interacting with fewer colleagues both inside our companies and at other businesses across our industries. Without going into an office each day, we’re less likely to meet new people outside of our departments. And with numerous conferences being canceled—something happening all over again now, due to the omicron variant—the same goes for networking with people at companies we may want to work for someday. Even those people who choose to go to the office or attend in-person events when possible are still making fewer connections since many other people are staying home.
To build your “village” in the hybrid era, you need to be organized and strategic.
How to reach out
With fewer in-person opportunities such as “water cooler conversations” available, use LinkedIn connection requests—but do so wisely and judiciously. Find people whose career track records show they’ve worked their way up the ranks in your field, or in another field that interests you. Read posts or articles they’ve written. If they’ve posted videos of a speech they gave or a panel they were a part of, watch one. Note something interesting about it. Then reach out, simply saying you’d love to connect.
Emails can work as well, but keep them brief and simple. Inside your company, use Slack or another internal messaging channel to reach out to people you haven’t met yet. Say hello, and ask if it might be OK to hit them up for advice sometime.
Don’t take it personally if people don’t respond. Many are overwhelmed or very busy. If you don’t hear back from them, move on to someone else.
Set numeric goals
As a rule, aim to make at least 10 quality new contacts every three months. This is my standard advice even outside of the pandemic, and it still applies now. Across a year, that’s 40 new people you have in your corner.
Unfortunately, when I ask clients and attendees to my workshops to write down the names of new contacts they’ve made in the past three months, most people can’t even name three. Many can’t name one.
Make reaching out a part of your daily job. Aim to get one positive response by the end of each week. People are very busy, so most won’t write back. That’s OK. (Across a year you’ll have some weeks off and some weeks in which your efforts fail, so you’ll end up at around 40.)
Pursue a 15-minute conversation
People remember you and feel more connected to you once they’ve spoken with you. Request a quick Zoom session with them just to get to know them, and offer a few possible times. Limit the ask to 15 minutes, which most people will consider not too burdensome.
If the person you’re reaching out to is a manager and/or plays any other role in hiring, you may get especially good responses if you call the ask an informational interview. The Great Resignation has companies on the lookout for talent. When you request an informational interview, you’re indicating that even though you may not be looking for a job right now, you might be interested in joining their company someday. They’ll have good reason to invest the time in hopes that you might one day make a good hire.
Most importantly, be your authentic self. People can tell when someone is being fake or just trying to find a way to use them. Open up honestly about any challenges you’re having, and listen intently when they share. Do your best to connect with them as people. Everyone is craving more human connection.
Over time, tend the garden of your relationships. Stay in touch with people to whatever extent they seem to feel comfortable. Drop a note once in a while just to say hi. Comment on the social media posts of people in your network. At a time when many people are feeling exhausted and lonely, even little notes can make a big difference.
With everything on your plate, you may feel that the last thing you need is yet another task. But building your network is a crucial investment in yourself. I’ve been recruited for every job I’ve ever had by people with whom I built relationships. Your village sets you up for a stronger future.