Networking during (and after) COVID-19
By Laura Quaglio
Many of us hate the words “the new normal,” but there’s something to be said for embracing reality. Even when social distancing is a distant memory, it’s likely we will still be using digital channels to build and maintain our networks. And why not? It’s incredibly time efficient. On a lunch break, you can read colleagues’ job descriptions on LinkedIn, watch a career-related Rutgers webinar, or send emails to keep connections fresh. It’s also well worth it: According to a 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of new jobs are filled through networking. Problem is, many of us aren’t sure how to get started—or how to keep going.
Gail Lowney Alofsin is here to help. In nearly three decades attending to her numerous roles—sales and marketing executive, adjunct professor, volunteer, board member, motivational speaker, and author of Your Someday Is Now: What Are You Waiting For?—Alofsin has connected with thousands of people.
Like the rest of us, Alofsin had to pivot sharply in 2020. Here, she shares some of her best analog and digital methods for making connections and nurturing them well, no matter what happens next in the world.
Be a people collector
Without in-person events to spark conversation, you’ll need to get creative in finding new contacts. Alofsin recommends attending webinars, online events, job fair sessions, and other online events with multiple people. When you and the other participants are on screen, take a screenshot to capture everyone’s names and faces, so you can reach out later through LinkedIn. (You may need to switch to “gallery view.”) Also message the speaker or host and ask to connect, then make a public “gratitude post” that thanks them for their insights at the event.
Bonus tip: The most meaningful posts share a specific detail or two. Like, “Thank you, Gail Lowney Alofsin, for sharing that great tip about taking a screenshot during a Zoom call!”
Use a memory box
Alofsin’s original analog approach for keeping track of client contacts was to put their business cards and other important notes, papers, and other information into individual plastic baggies. Today, she uses an Excel spreadsheet to maintain notes on contacts, including their names, email addresses, and notes about their business, hobbies, family, and any other details they share. She can then draw upon those snippets each time she reaches out.
Don’t drop in from outer space
Whether you’re making a new contact or reaching out to an old one, don’t dive right in and ask for something—especially something big like an interview, reference, or introduction! Start with a small request, such as, “I see that you’ve worked with Procter & Gamble for 15 years. This is an industry I have so much interest in. Would you be willing to do a short informational call so I can learn more about it?” If they’re an old friend, you can be less formal, of course, but still save your “asks” for later.
Touch base once a quarter
Staying in touch with your network connections may feel impossible, but Alofsin is proof that it’s not. Her strategy is to do quarterly check-ins with clients. These happen before Thanksgiving, soon after January 1, sometime in summer, and on a special occasion like their birthday or work anniversary. Not sure what to say? Think of what you know about them (check that spreadsheet!) and share a link to a Think Scarlet article, Rutgers podcast, or upcoming Lunch & Learn Webinar. (“Hi! I saw this and thought of you!”)
Make Swiss cheese out of newspaper
Early in her career, Alofsin’s boss had her cut out positive newspaper articles about the clients or companies they worked with (or hoped to). She would mail the article, along with a handwritten note of congratulations. This approach can be even easier today (no scissors required). When you find this type of article online, share it on LinkedIn, tagging the person or company and saying something positive. If it’s a fellow alumnus, you might say, “Great to see another Rutgers grad succeed!” Bonus tip: before your quarterly check-ins, do a Google search for this type of happy news.
Remember: no is not next (or nixed)
What if you reach out and get no response? Don’t be discouraged and don’t take it personally—and don’t just nix them and move on to the next contact. Or, as Alofsin says, “No is not next or nixed!”
Networking doesn’t always work the first time. Instead, send them a thank-you note or even a small gift, depending on how much you’d like to add them to your network.
For prospective sales clients, Alofsin might send a T-shirt or tickets to a company event. For prospective speaking gigs, she might send a copy of her book. By being positive, giving, and persistent, Alofsin has frequently managed to turn an initial “no” into an ultimate “yes.”
Rutgers Resources on Building Your Network
- Webinar: Virtual Networking: Join Rutgers Business School instructor Sandra Long, founder of Post Road Consulting, to learn how to accelerate your professional networking by moving seamlessly across digital platforms. (A Rutgers Business School Virtual Lunch & Learn Webinar)
- Webinar: Network Better: Join the Ayers Group, an expert consulting agency, for a one-hour presentation on how to determine the best networking contacts for you, how networking in person is different from online, and much more. (A Rutgers Alumni Career Services Working Lunch Webinar)
- Student Alumni Career Connect: This networking platform makes it easy for Rutgers alumni to offer opportunities and mentorship to current students.
- CareerShift: This digital platform helps with organizing job searches from multiple job boards, accessing contact info on companies of interest, creating personal marketing campaigns, and more.