Career Q&A: Does networking have to be done in person?

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I’m at the “itchy feet” stage in my current position and am considering looking for new opportunities. People tell me I should be networking. I don’t have a lot of time outside of my work and family commitments. Do I have to do this in person?

Whether you’ve got itchy feet or are looking to get your feet in some doors for the first time, networking is indeed a useful way of hearing about opportunities and building connections who may think of you when opportunities come available. Here are some tips and suggestions about networking to keep in mind:

1. You’re probably networking without even knowing it. Do you attend conferences or workshops? Have conversations with members of your board of directors during AGM coffee breaks? Go for lunch with colleagues from other organizations? Exchange business cards with someone you met a friend’s party? If you’re interacting with people beyond your usual immediate sphere, then you are building your network and a lot of this happens without an extra time burden. You may now want to use these types of opportunities to – explicitly or covertly, depending on how “out” you are about your job search – suss out who is looking for new talent.

2. Online networking is just as useful and important as in-person. There’s a myriad of ways to network through social media and it’s a great way of connecting with people beyond your face-to-face reach. Updating your online profile, finding new connections on LinkedIn, contributing relevant information to online mailing lists and discussion groups, following the Facebook posts, tweets, and Tumblrs of organizations and individuals you’re interested in are all things that can be done whenever you have a few moments outside of your usual commitments.

3. Use the phone and email. Reaching out to your extended connections through old-fashioned phone calls and personal emails is also networking that can be done without the time commitment of a face-to-face interaction.

4. Particularly with phone and email networking, be clear about your reasons for connecting. Don’t assume people will know you’re open to new work opportunities or would like to be kept on their list of people to think about if/when there are openings at their organizations. Something like “My feet are starting to get a bit itchy and I’d appreciate it if you would let me know if you hear of any opportunities that might be suitable for me” should suffice. Being explicit about your asks and how your contacts can help you should be part of your networking roadmap.

5. It’s the follow-up that counts. A participant in a recent workshop we gave for young professionals asked “What am I supposed to do when I meet someone at a networking event?” This depends, of course, on the nature of the conversation you had at the event and what led you to exchange business cards. If you spoke about an interesting article or website, send an email the next day with the link. If she offered to introduce you to someone, send a message saying it was nice to meet her and that you look forward to the introduction to So-and-So. You can also simply add them to your LinkedIn network or file their business card away with a note on where you met them and the nature of the connection for when you may need to reignite connection. And remember to send thank yous and updates on your job situation when networking opens doors for you.

6. It’s not all about you. You are a commodity to those in your network. Connecting you to a colleague in need of your skills and experience can be a way of scoring points, repaying favours or looking good for your contacts. In some cases, people are providing you with leads and introductions knowing that they are providing a service to their contact and not (just) to you.

7. Networking goes two ways. Being generous with information, proactive with connecting people to opportunities, and grateful for help and advice will pay off. The golden rule of networking is treat your contacts as you would have them treat you.

Good luck and enjoy the process of scratching those itchy feet!

Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through

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Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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