In the business and entrepreneurial world, networking has long been considered a key avenue to create long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with potential employers and colleagues. But since the turn of the year, networking has looked very different in the time of social distancing, so we asked an expert panel what networking looks like in the new normal.
Last week, Trinity College Foundation Studies alum and Foundation Studies Alumni Advisory Committee (TFAN) chair Cíntia Chen (TCFS 2009) hosted a Zoom panel with guest speakers Berlin Liew (TCFS 2007) and Chris Yong (TCFS 1997) to discuss how virtual or remote networking amid the COVID-19 pandemic has its own set of challenges and benefits.
A point that both speakers drilled home, regardless of remote or in-person networking, was the notion of networking as relational rather than a transactional, one-off game.
Chris Yong, a business transformation consultant, emphasises the significance of bringing a level of humanity to networking by trying to make an impact in each conversation rather than purely wanting something from an individual.
‘Networking is about giving, it’s not about taking. It’s not about doing a deal, it’s about adding value to a person’s circumstance. To me, it is also having meaningful conversations and developing lasting friendships,’ says Chris.
Experience designer Berlin Liew has a background in digital advertising and data analytics, and agrees that people should recognise what ‘value exchange’ they have with the individual they are attempting to network with.
‘The thing that makes [networking] so rich is the effort you put into it… If you do put in effort and if you do put value into [networking], which you know takes a bit of work and maintenance over time, you get the most amazing relationships,’ says Berlin.
From Berlin’s experience, the power of networking leads to ‘sponsorship’, which then leads to job referrals – particularly as Melbourne is a much more referral-based professional ecosystem compared to other cities in Australia.
‘We are extremely trusting of people’s referrals in Melbourne, whereas if you go to Sydney, which is a lot bigger, it is quite formal,’ says Berlin.
KPMG manager Cíntia Chen can certainly vouch for the power of sponsorship as she was referred to her current position through ex-colleagues.
‘Sponsorship is more powerful than we think. My ex-colleagues referred me [to KPMG], they sponsored me, they advocated for me… Because of these relationships and connections that I had with them, they helped me sort of get through the door and get a job,’ she says.
The format on virtual spaces such as Zoom leans more to one-on-one interactions, as much of the flow in networking is disrupted when two or more people speak at the same time, thereby resulting in a more time-bound, structured and logical approach to networking on video call.
While Chris longs for the natural flow of socialisation in a room full of people, appetisers and beverages, Berlin raises the idea that virtual networking is actually a benefit for people afraid of crowds in face-to-face networking, as well as for anyone applying for interstate jobs who may now not necessarily have to relocate.
‘With the current situation [of] the world, it’s likely to be like this for a while. Even though it’s a bit sad, it’s amazing the opportunities that have opened up around who you can speak to around the world,’ says Berlin.
The seminar identified the three key steps to remote networking as firstly, identifying who to network with online, next, how to approach them, and finally, what to talk about.
Both Berlin and Chris suggest joining and following communities such as Meetup, Eventbrite and LinkedIn to find networks that specifically interest you and potentially attend their online events.
Alumni networks such as those offered through My Trinity Connect are incredibly useful when reaching out to people based on their current specialties and skillset. Also, consider reaching out to your friendship circles on social platforms as they may have connections who are already in your desired industry.
In regards to approaching people online, Berlin advises messaging people on LinkedIn by explaining why you want to connect and reference where you met them, if you have had contact with them previously. This way, the receiver has something to place you on.
Berlin has also found commenting on people’s posts or articles on LinkedIn is a helpful way to initiate contact.
While introductions on web cams can be awkward at first, the panellists suggested talking about situational commonalities, just as you would at an event or conference in-person. For instance, asking them about their time at Trinity College or how they are coping with working or studying remotely are some practical openers for virtual meetings.
Chris also draws inspiration from the worldwide bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie to refer back to the principle of generosity and being genuinely interested in people by prioritising their experiences and stories in conversation.
‘Be interested in their interests because you want their time – you don’t want to book in time so you can talk about yourself… You’re getting their time as a receiver,’ says Chris.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works in many of our study and work lives, the panel discussion was an excellent means of providing practical, tangible and actionable examples to help us network in the new normal.
Keep an eye on My Trinity Connect for upcoming events. Events are open to all Trinity College alumni, staff and students.
By Kathy Kim