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Networking online: the do’s and don’ts

Advice for building your network virtually.

About the author: Emily Curtis is a writer based in Boston. She graduated from Emerson in 2022 with a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and is currently getting her masters in Publishing. You can find her on Instagram or read more on her website.

Sure, in-person networking can be tricky. But online networking can be even more complicated.

Without being face-to-face, it is often more challenging to express your genuine feelings and interests. The tone of our voices, facial expressions, gestures, and overall body language are left out, making the text more open to interpretation by the reader. It can be hard to express your message in the right way.

Here, I’m offering some do’s and don’ts from my own experience for college students to follow in their efforts to network online. Keep reading to see what you’re doing—or not doing—right:

Do your research (according to your goals)

Find out what's happening in your school community, industry, and dream workplace. Note upcoming virtual events—flag emails with potential work or school opportunities in your sphere, peruse the networking platforms you use, and simply pay attention. But do so with your goals in mind. What are you looking to get out of these efforts?

My goals in college included finding connections in the publishing sphere. My efforts to keep up with the happenings in the publishing world included following the publications I wanted to work for and keeping up on their news, reading industry news, following local publications, frequently checking to see if they were hiring on networking platforms, and connecting with relevant names in the industry (small and large.)

Don’t stop networking once you’ve secured an internship or job

If you secure a job, don’t have the mindset of, “my work here is done.” Having a present opportunity doesn't mean you'll have it forever.

It is crucial to stay on top of networking to keep your options open. I learned this the hard way. After securing an internship sophomore year, I got lazy and missed out on networking with other potential future employers. It took twice the work to find another internship the following year. However, had I been consistently networking with potential employers, I might have secured a new internship sooner.

Do use professional networking sites

Sign up for professional networking sites (such as Handshake). Build and consistently update your profile by showcasing your strengths and the experiences that make you a qualified professional. Be sure to connect with your school’s alumni and potential industry contacts at the workplaces you find interesting.

Whenever you interact with a potential employer or industry connection, always follow up with them on networking platforms. Follow their page, invite them to connect with you, and send a personalized, genuine message. Whenever a speaker came into one of my classes, I would always ask if we could connect online, find their profile, and thank them for sharing their insights in class. This is a good habit for all college students to add to their list.

Don’t forget to follow up with new connections in a genuine manner

Don’t forget that you can meet up with your connections in real life (or over video chat). This strategy will help strengthen your relationships over time.

For instance, when I first got hired to work a marketing internship over the summer of my junior year of college, I offered to meet my boss in person for a particular project. Our in-person meeting helped us bond over commonalities we might have missed out on had we remained virtual throughout the internship.

Do practice sending cold emails

Cold emailing is almost like a blind date, except one of the members doesn’t know the date is happening. You’re emailing a personalized message to a total stranger (one who may help you in your networking endeavors) with the hopes of kickstarting a relationship. This is a great strategy for forming connections, but only if you do it correctly.

Here are the simplified steps for cold email outreach: identify your targets and gather information about them, create a personalized email with an interesting lead, send, follow up (if necessary), and monitor results.

To send a successful cold email, you must make it genuine and personal and share your reason as to why you’re looking to connect. According to Seige Media, “the best time of day to send cold emails is between 6-9 am PST (9 am-12 pm EST).”

In my experience with sending cold emails and making cold calls, I have never found success with generic, unemotional messages. When your passion shows, and when you share a common interest, they are willing to put in more effort to help you. Even if they reject you, they might forward you along to someone else. For example, I once had a woman forward my email to another contact of hers that she thought would be better suited to answer my questions. This worked in my favor, as I ended up connecting with her reference!

Don’t ask for favors and offer nothing in return

Sending a cold email with nothing enticing for the recipient is like trying to make banana bread without bananas—there’s no point. Why would they want to entertain your email if all you’re doing is simply asking for a favor? Show the person you’re emailing that you’re knowledgeable about them and their work. Explain why you’re interested in contacting them. Tell them what you have in common with them and what you have to offer.

If you’re cold-emailing someone and all you do is ask for a favor, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Do connect with people of all levels of experience

Don’t connect with someone just because of their status. Connect with those you share a common interest with for the sake of genuine bonds. You never know who might end up offering you a job or putting you in contact with someone who is hiring.

In one instance, having connections with writers and editors at the local magazine I wrote for helped put me in contact with other writers in the industry. In another example, taking a class on Writing for the Boston Globe put me in contact with the actual editors and writers at the Globe, who I ended up writing for on multiple occasions.

These more minor connections grew into larger ones, presenting me with opportunities I had always wanted.

Hopefully, after reading these tips, you will feel more empowered to start your networking journey. I wish you the best of luck—may your cold emails always be answered.

Photo courtesy of Cottonbro via Pexels

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