Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

How to build your professional network, virtually

The handshake is a relic. So, perhaps, is the business card.

As in-person conferences and job fairs remain on pause, the art of networking has evolved. Remote connections are the new norm, and those who seek to make the most of the new reality also must adapt.

The big challenge is finding avenues to meet future collaborators, employers and employees virtually.

Kathryn Lucchesi, assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, recommends bookmarking articles and connecting with their authors to raise your game and to meet like-minded people. 

“Research who worked on those stories,” she said. “Contact 8-10 sources and interview them about their career paths.” 

This provides not only a solid foundation to grow your network but an opportunity to learn about how other journalists work and their ambitions.

“More than ever, people are looking to make authentic connections,” said Suzanne Alcantara, dean of student affairs for the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “Warm introductions go a long way, and everyone has deep empathy for those looking for work during this pandemic.”

Michael Wong, director of career services at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, suggests tapping into your existing connections to schedule short Zoom chats. Start with former supervisors or professors, then ask them for others you could reach out to and discuss your career goals. Always end these conversations by requesting additional referrals. 

“Through this process, hustle and relationship-building exercise, your network will expand exponentially,” he said. “These networking prospects might be more inclined to help you through Zoom because you’re not asking for a lot of time. It’s safe, and most people want to help another person, especially someone who takes initiative and cares about his/her career.”

Once you have a few meetups on the calendar, easy asks are how you can build these relationships, according to Alison Young, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism and Washington Program director for the Missouri School of Journalism. 

“Don’t ask for a job. Instead, ask for any job-search advice they might have,” she said. “Ask what skills and experience they suggest you work on in the coming months to help you stand out as a job candidate when it is easier for companies to do more hiring.”

But do not neglect the follow-up. 

Amy Eisman, journalism division director for the American University School of Communication advises to write everything down from these conversations, including a direct quote. “Suppose the person said, ‘Check back in a month.’ Will you remember that?” 

She also adds that it’s important to keep your connections apprised of successes (for example, freelance articles or additional training). This way they can track your progress until the next conversation. 

“And always use the subject field of an email (if you are relying on it) wisely,” Eisman said. “Not good: Reaching out. Better: AU Journalism grad checking back. Best: (CONTACT) suggested I reach out about job XYZ.”

Still looking for ways to bolster your professional network? Try reaching out to your university’s career center for help.

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