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The Question

I’m looking to switch careers and everyone is telling me I should be networking with people. But with events and meetups cancelled because of COVID-19, I’m not quite sure how to go about that. Does reaching out to random people on LinkedIn actually work? What’s the best strategy for that? And once I do get them on the phone or on a video chat, how can I make the best of that time?

The First Answer

Peter Caven, managing director, Launched Careers, Toronto

You are right — 80 per cent of the jobs that are filled are done so by referrals.

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Your networking campaign needs to be strategic and not random. There are two approaches. The first is to identify everyone you can connect with either through family, social connections or people you have worked with. You don’t know who knows whom and how they could be helpful to you. The second is to target organizations and individuals that are of interest to you and who need talent with your skill set.

Do not send messages through LinkedIn. Many view LinkedIn messages as spam and do not read them. It also indicates a lack of initiative and creativity. Get personal/professional e-mail addresses for those to whom you are referred. Use one of the e-mail search apps to get the professional e-mail addresses for those in your target organizations.

Do not ask about jobs/opportunities — that is a binary question. Rather, ask them for their advice and counsel — most people will be flattered.

The objective of networking is to get referrals into the networks of others with the ultimate objective of connecting with a decision-maker. To get referrals you need to earn the trust and confidence of the other person. To do so, you need to validate them by asking questions they can answer.

You need to be prepared to answer questions such as “Tell me about yourself? Why are you interested in this role/organization? What are your career goals?”

What is much more important is the questions you ask them. Ask about challenges facing the industry, goals of the organization, barriers to success and how their role contributes to the success of the organization.

Be meticulous in your follow-ups. Send thank-yous. Stay in touch.

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It is hard work, but it will pay off.

The Second Answer

Jermaine L. Murray, career coach, JupiterHR, Montreal

As weird as this might sound, COVID-19 has made networking easier than ever before, if you know where to look. A lot of organizers have shifted their events to a digital stage and are looking to attract people from all across the globe to attend. Companies are more open to hiring remote employees located in countries outside of their headquarters. There are networking events designed to facilitate these types of opportunities. LinkedIn, Meetup, Eventbrite and Facebook groups are great places to look for virtual events.

To answer your second question, reaching out to random people on LinkedIn doesn’t work. As with anything worthwhile, it’s always best to be intentional with your actions and messaging. The best way to approach someone on LinkedIn is to identify someone who is working a role or at an organization that you’re passionate about. Your goal should be to try to build some sort of rapport with them.

Asking for advice is usually the most straightforward way of doing this. Ask for their opinion on actions you’ve already done. You’re looking to find out on what they would do in your shoes. A message asking to review a piece of work and asking for some critique will be more effective than just outright asking for a job or an interview.

Finally, when you do get to that meeting stage, focus on them. Get them talking and minimize how much talking you do about yourself. This will help keep the conversation engaging because everyone loves talking about themselves. It will also give you a chance to identify common ground points.

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Have a question for our experts? Send an e-mail to NineToFive@globeandmail.com

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