Expert Tips On The Right Way To Network And Regain Your Career Foothold During The Pandemic

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There are many events that can cause a person to want to change careers. Having a family can make you want to reprioritize your life and potentially seek a job that allows for more work-life balance. Having a near-death experience can make someone completely reevaluate how they spend their time, and seeing as work takes up a big chunk of our days, one’s job may be the first thing they change after such an eye-opening experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “young baby boomers” change jobs just over an average of 11 times in their lifetime. Maybe those figures don’t translate to every generation under normal circumstances, but we just went through something (and are arguably still going through something) incredibly abnormal: the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic either forced a job change, due to unemployment for many, or sparked a desire for a job change, as these unprecedented times had many people reevaluating their lives.

Women, in particular, have seen significant job displacement during the pandemic. If you’re finding yourself trying to regain your foothold now after months of possibly not working and not having much opportunity to network, you may need a little direction. To get some expert advice, we spoke with Shonezi Noor, VP of operations at female-led startup Sampler.io.

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The wrong way to use LinkedIn to connect

Like in the real world, nobody likes to be cold-call networked. Noor says that it’s important to think through that first message on Linkedin, especially when it’s to a stranger. “What I don’t recommend is adding people you don’t know on LinkedIn without a specific ask or purpose. People are generally willing to help but if you send an invite to someone you don’t know with a message like ‘I’d love to have you in my network,’ it doesn’t send the right message, and sounds kind of one-sided right?” she says. “Instead, try to show, even if you are new to a space or don’t really know them, that you have done your homework and won’t waste anyone’s time.” She recommends finding a specific point of interest to bring up – maybe a trend in your industry – and noting why this person is particularly appropriate to speak to about it.

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Share an article

Another way to connect with someone online is to share an article you think may be of interest to them based on what you’ve researched about their career and path. “The point being, you want to stand out by showing that you want to build an authentic relationship with them and that you’re willing to do the work.” These types of interactions – in which you aren’t asking for a direct favor – can keep you on the forefront of their minds. Even if they aren’t looking to fill a position right now, this move might keep you on their list when that time comes.

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Make the most of speaker events

Whether you’re attending in-person or only virtual events right now, any event that draws like-minded individuals together is a natural networking opportunity says Noor, noting that many people don’t have their guards up in these situations. If there will be a speaker, she recommends researching them, and sending them a LinkedIn note in advance, stating you’re excited to hear their address. At the event, ask a question, and be sure to linger after (even if it’s over Zoom) to ask another thoughtful question. This can increase the odds they add you to their LinkedIn network.

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When making a pivot, start at the top

If you’re looking to make a career pivot, Noor suggests making a list of the top five dream companies you’d like to land at, then seeing if you have any first or second-degree connections on Linkedin at that company so that can be someone you personally know who works there (first degree), or someone you know who knows someone there (second degree). “Try to set up some coffees with people who you know or ask for introductions to people who work there. It doesn’t matter whether they work in the specific department you are looking to connect with.”

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Prepare specific questions

If you get a meeting or phone call with your contact at those companies, prepare specific questions. “You can keep your catch-up call relatively high level and ask them questions like what they like and even don’t like about working there, what are the key focuses of the business that year, and whether they know much about the department you’re interested in joining,” Noor says. “Do ask for the next introduction in those meetings, especially if they know people in the department you want to join. If nothing else, you’ll have learned more about whether it’s a good fit for you!”

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Maybe you’re totally lost

Maybe this pandemic made you realize what industry you don’t want to be in, but not what industry you do want to be in. If that’s the case, Noor recommends simplifying things and asking yourself what industries you typically enjoy as a consumer. “Think through the industries you are interested in,” she says. Some hints: you can start from your credit card bill. Where do you spend your discretionary funds? Do you love books? Video games? Are you a Sephora fan like me? Starting from a place of passion can help you narrow it down. There are tons of companies and many, many different roles in every space.”

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Tailoring your resume

While your instinct with your resume might be to just cram as much on there as possible, that winds up being overwhelming and not informative to those doing the hiring. “My favorite tool for resumes is using the CAR method,” Noor says. “The CAR method breaks down like this: C equals context, A equals actions, R equals results. You want to give the person reading your CV the context of the company/experience and/or the context of the challenges you were solving. Then you want to follow that up with specific actions you took in the situation and the results of your work. If you’re able to add metrics, that is the most convincing!”

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Write a resume for the role you want

It’s better to show expertise at one specific thing than general knowledge in a dozen things. “If you are a generalist, it’s normal to tailor your CV to the type of role you are applying to,” Noor says. “You get a lot of hints on the job description about what the hiring manager is looking to see in your CV. If it mentions they are looking for analytical minds, use the CAR method to showcase any relevant projects that demonstrate analytical ‘actions’ and the results your analysis drove. You can also apply the CAR method in interviews. Keep your answers to one to two minutes.”

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Presentation matters

The look of your resume matters nearly as much if not as much as what’s on it. Word and Google have templates that are free to use to help you revamp it.  “A resume should never be longer than one page and everything you do with that precious real estate matters,” Noor says. “Tools like Canva have free beautiful templates that can help you spruce it up but the added benefit is that it will likely help you be punchy with the limited space you have.” If you do have a gap in your resume, she also adds that most recruiters will understand that, especially given the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you just took time to yourself, you can simply explain that – succinctly – and move on to discussing what you learned from that time and what you’d like to do next.

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What if you can’t access mentors?

If you work freelance, have your own business, or work remotely, finding a natural pathway to a mentor can be tough, Noor says. However, mentors can come in some unexpected forms. “I can appreciate how challenging it can be to find mentors if it’s not an official ‘program’ at your place of work, for example. I’ve lived through that too! So if you don’t have direct access to mentors, you can still be ‘mentored’ because mentors can take the form of authors, podcasters, or other specialists that you learn from at a distance,” she says. “If you find a creator who really speaks to you, follow her work.

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Favor sponsors over mentors

Noor mentions the growing trend of women being “over mentored but under sponsored.” Mentors might just give advice, but sponsors can make moves on your behalf, so you want those whenever possible. “They typically will take the form of your manager or someone else that is ahead of you in their career and that would be in the room as decisions are being made,” she says. “If there’s a promotion, they’d bring forward your name. If there’s a project that requires a special task force, they recommend you to join the team. You want these champions in your corner at every stage.”

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Pay it forward

Another tool that can move your career forward is, sometimes, not even thinking about your career – but somebody else’s. Paying it forward is just as powerful as asking for help. “My advice is to do what you can, no matter how big or small, be honest with your capacity, and don’t overextend yourself! Cheer someone on when they post on Linkedin. Share an article with someone you think will be helpful to them. Make an introduction if you feel comfortable. Give advice if someone asks. Reply to that cold reach out, even if it’s to turn down the meeting,” Noor says.

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