How to network, connect and keep your career cranking amid COVID-19

Experts share five tangible ways to remain relevant and indispensable in this difficult job market.

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The global economy might seem nightmarish right now, but golden opportunities await those with the fortitude to adapt, speak up and reach out.

That’s the consensus of an esteemed panel of HR and communication pros who shared insights at Communications Week’s 2020 kickoff virtual event, “Career Connections: What You Need to Succeed in a COVID-19 Environment.”

The webinar, moderated by Ragan Communications CEO Diane Schwartz, featured career coach Stacey StaatermanTiffany Francis, chief people officer at Magnite; and Stephanie Howley, EVP of global talent management at BCW.

“Things are transforming before our very eyes,” Schwartz said, pointing out not all change is bad. Communicators are in prime position to gain more respect and prove their worth.

“We’re going through a big awakening as a culture,” Staaterman said, which requires bold communicators who are willing to initiate and facilitate tough conversations. They must also be willing to build alliances—internally and externally.

“From an HR perspective, I’m viewing comms as an extension of HR,” Francis added. “The two must be in lockstep moving forward. People are afraid and anxious, and they want communication consistently and clearly.”

How can you accomplish all this while working from home? It comes down to creativity. Staaterman suggested making the most of this Zoom-heavy moment by honing your presentation skills and mastering the art of connecting online.

“Practice being on video,” she said. “Look into the lens to establish better personal connection.”

Now’s a great time for communication pros to pursue professional development, especially skills related to data analysis. You can find plenty of free training at MOOC and edX, and Francis pointed out that LinkedIn Learning is currently offering loads of free resources. Whatever you choose to pursue, bolster skills that help you demonstrate and prove the value you bringing to the table.

Mentoring and reverse mentoring should also be top of mind.

“Barter skills and tap into your network,” Schwartz said. “Make yourself indispensable.”

Companies are on the lookout for adaptable, flexible employees who are committed to lifelong learning. It’s crucial to remain relevant, as “Skills you learn today could be obsolete next month,” according to Staaterman.

Crucial takeaways for job seekers (and career keepers)

The panelists offered guidance for those seeking work—and those keen on maintaining meaningful career momentum amid ongoing COVID-19 fallout:

1. You must stand out, reach out, and go for it. According to Francis, companies are open to hiring lower-level workers right now who may lack experience or expertise. That’s an opportunity for younger staffers—or older employees willing to try something new.

To get a foot in the door, however, you must find ways to stand out. HR pros are looking for employees who are cause-driven and passionate about CSR and DE&I initiatives. They want flexible utility players who can cover all the comms bases on a multitude of platforms. You won’t get a chance if you don’t inquire and build your case, however.

As Howley said, “Have a voice. Make your voice discoverable and visible.”

For recent grads, the panelists recommend searching for organizations that offer entry-level training programs and for international companies with global, remote workforces.

2. Bear down on LinkedIn. LinkedIn remains fertile ground for building business connections. So, polish that profile. Make sure everything’s updated, tidy and concise, and be proactive about commenting on industry leaders’ articles. Better yet, start writing your own posts. “Don’t be scared to put yourself out there,” Francis advised.

LinkedIn is like a non-stop virtual networking event, so plan your strategy on the platform accordingly. Thoughtful comments are a gateway toward conversations and meaningful connections.

3. Don’t count on that cover letter to save you. The panelists agreed that relevant clips and your résumé—especially the executive summary portion—is more likely to catch a recruiter’s eye. If you do craft a cover letter, keep it snappy.

Don’t let COVID-19 shut down your networking efforts. Staaterman said not to “withdraw” right now.

“We’re all under stress right now, and we’re all craving contact,” she said. “People are more accessible and a little more responsive. Have empathy, though. Don’t be opportunistic.”

“Creating your own content is a great way to separate yourself from the pack,” Howley said. “Attend niche events, too. Write thank-you notes. Keep a spreadsheet of who you’ve met and reached out to. Leverage your network. Grab opportunities to join boards. Put yourself out there.”

Staaterman added, “Don’t be afraid to volunteer. Network outside your industry. What about your neighbors or people in your community?”

4. Prepare thoroughly for interviews. Prepare specifically for the challenges of remote interviews.

“Make sure your background environment is professional,” Howley said. “Don’t talk too much. Pause to see if the interviewer has any questions. Display a growth mindset and a thirst for learning.”

Francis encourages job seeks to do their research about the role and company and ask smart questions. It’s OK to challenge the interviewer to step up their game, too.

Asking mildly provocative questions, such as, “Why are your Glassdoor scores so low?” can be a smart tactic, she said.

Staaterman said interviewees should demonstrate “leadership behaviors,” which stand the test of time, unlike technical skills that might become obsolete.

“Demonstrate emotional intelligence by showing your listening and empathy skills. Show genuine concern and care,” she said.

Don’t forget to follow up after an interview. Thank-you notes or a gesture of appreciation for the person’s time are optimal. Cookies or flowers, not so much.

Howley suggested supplementing follow-ups with material related to topics you covered. That could be a timely news article or even a restaurant recommendation.

5. Don’t be shy about DE&I. To start doing better, Francis said communicators should partner with internal colleagues to ensure efforts go beyond empty lip service.

“Listen and learn. Get educated. Have difficult conversations on race,” Howley said.

Communicators have a golden opportunity to push companies to achieve more concrete action and traction on substantive inclusion right now. You’re not going to solve any systemic problems overnight, but you can be a voice of healing, reconciliation and truth. You can help create meaningful opportunities or at least initiate important conversations.

Regardless of how your career unfolds, doing your part to fight for equality and racial justice is an easy way to create a legacy you can be proud of.

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