“Your network is your net worth.”

That’s a point Noel Paul says is integral to his career as a “career switcher.” Paul, the executive director of Purdue University’s Krannert Professional Development Center, has held positions focused on everything from engineering to corporate social responsibility,  in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to higher education. Today, Paul’s role focuses on providing career and leadership development advice to Purdue students and alumni.

How the Pandemic Has Impacted Networking

In the wake of a global pandemic and a shift to remote work that promises to remain permanent for many people, networking presents challenges. An Upwork survey of 1,500 hiring managers found that 61.9% of the companies were planning more remote work going forward. The report also predicts 22% of Americans (36.2 million workers) will be working remotely by 2025. Online meetings or virtual gatherings, such as professional conferences or conventions, just aren’t the same as meeting in person.

“You don't shake hands, you don't have physical proximity,” Paul says. “I think the human race still values that in our psyche. You're a picture on a square. It's a surrogate, a distant surrogate.”

Nonetheless, forced by circumstances, we’ve learned how to make remote connections an effective, if not preferred, alternative. That goes for getting work done – and for networking.

Advantages of Online Networking

Online networking can have advantages. What Paul refers to as “your networking spider web” can span the globe. “Your reach is not limited by your ability to physically interact with people,” Paul says. “If I never travel to Singapore, I can have relationships with people in Singapore that are in my professional circles, or I can bring people into my professional network that are in Singapore, Africa, Europe or Latin America.”

Online networking also makes it possible to fine-tune additions to your network. A simple search on Google or of LinkedIn’s more than 700 million users in more than 200 countries can turn up a consultant who works with governments in Europe, the vice president of manufacturing for a chemical company in Brazil or a sales director for a medical device firm in Wichita, Kansas, if that’s your desire. “I can be so specific in targeting my search,” Paul says. “There's no way I can do that without technology or online capabilities.”

Tips on how to Network Online

Here are five tips Paul offers for growing your network (and your net worth) online:

  1. Review a person’s LinkedIn profile (or other online information) to identify common interests, both professionally and otherwise. Paul sees LinkedIn as a crucial tool not just for finding potential additions to your network and reaching out to them, but for keeping in touch with people in your network as well, even people you started the relationship with in person. “I think that's a very powerful value of online networking,” Paul says. “It provides a longer tail for keeping relationships with those you have interacted with previously.”
  2. Having done step 1, personalize your initial invitation. Use the background you have gathered to establish some common ground — shared acquaintances, geography, industries, interests, organizations — with the person to whom you’re reaching out. “It increases the motivation for the receiver to connect,” Paul says. “It sets you up for the next contact.”
  3. Be clear on why you want to network with the person. Why are you reaching out to them in particular? “You’re proactively sharing what it is that really is driving that outreach,” Paul says. “That way they’re not questioning your agenda.”
  4. Take time to interact. Read and comment on their posts. Read their whitepaper and send them a note telling them you found it of value. Send them a link to an article that might interest them. Wish them a happy birthday. There are myriad possibilities. “It's a relationship-building process and you have to do it in spoonfuls,” Paul says.
  5. Until you’ve done some relationship building (see step 4), don’t ask for anything — a recommendation or referral, for instance — and certainly don’t ask in your initial contact. “You have to establish credibility If you want true effective networking,” Paul says, “and if you want that networking to lead to outcomes.”

Grow Your Network with Purdue Online

Pursuing an advanced degree or professional certificate from Purdue Online can also grow your network — as well as advance your skills and career — as you interact with faculty and fellow students from around the world. Find an online program today or request more information.