How to network when jobs are in short supply, according to a career counselor

No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been working, we all have questions when it comes to careers—from how to respond to a rejection letter to learning to say no when a role isn’t a good fit. That’s where Career Counselor comes in. In this weekly series, we connect with experts to answer all of your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.

It’s no surprise that coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted many career paths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment numbers hit 2.5 million in May, and we know that many of our readers are coping with some career-related corona stress. Maybe you were laid off or furloughed, or maybe you were even unemployed before the coronavirus happened. Or maybe you were considering a career swap or a move. In any case, you might be a little freaked out.

While it’s true that the job market is in a bit of a difficult place, there’s still an opportunity to make connections, network, and even land a job. It just requires a bit of resilience and some creativity. Luckily, we’ve got Serena Johnson, career counselor and founder of Women Who Do Cool Shit, here to provide us with some of her expert tips for surviving (and maybe even thriving) during COVID-19. While you can’t predict the future, you might as well plant some seeds and see what grows.


HelloGiggles (HG): How do you think COVID-19 is affecting the job market—good, bad and everything in between?

Serena Johnson (SJ): COVID-19 has truly changed the way we work. The bad is that complete industries have dried up in an instant. Over 20 million people lost their jobs in April. Even though things are slowly opening back up, we still don’t have a clear idea of what certain industries will look like moving forward. That leaves a lot of people asking, “Do I pivot to a new industry? Do I wait to see if my industry opens back up?” The future is truly still unknown, and that is a really hard place to sit in—mentally and emotionally.

The good, however, is that we finally have more flexibility at work. It has been proven that most jobs can be done at home, and we don’t need people to sit in an office space for eight hours a day. For a lot of my clients, staying home has eased the pressure from toxic work situations and made them love their job again. I am interested to see what the “new normal” of work will look like in the future.


HG: What are some ways a person can network online?

SJ: There are so many! We tend to think of networking as going to a mixer where there are a bunch of people in one space. But that is actually not the best way to network. One-on-one interactions are the fastest way to grow your network in a genuine way.

Here is a list of ways you can network online:

  1. Attend virtual meetups. Networking companies/organizations have been moving their events online and are utilizing breakout rooms so you have interactions with people one on one. These tend to be smaller events, so you have the space to make deeper connections.
  2. Use LinkedIn to connect to new people in your industry. This was around before, but it is even more crucial of a platform at this moment.
  3. Look at your personal network. What relationships can you leverage to reach your goal? Ask your connections for Zoom coffee dates/a quick phone call. Ask those people to connect you to someone new.
  4. Use Facebook groups/Slack channels. There are so many groups to join that support your specific industry/career goals. Where are those people hanging out online? Find them, and then join their space.


HG: How can a person utilize their old connections while still remaining authentic?

SJ: Do not start with asking for a favor right off the bat. This is bad form. Start by acknowledging that times are hard right now. Tell them you hope that they are healthy. Give them the option to not reply to this email if they do not have the bandwidth to respond. This shows that you are very aware of what is going on in the world and says that you do not have enough information to know how they are handling everything.

Then, move into reconnecting with them. Are you friends with them on Facebook and saw they did a quick getaway to the mountains? Did you see on LinkedIn that they shared an article that you found really interesting? Ask them, sincerely, how that was. Or let them know what you learned from the article they posted. This shows them that you actually checked up on them. You didn’t just go straight into what you wanted. You care about them first.

Finally, you can ask for a Zoom meeting or phone conversation. Tell them why you want to reconnect. If you are interested in a job at their company, do not ask for a recommendation or a favor about this job in this email. You purely want to reconnect and gather information. Humans want to connect with humans. Period. Be sincere. Be authentic. It will get you everywhere.


HG: Are there any tools or online events you’d recommend?

SJ: Here are some tools that I have been recommending to clients of mine:

The Informational Interview Bible: I wrote a free 19-page bible that outlines everything you need to know about informational interviews, including over 40 sample questions to ask during the conversation, dos and don’ts, and sample scripts you can use to reach out to old acquaintances/[make] those cold calls. It’s a phenomenal resource to help you navigate online networking. This is LinkedIn but for women. You can email thousands of women across the globe in similar positions as you or in industries that you want to move into. It is great for asking for resources as well. I really love this platform.

Ladies Get Paid Slack: This can be a little overwhelming because there are SO many people in this Slack group, but if you do some digging, there are incredible resources. Are you looking to make a career change and want to meet someone who works in UX design? Mention it in this Slack, and I’m sure someone will answer.

Lunchclub: This is a new app that is like blind dating for networking. You get to have conversations with new people who have similar interests as you/are an industry you are interested in. I’ve only had one conversation so far, so I am new to this platform, but I think the concept is super interesting.

Career Goals: This is my personal networking group. Each Monday, I host a virtual meetup where we celebrate our wins, set goals for the week, and share resources with one another. There are only 10 spots each week, so it is super intimate, and you get support from a career coach (me!).


HG: Do you have any other recommendations for folks currently looking to make connections?

SJ: Get creative when making connections. Great connections don’t always come from professional settings. Sometimes it is from a person you met at a BBQ who knows someone who knows someone. Create the mindset that every new person you meet is a potential collaborator/connection/networking opportunity. You never know what opportunity might be available if you just are present and interested in the person in front of you.

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