Career networking is all about creating an avenue for professional relationships and employment goals, but what if you could make new industry connections online in a matter of seconds from another state or country?
According to career experts, trading in-person networking events filled with flimsy nametags and endless free tote bags for an online setting can be just as beneficial – if not more so.
What makes virtual networking different to networking in person?
Strategic Career Management Director and Career Coach Helen Holan said the key difference to networking online versus face-to-face is that some communication elements were slightly removed, but all variations of networking had the same end goal of building relationships.
“Essentially your goals are to get people to know you, like you and trust you, only then can networking be of any benefit,” she said.
Although there are pros and cons to both virtual and in-person networking events, one of the biggest benefits to online networking is that it’s easier to attend – plus you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home or office.
“Perhaps you are able to speak with people you might struggle to be in front of physically, particularly if you’re working in an industry where there are few local contacts,” Ms Holan said.
“Engaging with online networking may mean you get to reach out to people from your industry in different states or countries.”
Instead of selling yourself and listing all the reasons why you’re so employable – and yes, believe it or not, everyone else claims to be self-sufficient in Microsoft Word and Excel too – Ms Holan said conveying yourself as a service and being open to every communication opportunity would allow for a more successful networking outcome.
“A lot of people walk into networking or approach conversations from a self-serving or selling perspective,” she said.
“The technique is just to be really authentically curious about others and what they do, thinking about how we can be of service to them.”
Beyond online event platforms, social networking sites such as LinkedIn help us to constantly connect – because, the reality is, we never truly know when our career might experience disruption.
Instead of leaving our LinkedIn profiles dormant to collect cobwebs, Ms Holan said it was best to post career updates and maintain connections as you go, even if you were not seeking new employment.
“Statistics indicate fewer than 30 per cent of people land their job as a result of responding to an advertisement on a job board; most people gain their job through utilisation of their network and other sources outside of a job application,” she said.
“It’s about applying a bit of a maintenance mindset with LinkedIn and updating your connections as you can, because you’re never quite sure when you’ll need to have those in place.
“It is not only about keeping connections up to date, but also committing to maintaining relationships with people over time even when you don’t necessarily see an immediate need or benefit.”
What’s new in the virtual event space?
Gone are the days of a simple chatroom with basic video and text functions, the virtual event space has changed for the better in order to strengthen your virtual handshake.
For virtual and hybrid event platform vFairs, there are a range of networking and engagement features on offer for attendees to get the most out of their online experience.
Like something straight out of The Sims, vFairs offers 3D visual designs and animations – take your avatar on a stroll through the virtual lobby or head to the interactive exhibitor booth to do your research on an organisation.
“vFairs uses video sharing applications as only one part of a bigger production – attendees can network through things like text and video chat, live Q&As and discussion boards,” vFairs Founder and CEO Muhammad Younas said.
“Attendees can also feel like they’re engaging with companies and brands without actually starting a conversation at all.
VFairs exhibit hall is part of the immersive virtual experience
“For example, a virtual exhibit booth lets attendees browse through a company’s brochures, videos and even representative’s profiles, so they can learn more about the organisation before they strike up a conversation.”
Move over Skype and Zoom, nowadays virtual webinar platforms offer features like live polling, games and live translation to create a more interactive and accessible networking session.
“Compared to 10 years ago, virtual networking tools are now leveraging those fundamental concepts and tools such as text chatrooms, video chat and forums to develop advanced, holistic and immersive networking experiences,” Mr Younas said.
The prospect of successful face-to-face networking seemed dire when COVID-19 struck, but virtual networking provided an opportunity to upskill and adapt throughout the pandemic, according to Mr Younas.
“The pandemic created a huge shift in virtual event users, which has in turn shifted expectations about what virtual events must deliver to their clients,” he said.
“Some virtual events platforms had to adjust more quickly than they naturally would have in order to become a mainstream technology that’s accessible to everyone.
“Pre-pandemic, virtual events were being used by early adopters, now they’re being used by everyone, including the least technologically savvy people.”