Find Your Dream Job, Episode 249:
How to Network Virtually, with Kenneth Johnson
Airdate: June 24, 2020
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.
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You know you need to network when you look for a new job.
But because of COVID-19, many of us now work remotely and professional events happen online.
How do you connect with others when you can’t meet face-to-face?
Here to talk about how to network virtually is Kenneth Johnson.
He’s the president of East Coast Executives. It’s a top diversity recruitment firm. He’s also a Forbes career coach and the host of The Career Seekers Show.
Kenneth joins us today from New York City.
Kenneth, here’s where I want to start, what does networking virtually look like these days? Especially during a job search.
Sure, Mac, thank you so very much for having me. I’m really excited, and you know networking today virtually, and this is the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it looks a little different even within the framework of that. But a lot of people are immediately going to say it’s virtual, with Zoom and it’s some of your social media feeds and I think that all of that is true. But I think networking, kind of outside of the standard platforms that allow you to network, people have to understand that in the current time, networking today, especially in the area of job search means offering something and not expecting to receive something.
You have to network with your hands open, from a “give” standpoint. I think that’s really important and I think people are missing that. And also, I really believe that you have to be patient. Life has changed and people don’t have structure and standard hours right now, so if they don’t get back to you in a few hours or they don’t get back to you for a day or a week, just be patient with the process.
Here in New York City, every Monday we do a team meeting and for the last six weeks, someone on our team meeting has lost a relative or a friend. And sometimes you may reach out to them and you might not hear from them for a day or two, but they’re dealing with real-life situations. So, networking is still pretty standard in the job search mode, but also, just understand that life is happening right now.
I’m glad you brought up those points, Kenneth, because the world has changed and ours is a national show, we’re reaching people at different places in the country. How do you recommend people exercise that patience and be sensitive to the changes that others might be going through? Especially when you might feel awkward talking about those things or asking people directly out of respect for privacy and family.
Sure, I think people understand, and as you mentioned, it’s a global pandemic so people understand what’s happening. I think it’s just really important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes at all times right now, you know, and particularly job search networking. And for us, as a recruitment firm, even from the business development side of things, we’re front-facing and we’re always asking and we’re always looking to see how we can position ourselves to add value, but sometimes that value add may just be giving someone time.
What are your best tips, Kenneth, about how to communicate with others virtually during this pandemic and doing that networking? I’m thinking, for example, of someone who has just been laid off, they’re starting a search and they weren’t planning to do this, and they want to reconnect with colleagues and begin reaching out to target employers. How do you recommend somebody get started? And what might a typical day look like for them as they reach out to people online?
Yeah, I think the key to getting started is to get started and so I do believe that LinkedIn is your friend at this time. Have a strategy to your LinkedIn communications and you may just want to be transparent in the conversation and say, “Hey, listen, due to a layoff or a furlough, I find myself having a little more free time and I’m just reaching out. I know it may have been some time since our last correspondence, we both have probably been extremely busy, but I’m just presenting this as an option for you. If there’s any way that I can add value or support for something that you’re working on, I’m here to do that, even if it’s on a volunteer basis.”
It’s striking, you’re not asking for a meeting or an introduction. Is that how you recommend people begin when networking virtually these days?
Definitely how I believe they should begin, and here’s the reason for that, Mac. So, everyone… you won’t believe the amount of meeting requests and introduction requests I’ve received in the last 5 or 6 weeks. People have decided that they may want to transition out of a career, they may really need a new opportunity, so I’m getting people that are reaching out to me consistently, and there’s no way that I would have the time or the bandwidth to share conversations with them all but I am respectful and I want to be responsive to the requests. So, although I’m not able to sit on a 15 or 20-minute Zoom call or Skype call or Google MeetUp with everyone, I do like to at least let them know that I received their inquiry, and sometimes LinkedIn is a great place to do that. I chime in maybe in a comment, or I can even send a direct message, but I do think the platform allows for instant communication as well as updates on what it is that you have going on, all in one place.
For someone who does want to connect with a hiring manager or a former colleague who is inside a company where they hope to work, how do you recommend they approach them? Is it first to see, “Is there something of value I can do for you?” Or…how do they get to their request? Because, in the end, you are doing a search and you’re hoping to get the help of others.
Indeed, indeed. I think, if it was… as a career coach, I always speak to people about being prepared in front of the conversation. So, here’s my suggestion: if there’s a hiring manager that you’re looking to reach out to or it’s a colleague, a former colleague, that you’re looking to reach out to with the hopes of connecting with their employer and/or someone from their talent acquisition or recruitment team, research the company prior to even reaching out. Research the company, find out about open opportunities, find out about initiatives, take a look at the Google news feed, find out what’s happening with that organization, and then create a conversation, frame a narrative that fits why you’re reaching out.
Yes, of course, you’re ultimately reaching out with the hopes of getting some head start or some type of information regarding employment, but you don’t want to just reach out and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job. Can you help me?”
If you can frame it in the sense that, “Hey, you know what? I saw this opportunity on your company website. It really seems like a good fit. I’d love to share a conversation with you if you have the time. I haven’t applied yet but I really do believe there may be some value in speaking to you prior to doing that just to gain a better understanding of the players and the game.”
I like the specificity of that; it’s a clear ask, isn’t it, Kenneth?
Yes, it is, and you know, clarity is key. I think we live in a world where, sometimes. everything isn’t what it looks like, but I do think that if you’re looking and you’re networking genuinely strategically, you have to have some clarity in what it is that you want and that doesn’t mean just going straight after it. But that definitely means understanding that this person may not be able to help you, and what you want to do is at least get them to move you on to the next phase of your process and that may just be an introduction. On LinkedIn, on another forum, it could be a direct introduction, but either way it goes, you want to be clear what you’re looking for and how that person may be able to support you.
How do you recommend someone get clear about the ask before they have that conversation? Often, I think, because people don’t know any better, they simply request a meeting and they don’t walk into that conversation, whether it’s in person or virtually, knowing what they want to get out of the meeting. How do you see people successfully get clear about an ask? What do they do, Kenneth?
That’s a process, Mac, and I don’t know if it’s an overnight process. I just think that as we continue to navigate our careers, and as we continue to look at places that are good landing spots for us, you know professionally, we have to continue to build a framework around what it is that we want and what works best for us, and I don’t think that this comes overnight. Some people in this remote working environment right now, have finally realized that maybe they are individual contributors, maybe they prefer to work by themselves and they’re more effective that way. And then there are some people who have figured out that, “Look, we really do need to be part of a team environment.” And they need that interaction every day, that water cooler talk, or just those meetings that are direct and face-to-face.
You’ll figure out what it is that you need but that’s a process, and sometimes that process is just about reflecting internally and being honest and truthful with yourself. Look at your accomplishments, where have you succeeded? And what have those environments looked like? And then take that information, it’s almost just like downloading the data, take that information. I’m a big proponent of writing things down and just write it down, and then circle back, look at it and frame it out and figure out what it is that works best for you.
I’m glad you brought up this point about the time and effort it takes to get clear about career goals because it is a struggle for many people. I certainly personally struggled with it, and investing that time can pay real dividends.
We were talking about making a request for a meeting. Because of the pandemic, I think there’s just been an explosion in the number of Skype and Zoom calls, all done by video and other formats, too. Do you recommend, Kenneth, that when networking virtually, particularly these days, that once somebody agrees to a conversation, that it happen via video or is it better to keep the conversation to email?
Oh, Mac, that’s the question I’ve been tossing around for the past week and a half and I’m going to explain to you why. So, there is a client that we have, and historically, we’ve shared phone conversations and we have a recurring phone conversation every week. We’ve had that for probably the last 10 months; since August 2019 was when we started these conversations. All of a sudden, maybe four weeks ago, they decided that they wanted to shift the conversations to the Zoom platform and I really didn’t understand it. I was like, “Listen, we’ve been operating, just having conference calls all this time.” So, I don’t believe that all correspondence has to be via Zoom or Skype and video conferencing platforms.
Find out what works for you. From my end of it, I would rather just share the conversation over the phone or via email. Especially in the business that we’re in because I need to document a lot of stuff and email helps me in that means. But you know, it’s whatever works and maybe you just need to ask the question of the other person on the other end and say, “Hey, what’s your preferred method of communication? Are you open to video conferencing calls? Is it best to email you or just share a traditional phone call?”
Whatever it may be, I think you’ll benefit because they’ll feel more comfortable and probably appreciate the fact that you asked them prior.
Good, so find out what works for the person that you want to meet with.
Terrific, well, we’re going to take a quick break, Kenneth, and when we come back, I want to talk more about a point that you made, which is not only should you be asking others for help, but you should think about what you can do for them when networking, especially virtually.
Stay with us. When we return, Kenneth Johnson will continue to share his advice on how to network virtually.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Kenneth Johnson.
He’s the president of East Coast Executives It’s a top diversity recruitment firm. He’s also a Forbes career coach and the host of The Career Seekers Show.
Kenneth, before the break we were talking about networking virtually and I love the point that you made at the start of our conversation about how you’ve got to think about what you can do for others. Why is that important when you’re networking with people online?
Yeah, I think it’s really important for a few different reasons, and let me share a story. So, I’m a believer in this concept of asking how you can add value and then learning about the opportunities of the other side of that. So, I guess an example would be, I’m the job readiness facilitator at the Grow with Google Learning Center here in Manhattan. Well, the Grow with Google center is closed during the pandemic, but when it was open, I was that guy. So, it was interesting because that opportunity came about because I just wanted to help career seekers. And I went to an organization and I basically just said, “Hey, here are some things that I’ve been thinking about, I do believe that I can add value to you guys, and I just want to explore some synergies and see how this could work out. If you’re interested.”
They were interested, that conversation led to another conversation and, I don’t know, a couple of months later, I had a feature in the New York Post on the work that I do with the Grow with Google Learning Center. But it just came from an ask, right?
A lot of times, career opportunities work the same way. If you ask a person, if you ask an organization, which is ultimately going to be a person, how you can support them, how you can add value, they’re going to understand the genuineness. And again, it has to be a genuine ask; you have to want to add value and offer support. But I do think that if you come from that standpoint, you’ll be surprised at how much stuff comes back to you, just in response to that.
You know, again, it’s not going to happen each and every time, but I think if you just do it from a genuine place, you’ll see the return on that.
What about job seekers, Kenneth? What can they offer, virtually, that is not only going to be of help to others but ultimately going to help their career and search just as your offer to help led to new opportunities and attention in the New York Post?
Yeah, so job seekers, everyone has a skill set and at least it’s about understanding what your skillset is and where you add value, and I know that’s a term that I used quite a few times in the conversation but I believe wholeheartedly in it. Whatever it is, whatever your skillset is, maybe you’re a writer and you can do some edit work or maybe you’re familiar with social media, or maybe you’re an expert on the Zoom platform. I don’t know what it is but once you figure out where you can add value, and typically that value is associated with the person’s pain points, so I think there’s a talent involved in this and the talent is being able to understand your specific industry and/or sector, knowing what the pain points are, and then going to an individual that’s a high influencer or decision-maker that may be experiencing that pain, and telling him or her that you’re the solution to it.
I like that approach a lot because it starts with a problem that you’ve identified with someone you want to connect with and build a relationship with, and you’re coming to them with an idea for a solution. It’s a lot better than that open-ended question which I think it’s always well-intentioned that people will often ask in informational interviews, “Is there anything that I can do to help you?” And that’s good but the approach you suggest is much more strategic, isn’t it?
Yeah, I believe so and this is what it’s all about, it’s a job search strategy and I think that if you can be strategic in the way that you look at your skillset and what you offer to others, you’ll find on the other end that there will be some solutions out there that only you can provide and then once you’re able to position them, you’ll see where you do add value, and I think people will respect you for that and the next you know you’re the SME in your space for that.
What about mistakes, Kenneth? What mistakes do you see people make when networking virtually?
Yeah, I think that the key mistake is to start with the ask. I think people often start with an ask and they’re not even completely clear, you know what, let me back up. I think the first mistake is not researching the audience, not being familiar with the audience. Who are you speaking to? Can they even support and/or assist you in your job search? I think sometimes people go to people who can’t really offer them assistance and that’s problem number one.
Problem number two is going in with the ask without having some type of relationship. Networking, ultimately, is another term for relationship-building in my mind, and I do think that you have to invest in relationships for them to be successful or to be fruitful, and people often don’t invest in the relationship and I think that’s a recipe for failure.
When this is happening online, the principles that you just laid out are so good, but how do you see this playing out if you see someone you want to contact and you want to have that conversation, again, how does that play out, Kenneth? How do you make the first move?
Yeah, so, Mac, typically, I think a lot of people look at it as something that has to be really thought out and narrated, and they waste a lot of time doing that. Sometimes, it’s just a simple compliment. “Wow, took a look at your LinkedIn profile and you’ve had some amazing career success. Just the way that you have navigated through the financial service industry is really impressive. I would love the opportunity to share a conversation one day. I’m looking to do something similar.”
It can be something as simple as that. Just a compliment on how someone’s career has played out and you’d be surprised some of the returns that you’d get on that. But we’re in a day and age where people are posting information about articles that they’re mentioned in and things of that nature, and people are posting about events that they’re involved in, and sometimes it’s just reaching out and commenting and saying, “Hey, congratulations, that’s great.” And you’d be surprised what happens.
Yeah, it’s a classic, the “Attaboy,” but I do find as well, that if I do see somebody who maybe I don’t know very well but I’ve met and they’re mentioned in a news article, and I sent them an email, just briefly congratulating them on the citation or the accomplishment, 6 or 7 times out of 10, they write back and it starts a conversation, doesn’t it?
Yes indeed, and it’s something that simple but it’s genuine. You know, I would imagine, Mac, even this conversation and our prior conversation, if you’re sending an email, I’m sure you’re sending a genuine email, that you admire what the feat was, and I think people understand that and appreciate it.
Let’s talk about online events, Kenneth, again, because of the pandemic but even after it ends, so much work will likely be happening remotely, how do you recommend job seekers make the most of virtual events if they attend a webinar or a virtual conference?
Oh wow, you know, this is an unbelievable time for job seekers and actually for all of us. There have been some amazing online events taking place. I actually just got invited to keynote an event that’s taking place in Nigeria in a couple of weeks. It’s a career event in Nigeria and I’m going to be the keynote, how amazing is that, right?
I think that what people need to do in preparation for these events, and even just to get the most out of these events is to connect. Once you find out who all the panelists are, send them an invite to connect on LinkedIn, and not just a general invite, send something about the actual panel that maybe is of interest to you, or maybe a question that you’re hoping they’ll answer or address.
Whatever it is, I think it’s not enough just to attend the event and take in the information. I think that if there are break out rooms, participate. If there are panelists that you want to connect with, connect. But always ramp up, 10x, as Grant Cardone would say, 10x the activity. And I believe that you’ll start to see results with that.
That’s terrific advice, and I especially like the suggestion about connecting with people on LinkedIn. I see so few people do that and it is a way to stand out from other conference attendees, isn’t it?
Indeed, and you’d be surprised. I do a ton of virtual events, even prior to the pandemic, that was just the nature of the business and how we need to be front-facing as a leader in diversity recruitment. And I always ask and request and suggest that people reach out to me after the fact and sure, we get some, but if there are 150 attendees on and I only get seven to 10 people that reach out, that number is not too big, but that’s what it looks like, typically.
It’s the virtual equivalent of the people who line up to speak with a presenter after the presentation is over, isn’t it?
Well, let’s talk about just virtual networking, not only during a job search but throughout your career. What good habits do you see good virtual networkers practice?
You know, I had a gentleman that I worked for in the past, and he said something to me that my father had said to me years prior. My father mentioned it to me when I was young and this was when I was trying out for a sports team and things of that nature. And my father’s thing was, “Listen, just show up and give your best. Show up and be present in that moment.”
And it was my father, so I didn’t take his advice, right, because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Later on in life, someone told me the same thing in regards to my career and just working and making the most out of opportunities. And it really is about showing up sometimes, and once you’re there, you’ll stand out and you’ll perform well if given the opportunity but it’s all about showing up.
If you’re in a job search and you’re doing this virtual networking, how do you know it’s working, Kenneth?
Well, so, I do believe that networking, there’s a process to it, it’s time-consuming, it’s not instantaneous. I think over time, you’ll know if it’s working. It’s like building a wall; you have a couple of bricks as the foundation but you know, until you start laying them down in a series, you don’t necessarily see what’s happening, and I really do believe that networking is the same way, you have to do it strategically. Try not to be all over the place, but if you have an opportunity that you’re looking at and you have an organization that you’ve gotten laser-focused in on, start networking within that organization. And I think once you start making enough contacts, and people become aware of you and who you are, then as you show up and start to know more people that are, I guess, decision-makers or subject matter experts in the space, you’ll start to see that that networking has paid off exponentially.
It’s been a terrific conversation, Kenneth, now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Wow, you know, we have some great things going on. So, just right now, we’re doing some really good stuff with some great clients in the area of diversity recruitment. You know, for us it’s always about partnering with companies that are serious about adding diversity to their recruitment pipelines, and we’ve been fortunate enough to build some excellent relationships. We’re always looking for more relationships but we’re just excited at the way it’s going.
We just postponed TEDx Harlem, so I’m saddened by that, but it’s due to the pandemic. We’re running what we call the ECE Challenge; we’re sending the 2020 graduates from five HBCUs to the grad career festival next month, courtesy of East Coast Executives.
We’re just trying to speak our truth. We’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting people in their time of need, and I honestly believe that on the back end of that, we will see the fruit of that as well.
Well, I know people can learn more about you, your company, and your services by visiting your website, eastcoastexecutives.com and your radio show, The Career Seeker’s Show is also available on YouTube.
Kenneth, given all the useful tips that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing that you want a listener to remember about how to network virtually?
Be present in your networking. And by that, I mean, network with the mindset of how you can support the person on the other side of your networking. I know that we’re all in a situation where there may be something that we need. People have been laid off, people have been furloughed, they need jobs, but I really want you to be selfless in your networking. And I honestly believe that if you just take that approach, you’ll start to see over time how that approach and a good strategy will pay off, and you’ll end up getting opportunities for yourself, as well.
It’s a process so I just say stay in the game. It’s frustrating for a lot of people now but please, please, be patient and stay in the game.
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Next week, our guest will be Lauren Francis. She’s the president and founder of Mulberry Talent Partners. It’s a professional staffing, recruiting, and executive search firm.
How do you keep up with your contacts when you’re not doing a job search? Lauren and I will talk about why you always need to nurture your network and how to do it.
I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.