‘Getting Out There’ When Not Going Out

How professionals with disabilities can network during a pandemic

| 10 Mar 2021 | 12:55

For professionals with disabilities, whether employed, running a business or job-hunting, there is one activity that must be in their daily routine – networking.

When people hear networking, they often immediately shut down, fending off images of awkward small-talk and sterile conference rooms. But that is not real networking. Real networking is about offering value to others – it’s staying in touch, making connections, giving time and offering help. Whenever a person is supporting someone else, they are net-working.

Why is it essential? A nourished and well-developed network will very often be the gateway to future opportunities. Many people have surely heard the proverb “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In this case, it’s not how many jobs a person applies for, it’s who will provide a referral to the next opportunity?

But what does networking look like in 2021? How can a professional network strategically, when getting out, socializing, interviewing. Everything is done differently now?

Staying in the Game

There are a few considerations to help people stay in the game, even from behind a screen.

People should take full advantage of LinkedIn. They should be sure LinkedIn profiles are looking sharp and current. (No photo, no view!) An excellent way to use LinkedIn to support a network is to write recommendations for connections. Thoughtfully written recommendations will strengthen a profile, and the effort may boomerang back into recommendations.

Everyone should get comfortable with the camera. Now is the time to become proficient with video platforms like Zoom. This often requires practice. Learn how to place the camera correctly. Set up the proper lighting. Practice, practice, practice! When that Zoom interview comes along, it’s important to convey strength, professionalism and skill.

People can volunteer virtually. Yes, that’s a thing. As a volunteer, a person is not only supporting a cause, but is also building relationships and proving his/her worth. That leads to meaningful connections. There are still many ways to volunteer. Virtual tutoring, calls to elderly neighbors, mentoring, fundraising - the list goes on. Getting on to idealist.org or investigating opportunities at a favorite organization are other examples.

Schedule informational interviews. An informational interview is a conversation with someone in a role or industry of interest. These can often be the springboard into other conversations, including job interviews. Take advantage of the trend of meeting remotely and get onto people’s calendars. A Zoom meeting is much easier than a trip to the office, so people in the job market can reach out to someone in a field they want to learn more about. Fifteen or twenty minutes could open many doors.

Side hustles are real hustles. If there’s something a person has been wanting to try for a while, now might be the time to start. Many professionals are dabbling in new gigs that can be done from home. Freelance writing, website building, selling handicrafts – you name it. Each new customer or client served is a new member of the network. Similarly, taking an online course or pursuing a certification can also grow the circle. New classmates, new connections.

As much as the pandemic has complicated lives, it has also opened up new opportunities. Networking is still possible, and in some ways, even easier. Seize this time to learn, connect and, most of all, support others. Eventually, the pandemic will decline, but the expert networker will remain a powerful and dynamic professional.

Jaydan Mitchell is Transitions Coordinator, Career and Youth Services, Lighthouse Guild. Reprinted with permission from Able News.