Learning to Network in the New Normal and Beyond

I attended the Women in Health Policy seminar virtually on the one year anniversary of the first major COVID-19 lockdowns. During this time we have been experiencing the new normal, with zoom meetings for everything (even the conference), socially-distanced job interviews (if you’re lucky enough to get to talk in person), and elbow bumps and imaginary handshakes being the only “contact” that have. As we now are (hopefully) nearing the end of this pandemic with the vaccine rollout, we are moving into the unknown.

In this new normal, at a virtual conference, the first big presentation was a workshop entitled Networking 101, a fitting way to start off our week. At many points throughout the presentation, the speaker would reference how the material that she was presenting had changed from what she would have said a year ago. She even said that she was unsure if some things would ever return to normal or if everything was going to be completely different in the time after the pandemic. In this post, I share some of the main takeaways that I had from this presentation, including the few aspects of networking that weren’t affected by the pandemic.

Opening remarks at the start of our 2021 Women in Health Policy seminar

The major aspects include creating a networking log as well as tidying up some loose ends, mainly in regard to emails. As soon as the workshop ended, I created a new Gmail (only for professional use, not for stores to send me coupons), a spreadsheet to make the networking log, as well as an email signature for myself.

In my senior year of high school I had created a new Gmail as I entered the adult world for my college application, this was soon filled with emails from every store I shop at and every organization I have donated to. Now, I plan to keep that one running for that purpose and keep my new Gmail only for professional use. The networking log is heavily based off of the example that the speaker showed us during the workshop. I have already started to fill it out with some of the connections that I was able to make after being paired with a St. Lawrence University alumna during the resume workshop held later in the week. 

After the networking talk, the virtual conference, and doing more networking in general, I’m starting to see results. I am getting and sending many LinkedIn connection requests; these requests are being sent to and received from my fellow attendees of the conference. It is a bit weird, since I have not actually met these people in person. When I receive a request and the profile photo seems familiar or I recognize the name, it takes me a few minutes of stalking their LinkedIn to deduce that I met them virtually at our conference. I soon realized that I must have also prompted my fellow attendees to stalk me on LinkedIn by sending them connection requests without a note.

I now recognize the importance of writing a note when connecting on LinkedIn. Especially now that we can only meet people virtually, I feel that it is easier for everyone to blend together and a lot harder to make an impression in the way that we had prior to the pandemic. 

My biggest take away from this networking workshop probably seems minuscule to most people, however it has answered a question that I have had since the first business class that I took in my sophomore year of high school. Thank You notes, yay or nay? In high school I was told that it was necessary, and that employers or connections would find you rude and never speak to you again unless you send them a thank you note after every meeting or interview. Once I got to college, I was told that it is nice to send a thank you, however some people don’t want to deal with a thank you. In both of these cases it was recommended that the thank you be handwritten.

This workshop finally cleared up my confusion that arose from these differing styles. The speaker said that writing a thank you note is good to do but that, usually, email is the most preferred since it’s so quick and efficient. She also suggested that holiday cards to your connections could be a fun way to stay in contact with your connections, which is a dangerous fact for me to know (if you are one of my connections EXPECT holiday cards from now on). 

All in all, COVID-19 has turned everything on its head and has left many people wondering “what’s next?” The pandemic causing everything to go virtual has altered many aspects of networking, however, there are some key aspects that have remained constant, especially since a decent amount of communication already happened online via email and LinkedIn. The future still remains unknown, but after this workshop at my PLEN conference, I feel that I am ready to tackle any networking changes that may happen in the near or distant future.

Rebecca Boyle attended the 2021 Women in Heath Policy seminar. She is a member of the class of 2023 at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

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