I’m a fourth-year Arts student stressed about post-graduation life. I was under the impression that I’d have lots of networking opportunities in my final year of undergrad. However, since classes have gone online, I’m finding it hard to make connections with employers and professors. I’m worried I won’t have anyone to ask for letters of recommendation. How do I go about networking now that McGill is operating virtually?
Scared Hopeless Youth (SHY)
Thanks for sharing, and just know that it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed right now! Although networking can seem more difficult during the pandemic, it’s definitely not impossible. While it’s always hard to get started, a good first step is to get reacquainted with old connections. Reach out to familiar mentors, friends, and professors. Since you’ve already made a first impression, these conversations may feel more natural and lead to new contacts, and even new opportunities.
It may seem daunting to connect with professors virtually, but look at the situation from their point of view—they’re used to seeing their students in person, and now many are teaching to a sea of Zoom squares. Now more than ever, professors want to connect with students, so take advantage of this by connecting outside of class. Online office hours cut your commute time down to zero, making it easier to fit meetings with professors into a busy student schedule. It’s a good idea to come with prepared questions, as this will better acquaint your professors with you and your academic interests. It’s also beneficial to familiarize yourself with your professors’ research beforehand so that you know how they can best help you in your professional pursuits. If they get to know you and your enthusiasm for their field, they’re more likely to write you a strong recommendation letter.
The remote semester can also be a great time to strengthen your online professional presence: Take some time to spruce up your CV, cover letters, and LinkedIn account. The Career Planning Service (CaPS) is a great resource for help with your CV and cover letter, and is currently offering online appointments. LinkedIn can be a great tool to get your name on potential employers’ radars, but make sure that you’re taking breaks to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations it often sets up as a social media platform. Nonetheless, you can still leverage it to your advantage. You can start by building a network of people with whom you have something in common: Peers with shared student organizations are great starting points. Once you have built a network that mirrors your real-life one, you can begin to leverage it for further connections. Identify some people in organizations or companies you’re interested in getting involved with, and reach out to intermediaries, which you can find through the “How You’re Connected” tool. From there, these intermediaries can introduce you to the people you’re looking to connect with.
Now is also the perfect time to speak to employers outside of your home city, since most calls and interviews are conducted virtually. With more remote positions available now than ever, it is a great time to set your sights further afield.
Although online career fairs and networking events may seem awkward or uncomfortable, it is a good idea to attend them anyway. Decreased attendance in comparison to in-person networking events can work to your benefit: You’ll have more time to ask questions and build relationships. Remember that once you’ve been introduced to someone, it’s always important to follow up! Even just sending a quick follow-up email and reminding potential employers of your interest will make you more likely to stay on their radar.
Finally, remember that networking can be daunting even in the best of times, so try not to let the difficulty of undertaking it online discourage you. Taking time to strengthen your job application materials or reaching out to professors can help you feel more in control of your future. Don’t worry if networking sometimes falls to the wayside—you can always return to it when you feel more energized.