Written on August 29, 2022

9 Proven Tips & Tricks To Build Great Professional Connections

9 Proven Tips & Tricks To Build Great Professional Connections

Every generation has made use of their networking skills to climb up the professional ladder. That said, Gen Z’s entrance into college or the workforce was marked by notoriously unusual circumstances: a new peak of digital communication and cultures, intensified by the outbreak of Covid-19.

Not only did physical distance hinder social interaction with friends and family, but recent graduates and job seekers faced an additional layer of networking and adapting to an ever-changing game.

Did Covid-19 Make Professional Networking More Difficult? 

It depends on who you ask. According to a 2021 article published by the Harvard Business Review, the average person’s social network decreased by roughly 16% during the pandemic. Based on that statistic, we each lost access to more than 200 acquaintances because of social distancing rules. The article regrets that watercooler chats and work dinners, which would otherwise generate 11 to 16 peers, are ‘bygone’ forms of interaction.

However, we should take the HBR’s analysis with a grain of salt, depending on what criteria the study is using to define ‘members of a social network’; if it doesn’t include strictly-digital acquaintances, it probably should. 

It should because younger age groups entering the workforce, like Gen Z, have been remarkably confident in developing professional connections online. Why shouldn’t their everyday DMs on social media, for example, be considered one and the same as watercooler talk? Handshake reports that 80% of Gen Z-ers consider it easier to make professional connections than their parents’ generation; 67% believe that meeting face-to-face is not necessary in order to forge a professional connection; and more than 80% of the age group’s job seekers think digital connections sparked by digital messages can lead to an employment opportunity. In addition to most Gen Z-ers, groups of socially-anxious, internationally-based or tech-savvy folks have likely benefited from the spike in online networking tactics.

We simply ought to recognize that the world’s most common networking challenges - as well as their causes and solutions - predate the pandemic. And while networking practices may evolve with younger generations, the same actionable steps and networking strategies for professional development are quite impervious to Covid-19.

Understanding the Real Importance of Networking

According to a 2017 in-depth study by Lea Baumann and Sonja Utz, which surveyed 4 groups of people who networked at different frequencies via online or offline platforms, it appeared that most of those who were averted to professional networking were simply unaware of its very real benefits. In other words, most people are bogged down or ambivalent about nurturing professional connections, simply due to a lack of information on how these efforts will pay off in the future.

Ultimately, research shows that networking is never a waste of time. According to a 2022 Zippia report, 85% of jobs are filled via networking with personal and professional connections. And yet, just over 50% of people say that they don’t maintain contact with their network.

Let’s Talk Strategy, Shall We?

You can integrate professional networking practices into your everyday life in a variety of ways, including…

1. Tracking Connections with Friends, Family and Former Colleagues

Start a list. Use Jackfruit’s Networking Tracker to save your professional connections from all walks of life, such as a teacher with valuable advice, impressive family friends, fellow alumni and so on. When you save them, take notes on their most current job positions and when/why you last spoke. You can use this information to brush up on previous conversations, track your overall networking progress, and remind yourself to send follow-up messages and thank you notes.

2. Leveraging Digital Outreach⁠

Be sure to add leads to your Networking Tracker: people who you aspire to have as an employer or mentor, whose accounts you’ve noticed on social media or in the news. Next time you are scrolling through LinkedIn and find someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, or who is well-connected in your field, add their info to your Jackfruit account so you can do more research on them and follow up later. 

Don’t just record them, though; follow their relevant social channels. And for your top leads, feel empowered to craft a respectful message asking for advice, insight or employment opportunities.

3. Writing Personalized Cold Emails & Messages⁠

Writing personalized cold messages can be pretty intimidating. Not only does it force you to consider what you want in a professional relationship, but you face the anxiety of being ignored or turned away. Cold outreach is worthwhile, though, and when your message is noticeably personalized, it can increase the open rate by nearly 46 percent.

When you reach out to someone for the first time, be sure to research them thoroughly beforehand and understand their ‘personal ethos.’ Ideally, you’re already a fan of theirs, so identifying your shared points of view will come naturally. Then, in your message, build rapport by highlighting any of your mutual connections and common interests. If you realize you share a rather close mutual friend, consider asking that friend to email the lead on your behalf, with your email CC’d.

For a helpful list of DOs and DON'Ts when it comes to introducing yourself online, read Jackfruit’s Cold Outreach Guide.

4. Attending Networking Events & Alumni Gatherings

Attending virtual and in-person networking events is a great way to meet your next mentor, employee referrer, hiring manager or collaborator. It’s also an exciting opportunity to meet professionals outside your respective industry.

⁠A lot of people really do prefer in-person networking. If you’re one of those people, be sure to keep tabs on local Tedx events, college reunions, industry conferences and tradeshows. Popular websites like Meetup and Eventbrite can assist you in finding in-person events that are up your alley.

5. Volunteering⁠

Pursuing volunteer opportunities and philanthropy is rewarding in and of itself. Studies have shown that volunteering once a week is equivalent to “a life-changing salary boost.” It can enrich your day-to-day life, help create a work-life balance, and introduce you to a number of like-minded people across industries. Not to mention, in a Deloitte survey, 82% of hiring managers and hiring influencers indicated they look more favorably upon resumes with volunteer work.

6. Striving for Boldness

It’s okay to be nervous and make a blunder! Instead of worrying about if you seem nervous, spend 10 minutes meditating on your competence before meeting an interviewer or advisor. Kindness sets the foundation for confidence—so practice your handshake and have faith in yourself.

Building confidence in professional settings will facilitate your ability to smile and put your shoulders back. Did you know that 55% of communication depends on your facial expressions and posture? For actionable confidence-boosting strategies, check out our article on Setting Yourself Up for Professional Success —or look into guided meditations resources like that of Headspace.

7. Remembering Courtesies

Speaking of common courtesies, there are a few ground rules we should quickly cover. When someone enters a room, be sure to stand when you greet them and shake their hand. Show the person you’re speaking with that they have your full attention. That means put your phone on silent mode, make eye contact and avoid interrupting them. These common courtesies may seem obvious—but they’re also imperative. According to Forbes, active listening not only increases your chances of being hired, but is a life skill that increases your workplace productivity and satisfaction.

And according to The Harris Poll, 49% of interviewers know within the first five minutes of meeting if they are speaking with a viable candidate. The success of your interview always begins with routine politeness.

8. Studying Up

Almost 50 percent of applicants miss the mark during an interview because they didn’t research the company deeply enough beforehand. Even if you’re networking more informally, you have got to know who you’re talking to.

Only you have the power to make your conversations go smoothly by familiarizing yourself in advance! Before a phone call, coffee chat or formal interview, have at least five questions on hand to facilitate conversation and show your contact that you value their time.

And for examples of strong interview questions, check out Jackfruit’s 10 Great Questions to Ask Your Hiring Manager

9. Returning The Favor⁠

There are infinite ways to reciprocate a networking favor.
⁠Once you find your dream job, or even if you’re still looking, make sure to tell the core members of your network that you’re keeping them in mind. Share insight, tell them you’re rooting for them—and if they’re someone who has helped during your job search—be sure to tell them how it’s going. Express your gratitude in an ongoing way by keeping in touch and paying good fortune forward when you can.