Step one is to get on LinkedIn. This platform is far more than social media for professional relationships. It primed for authentic networking - real people making real connections for business, jobs, partnerships, even mentoring. Start by looking up a variety of companies active in the field you’re interested in. Look up who works there, pick a few to follow or request to connect with; you don’t have to potentially know someone in real life (IRL) to connect on LinkedIn. Personally, I caution against what I think of as ‘spam connecting’ in which you send requests to everyone that the algorithm suggests you should connect with; be thoughtful and at least read someone’s profile before you send a request.
You can find other connections by searching by position type or job title, by location, by school. My preferred method for finding new connections is to read the comments in posts that catch my attention and when someone responds in a way that makes me think twice, for better or for worse, I send a connection request. As LinkedIn is primed for authentic networking, it’ll serve you best to have a network of other professionals who you’d find interesting to be in conversation with than numerous people who have a job title you want or work at a company you admire. I also find following hashtags (#idolcourses, #instructionaldesigner, #eLearning) to be useful, as well as joining and engaging with groups on LinkedIn - there are so many, everyone can find at least a few that they’re interested in.
I recently read an interesting post on LinkedIn about how to best utilize the platform and interact with others. It specifically called out how LinkedIn is not like social media and how it should be used differently. I find data and algorithms interesting and that post sent me down a rabbit hole of reading about how LinkedIn functions and how it doesn’t. My conclusion and best advice is this - be authentic, but consistent. Find people who make interesting comments or do interesting work. Look for both individuals who are in the field you’re pivoting towards and those who aren’t, but might work for companies you’re interested in or do other work you enjoy following, then comment and share things just like you would in person. And finally, when it comes to LinkedIn, try to read your feed at least once a day; set a calendar reminder if you have to. And when you read, comment, engage, share your thoughts so that you can connect with others and authentically build your network.
Next, look up professional organizations and find their online presence. Find their events calendar and follow their board members on LinkedIn. A year ago, I had only vaguely heard of ATD and now I’m pretty engaged with my local chapter. It is a source of some of the best networking opportunities where I live. I recommend everyone find the closest local ATD chapter to where they’re located and join; most if not all have excellent networking and development opportunities. Local ATD chapters and other similar organizations regularly have both in-person and virtual activities; most have become very active with virtual activities during the current pandemic. You may find it easy to speak up and engage at the first event you attend, but if you don’t - keep going and give yourself time to get comfortable. I’ve found that those who are active in professional organizations are evangelists for their fields and are more than eager to help anyone who is interested.
Then, when you find individuals that you would like to connect with directly, ask to speak with them, ask to learn about their experience or their perspective on the field. This could be over the phone, Zoom, or even FaceTime. When you’re ready to set up phone calls or video chats, be prepared: think about what you really want to know and practice asking those questions (in front of a mirror, to your friends or your partner, or whomever you feel comfortable interacting with). You want to be at ease asking questions so that you make the other person feel comfortable. A networking meetup, held virtually or face to face shouldn’t feel like an interview. Prepare your introduction or elevator pitch until it rolls off your tongue. Again, you should feel confident and relaxed introducing yourself. And when you’re approaching someone remotely, have a plan for making it happen - share your zoom or skype information and suggest a date and time or ask for their availability. And - this should go without saying - once you make a request or send an initial message, always pay attention to their response and keep the ball rolling. It’s not a good impression to ignore a response when you’ve initiated the contact.
And finally, look for opportunities where you can add value. This could be anything from offering to complete small project elements for someone who is an entrepreneur or sole proprietor, to volunteering to help with an event or create materials for a nonprofit. I recently rebranded a performance support tool I had created to provide easier to follow guidance regarding why and when wearing a face mask is important for a local nonprofit that needed the same content in a visually appealing format for an monthly event they host, which provides laundry services to those experiencing homelessness. Opportunities to add value can be a great way to both further your professional network and to simply spread kindness in society. At the beginning of April, Mike Carnes , a voice over artist made an offer to provide his voice over talent to aspiring elearning professionals who needed narration for portfolio items. While I don’t believe the offer is still available, the generosity of the offer surely got attention and potentially sparked connections. And, my favorite reason to do it - it was simply kind.
Facebook is another opportunity to connect with people in groups focused on the profession. Two great options on Facebook are the Become an Instructional Designer and Online Learning Developer and the Instructional Design Project Peer Review Group . Robin Sargent , the owner of IDOL courses , as well as that first FaceBook group I just recommended, is always open to connecting with people interested in instructional design and in all stages of an ID career.
These steps will keep you busy for months or - if you engage effectively and build your network - for years. So, go get started and build your networking with these great steps to remote networking.
Written by: Molly Parsons, for IDOLcourses Connect with Molly on LinkedIn .
Molly is an instructional designer and eLearning developer focused on learner engagement. She is on an enterprise learning team and is working on large-scale, multi-dimensional training materials for cloud-based software adoption. She is passionate about all things learning and is especially focused on executing L&D projects with attention to learner needs. She loves to tinker with eLearning authoring tools but is quick to point out that eLearning isn’t the right tool for every training or development need. She currently calls the Pacific Northwest home, but has lived in 7 states and 3 countries, and she has the cooking repertoire to prove it.