Networking During (and After) a Pandemic


A recent AACP webinar explored tools and tips for virtual networking as well as what to expect when in-person interactions resume.

By Emily Jacobs

Although networking has changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains vital at every career stage. From first-year students to top-ranking experts, networking allows individuals to share knowledge, gain experience and make connections that can lead to new professional opportunities. “Networking always comes up as the one thing you should do when it comes to career journeys and adventures,” said Dr. Roshni Rao, director of PHutures, a new office for professional development at Johns Hopkins University. “But the word ‘networking’ can rack up mixed emotions.”

The term often implies “working the room” to interact with as many people as possible. This can be unappealing and even inauthentic for shy or introverted individuals. Inexperienced students may be uncertain how to start networking. For busy professionals, networking can seem like a burden on their time. Less technically savvy individuals may be uncomfortable with expanding virtual networking options.

A person’s feelings about networking may be based on perception, but they also may come from real experiences. In a recent AACP webinar, Rao discussed how to use networking in a more authentic, helpful way. The first step for effective networking, she said, is to reframe any incorrect or unhelpful beliefs a person may have. For example, rather than worrying about meeting a lot of people, focus on building a few relationships at a time. Busy students or professionals can dedicate as much or as little time to networking as they want. Introverted individuals can choose networking methods that suit their individual preferences.

Online platforms offer possibly the most flexible networking environment. Users can easily interact with people one-on-one, with fewer distractions. Professionals can send or respond to messages at their leisure. Social media profiles can be updated with information that portrays an individual in a professional yet authentic way.

Social Media Options

As networking has moved almost exclusively online during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has become more important than ever for making professional connections and participating in industry conversations. “These platforms aren’t going anywhere,” Rao said. The number of social media options can be overwhelming. Rather than trying to juggle multiple profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn, Clubhouse and TikTok, individuals might want to choose a single platform that “matches [their] professional and personal values,” she advised. A person’s profile image and content should also create a persona that matches the “professional story” the individual wants to tell.

What is here to stay, what we should have learned from the pandemic, is to be a more effective networker. Send shorter messages, have more impactful conversations within the time limit, learn to start and end on time, be respectful of a person’s time.

Dr. Roshni Rao

For specific industries, such as pharmacy, social media search features are an essential networking tool. Twitter has numerous hashtags for pharmacy topics. LinkedIn users can search for specific organizations, groups or individuals related to pharmacy. On the newer platform Clubhouse, searching for pharmacy topics also yields a list of ongoing conversations. Users can find a wide variety of individuals to connect with and topics to discuss.

When contacting an individual online, it is important to be courteous but specific about your intentions. For example, you may want to schedule a brief meeting to discuss their career path or ask about job openings at their company. Be brief and respectful of the recipient’s time. Once you have made a connection, make an effort to maintain that relationship. This does not have to be time-consuming or aggressive; a quick note every few months is often sufficient.

Because the best relationships are never one-sided, it is also important to “pay it forward” when it comes to networking. This often means making genuine recommendations or helping to connect other professionals when you can. “Networking is more about adding value to others,” said Rao. “If you’re not looking for a job or you don’t need anything, still network…you can always help people connect to other people, and then you’re an excellent networker, because you’re making connections for other people.”

Connecting in a Post-COVID World

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed networking as we know it. Events like conferences and workshops moved to virtual spaces. This created challenges as people adjusted to newer technologies. Connecting online makes it more difficult to judge body language and facial cues. Many people are also becoming weary of online-only interactions and frequently complain of “Zoom fatigue.”

The stress of health concerns and financial struggles during the pandemic have taken a toll on careers, relationships and well-being. Many households have found it difficult to juggle multiple obligations, such as remote working and online learning. Because the pandemic has affected almost everyone in some way, Rao noted that this has created more empathy and respect for others’ time. As a result, organizations are more inclined to keep online meetings and events on-topic and on-schedule.

Many changes that reshaped networking during the past year may remain long after the pandemic has ended. For example, companies looking to cut costs may encourage employees to attend events virtually rather than paying for transportation and hotels. Lingering concerns about viral exposure may prompt event organizers to reduce attendance or discourage handshaking. Increased empathy and courtesy for others’ time could play a bigger role in scheduling and conducting online meetings.

“What is here to stay, what we should have learned from the pandemic, is to be a more effective networker,” Rao said. “Send shorter messages, have more impactful conversations within the time limit, learn to start and end on time, be respectful of a person’s time.”

Perhaps most significantly, virtual networking has broken down many geographical barriers and expanded opportunities. Student pharmacists are better able to not just connect but have conversations with experts in their chosen field from all over the globe. Recruiters are not limited by location when contacting candidates. Organizations can interview, vet and even hire more candidates from a wider geographical area.

“I’m able to connect with a lot more people around the year and enjoy connecting more in-depth with the people I talk to,” Rao pointed out. “The pandemic year has sort of streamlined that process. Now I’m able to actually build relationships and to do that more frequently, while at home, with people across the world. Networking in the pandemic has meant fewer barriers to meeting people.”

Emily Jacobs is a freelance writer based in Toledo, Ohio.