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Career Advice

Making professional connections in a virtual world

The world has changed, but we cannot let that stop us from achieving or from connecting with one another.

BY NANA LEE | AUG 24 2020

Connecting with people is critical in developing your professional network. But now, we must adapt rich in-person interactions for what is effectively a two-dimensional space. Since mid-March, we have taught classes, mentored, experienced mock and real interviews, networked, given conference talks, all using virtual platforms. Here are some tips to help you develop as a professional in the online world.

Informational interviews

Employers are still hiring and recent graduates are still seeking jobs. Thus, students and postdocs should continue requesting informational interviews. Most professionals are likely on a virtual platform most of the day, so when requesting an interview, ask if they prefer communicating over the phone or through a virtual platform. If the professional chooses to speak to you on the phone, provide them with your LinkedIn profile, if you have not done so already, or a photo so they can associate a face with your name.

If they do not mind a virtual call with video, send them the invitation link and make sure you are logged on 10 to 15 minutes before the informational interview to check for any technical issues, and

a) have ample, natural light preferably on the side of your face, as lighting from the top will cast a shadow;

b) make sure your sound and microphone are working;

c) wear clothing that you would wear to an interview;

d) ensure that your phone is on silent so it does not ring during the meeting;

e) make sure the camera is capturing your entire face and shoulders;

f) do not bring a beverage to the meeting, as this is not professional and you do not want a spill on your laptop during the chat;

g) inform your housemates (if applicable) to limit any background noise.

Within 24 hours of the interview, follow up in writing to thank them for their time and expertise, and indicate two or three action items that you will be taking based upon the information that they gave you.

Engaging classes or group meetings

The techniques that you learn as a teaching assistant over a virtual platform can also help you with interviews and team meetings at work. Some instructors have changed to a flipped classroom where students view a content recording before the class and have a discussion during the online class. The open discussion could be over the chat room, a shared document, a drawing space (such as Miro), or breakout rooms in which the instructor can visit and assist.

Engaging talks or seminars

Some tips for engaging participants in a one-time session include the following:

1) before your talk begins, send out a quick online survey which assesses who is in the audience and what they hope to take away so you know how to tailor your talk;

2) as participants start logging in, play some music to lighten the silence;

3) ask if participants can keep their videos on so that you may see the faces in the audience;

4) plan to have about two to three sessions during your one hour to ask for any questions or for a group activity;

5) do not virtual lecture for the full hour as your audience will disengage;

6) leave about five to 10 minutes for the exit survey so that they feel engaged and you have some feedback for your next talk.

Your own wellness

Finally, don’t forget you own wellness:

1) Limit your use of video calls. Call in without the camera for some of your meetings.

2) Try to schedule at least one day of the week with no virtual meetings.

3) Take a vacation. Leave the computer off. Only check your phone once or twice a day for urgent matters, if need be.

4) Take some of your calls outside, if you can, and combine it with a walk.

5) Take a break after 20 to 25 minutes of work for about five to 15 minutes. Aim for a maximum of six hours of focused work a day.

A new world

We are in unchartered territory. The world is not the same. However, we cannot stop trying to achieve our goals and connecting with others. We, as learners, scholars, educators and mentors will continue to find innovative ways and inspiring stories. People are social creatures. We thrive on connecting with a sense of belonging. Keep safe. Keep connecting. Keep achieving.

Nana Lee is the director of graduate professional development, and an assistant professor in the departments of biochemistry and immunology, at the University of Toronto.

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