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For many, just the notion of the word ‘networking’ is off-putting, but it really doesn’t need to be perceived quite so negatively. If you’re a public health or healthcare professional seeking job opportunities or wanting to expand your network, there are many ways you can do this, even during a pandemic.

As we adapt to the overwhelming disruption of COVID-19, we have all been forced to use online platforms to stay in touch and to build new relationships. The key to accomplishing both of these is to adapt our social behaviour in a new world of networking through online chats and meetings to make our connections both meaningful and long-lasting.

It is through networking that we can seek out opportunities beyond collaborations – including job openings, opportunities to speak at events or requests to write papers. But often the resistance to networking stems from the notion that you should be trying to be someone you’re not which is, actually, an untruth – the best way to approach it is to remain sincere and authentic by being open and honest, taking a genuine interest in the other person, adding value where you can and simply being yourself.

With no imminent end in sight yet for social distancing, we can still develop solid professional relationships and expand our network online. Here are six ways to do that during a pandemic.

Leverage your current network

You are connected to more people than you think! Rekindle relationships with people you’ve worked with in previous roles or studied with at university. Find out what they have been up to which sets the stage for you to share what you have been working on. So many productive things can come from ad hoc, casual conversations. Those contacts might very well suggest a person who would find your work interesting. But you have to talk with them to reap these benefits. You might want to reconnect with or check out the bios of your public health or healthcare professors and see if they do any work in an area you’re interested in and reach out to them directly via email to ask for an informational interview by letting them know your interest areas.

Attend online conferences and webinars

Look out for online conferences related to public health and try to attend break-out sessions within these conferences. Go to professional websites that have your area of interest and see if they are planning any webinars that you can attend. Ask questions in the webinar that make yourself stand out to the host, then send a follow-up email to keep the host engaged. Check out any webinars hosted by the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal Society for Public Health or any other organisational body that offers free webinars as benefits to their members.

Engage in professional Zoom meetings

Zoom calls are not just for meetings. Participating in social Zooms, such as virtual coffee meetings or lunch-time sessions can offer otherwise unexplored opportunities to meet new and interesting people in a relaxed setting. Continue to build on these conversations, interact in the chat with the speakers and attendees. Let participants know if a comment they made resonated with you and why. Connect with them on social media and continue the conversation long after the meeting. Appreciate that the process takes time and effort and understand that relationships are a two-way process, try to think about how you can also be helpful to others rather than blatantly trying to sell yourself to someone else.

Use social media to connect with others

Make use of the various platforms to connect with others – Linkedin allows you to connect with people, send a short opening connection message that explains why you genuinely want to connect with them – no direct selling or begging for a job! Join LinkedIn groups and appropriate Facebook groups related to public health or healthcare and start engaging in conversations or create your own post. Ask for an invite to the newly established Clubhouse and find interesting conversations you can join.

Partner with other institutions

Giving talks at other institutions is a great way to develop your credibility, to leverage your academic network and develop partnerships. Think about developing a pipeline between a few individuals and institutions where you could recommend each other to give talks on specific topics. Although this is not always a paid opportunity, the exposure can be worth it.

Reach out to authors

Did you read an article that you found interesting? Reach out to the author and let them know what specifically you enjoyed about the article and why. If you are interested in reading more of their work, follow them on their Facebook author pages with useful, positive comments (without being a sycophant!) Share their posts to your audience.They may welcome the opportunity for you to write a guest blog too.

…. And finally, remember those you are trying to connect with are human just like you! Don’t overthink it, just get out there and be a slightly more confident version of yourself.