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Networking During a Pandemic Offers Graduate Students an Opportunity to Inform Recruiters

October 21, 2020

By Victoria Suarez, Assistant Director Employer Development, University Career Services 


An unexpected outcome of the current, social distancing reality in which we all find ourselves is that many organizations, institutions, and individuals have granted themselves the grace to try something unique.  It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention,” and, in many cases, companies have wanted to dabble in virtual internships and remote offices spaces; however, only with the weight of Covid-19 demanding innovation have executives authorized these unproven initiatives. 

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to companies; you, too, are innovating during the pandemic.  Whether in your role as a parent, student, employee, or friend, consider the myriad, previously inconceivable, actions you have mulled over and finally embraced in 2020.  It is in this spirit — the spirit of innovation that I hope to convince you to continue to throw caution to the wind and to try something new.   

Networking — the dreaded topic Career Services loves to tout as uberimportant – cannot possibly continue in these socially distanced times, can it?  Yes.  Networking is alive and well.  And, similar to social events, K-12 education, and even political debates, to be safe and effective, a bit of change is required.   

The networking of yesteryear encouraged new and emerging professionals such as graduate students to attend in-person meet and greets or to conduct social media outreaches for the purpose of coming face-to-face (literally or electronically) with persons of influence. The goal? For the emerging professional to demonstrate verbal proficiency and academic aptitude and to gain insights into potential opportunities.  For persons of influence, the goal was to give back and source potential talent for their organization.   

Today, networking has taken on a different dynamic. Networking occurs almost exclusively over socially distant mediums – Zoom, LinkedIn, email – and offers both parties a chance to gain insights and give back.  Each of us is swimming in uncharted watersrecruiters have as much to gain from engaging with emerging professionals as they do to offer them.  Recruiters and persons of influence previously had valuable, time-tested truths to share with jobseekers – this is not necessarily the case anymore.  In this new reality, recruiters are as likely to ask questions as they are to answer them.  

As each of us continue to embrace this new reality, best practices have not yet come to pass.  Establishing effective best practices requires data collection and a lot of conversations.  Although emerging professionals may have previously believed themselves to be in an inferior position when reaching out to potential networking contacts, your unique viewpoints may now be a valuable contribution to help recruiters and executives better understand the shifting dynamics of the talent pipeline. 

All this is to suggest that networking today requires that we change the initial outreach message.  Rather than leading off with a request for advice or guidance exclusively, consider how your unique insights might be of value to the person with whom you want to connect.  Shift from a deficit mindset – you are lacking knowledge and need to acquire it – to a strength model – your experiences position you to meaningfully contribute.    

What insights can you offer? 

  • How your university, children’s school, the local Girl Scout troop, your religious organization, and, just as importantly, the members and staff, are adapting and innovating in this new reality 
  • A view of the shifting approach to recruitment, interviewing, networking at other organizations directly from the front lines. Ostensibly, this is not the only conversation you have scheduled and conductedso how does this organization and this recruiters approach and technology compare?  
  • A temperature check and a glimpse into a particular candidate pool. In which population segments do you reside, and what are your diversity indicators? Can you speak to the first-gen Latinx experience? What positions do you hold at work, in university clubs or as a Graduate Assistant? What can you share about a new approach to student recruitment in your club or a new process at work? How are students or new alumni in your space navigating these waters? 

Graduate students need no script for conducting these conversations, but I would be remiss if I did not provide a few examples anyway.  

I’m a part time Graduate Assistant at Mason and a full-time student in the School of Business. Over the last few months, I’ve had a number of conversations with faculty researchers and with my classmates on how we’re adjusting and innovating in these unique times. I’d love to share my findings and insights with you.”  

“I am in my final semester of graduate studies and am also an active member in a student organization.  Our club has successfully engaged and recruited new student members, even remotely during the pandemic, and I am open to sharing the details of the technologies and approaches we have used and found to be effective.” 

Career services educators have long known that around 85% of open opportunities are filled through networking (Source: Payscale). Covid-19 has not changed that fact.  It has, however, necessitated a shift in the conversation and, today more than ever, emerging professionals should consider their contribution to the networking relationship as equally beneficial to the contacts with whom they want to establish a connection.    

Remember you have something of value to share: lead off the interaction with the ways in which you can support a recruiter or executive’s understanding based on your unique experiences. 

Access additional resources and learn more about networking in our 2020-2021 Career Readiness Guide. 

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