Fostering Genuine Connections in a Virtual World

In a pandemic year, everyone is scrambling to keep afloat.

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In a pandemic year, everyone is scrambling to keep afloat. We’re restructuring workflows, reorganizing personal goals, and also revisiting how to network.

As a recent graduate and junior designer, I’ve frequently heard this dreaded word “networking.” It’s always difficult to put yourself in a situation that feels like a pitch. Initially, I felt that virtual networking meant highlighting your professional accomplishments and goals. Especially in this online environment we work in now, I see a slough of “So proud to launch…,” “I’ve reached my goal of completing…,” and “Congratulations to the team…,” kind of content. While I’m happy to see and support these posts, it’s difficult to forge a real connection with people in this way.

But, I’ve discovered a secret.

People want to know who you are as a human being. Sounds obvious, right? While it may seem like a no-brainer, the execution isn’t quite as easy. No matter which way you look at it, networking is still a type of work. 

Figuring out how to present yourself can be difficult. I needed to navigate how to show who I am in a professional way, without trying to sound professional. (I know it’s an oxymoron, but you know what I mean.) So I did some research. What type of posts engage me most? What compels me to want to connect with someone, collaborate with them, or work somewhere? 

My favorite kind of content is personal. Unscripted, informal content strikes a chord, like the work of one of my favorite designers, Zipeng Zhu. Does he make polished, scripted work for clients? Yes. That work is amazing and should be celebrated. 

But, he also creates content on a regular basis for himself, in his voice. He talks about his mother, the gay community, and stopping Asian hate — among many other topics. His words are real, and more importantly, feel personal. Looking at his Instagram — which is curated and doubtlessly took many hours of thought — I feel like I’m having a conversation with the artist. Moreover, it drives me to want to engage with his professional studio work and get involved. Boom — that’s networking.

What do I take away from this? Show people who you are, not just as a professional, but as a person. Join a Discord or Slack group. Find a book club. Make a post about a show you went to or a recipe you enjoyed. Talk about the things that tell your story and make up your personality. Chances are, you’ll resonate with someone. That’s where your real networking lies.

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