Recruitment season is officially here, and students and new graduates: you know what that means – networking! But in today’s new virtual normal, how can you get the same networking experience virtually?
We spoke with a campus recruiter from Bell to bring you some expert tips on how to succeed at virtual networking.
A Western University alumni, Minami has a degree in Management and Organizational Studies with a specialization in Human Resources. As a consultant with Bell’s Graduate Leadership Program, Bell’s multidisciplinary graduate program, Minami’s role focuses on Campus Recruitment for summer interns and recent graduates. She spends half of her year engaging with students at recruitment events, and the other half onboarding student hires and planning exciting events.
As a Campus Recruiter, Minami has plenty of experience attending networking events and having one-on-one coffee chats with students and recent graduates!
We asked Minami some of the top questions that students and new graduates have about virtual networking – here’s what she had to say!
What are the biggest benefits of networking online as opposed to in-person?
Although some people may feel like their networking is lacking when they’re not able to chat face-to-face, virtual networking has many benefits that you can’t get when speaking in person.
According to Minami, one of the benefits to networking virtually is “the ability to tailor your answers and really take the time to think them through. The beauty of doing things online is that you have a bit more time to think about your responses through before hitting send.”
Taking the time to ensure that your responses are thorough and interesting is difficult in a face-to-face scenario, as you’re forced to think on your feet. But when you’re networking via LinkedIn or another virtual platform, being able to take the time to think for a few minutes and properly express yourself can be the difference between being articulate and sounding unprepared.
Moreover, virtual networking events can also be much more accessible than in-person ones. “You can attend so many more events when they’re digital – there’s no commute time and you’re not rushing from class straight to a networking event – you have the ease of being able to log in when you’re ready,” says Minami.
How can students and new grads stand out to Bell recruiters specifically when networking online?
According to Minami, “first impressions matter.” It’s still important to make a great first impression when networking virtually, and one way that students and grads can do this is by personalizing their introductory messages.
“One of the goals of networking is to develop meaningful relationships that might help you later in your career, and the way we build meaningful relationships is by having sincere and authentic conversations,” says Minami.
So how can students and graduates create a personalized first impression?
“Effective candidates will take the time to look at my Linkedin profile in advance, and they’ll say things like ‘I see that you graduated from this school, I did too, let’s talk about this’ and it helps to break the ice that comes with socializing digitally.”
What is the best way to ask a recruiter for a coffee chat? What kind of topics should students and grads ask about during coffee chats?
As a recruiter, Minami gets requests for coffee chats all the time, but something what really stands out to her is when candidates will set the expectation for the chat in advance. When asking for a coffee chat, it’s crucial to specify how much time you’re looking for, when and how you would like to meet, and what you would like to talk about.
“I love coffee chats, and it really makes my afternoon to be able to hear someone else’s story and career plans. That said, it is still important that students are clear about what they’re looking for and what they want to cover because then it’s meaningful for both the student and the recruiter.” Without pre-prepared questions and topics of discussion, a coffee chat can quickly become disorganized, and won’t be as valuable to the candidate or the career professional that they’re chatting with.
“Setting the expectation means that you’re prepared, and it shows that you value the recruiter’s time as much as they value the candidate’s time,” says Minami.
As for questions to ask during coffee chats, Minami says that the most meaningful conversations she has with candidates are the uncomfortable ones. “I talked to someone this afternoon who asked me if I’d gotten my first pick when I landed in a permanent position after completing the grad program, which is refreshing because not many people ask things like ‘are you truly happy with your job?’ – it’s an uncomfortable question, but I think it’s a really important one. Especially for students who are looking to work on a team, they want the real, authentic version of what it’s like to work there and not the glossed-over version.”
Asking the uncomfortable questions helps students and new graduates get the most out of a coffee chat, because “those are the things you’re not going to find on a website. That’s the point of talking to someone – to find out what the real experience is like.”
Ask the uncomfortable questions during coffee chats – they spark the most meaningful conversations.
What are some of the top skills that Bell recruiters are looking for in a candidate, and how can candidates showcase these skills virtually?
As a recruiter for Bell’s Graduate Leadership program, the top skill that Minami and other program recruiters are looking for is leadership.
“Knowledge and experience are important, but leadership is one of the most key characteristics because knowledge can be learned, and experience can be gained, but leadership is a soft skill that is difficult to teach. If you get the chance to showcase it during the application process or while networking, it’s definitely worth it to do so.”
So how can candidates subtly work in a mention of their leadership skills in a virtual networking environment without sounding like they’re bragging?
“Leadership comes to sharing examples and being able to work that story into the conversation. It’s hard to lead with examples and storytelling, but once you’re a couple of messages in, it’s easier to give examples.” Following the career professional’s lead, Minami recommends that candidates build off of certain topics of discussion to bring in their own stories while maintaining a natural conversational flow.
What are some of your top tips for students and grads to succeed at a networking event?
Before attending any company networking event, it is crucial for candidates to have a solid basis of what the company does and what types of roles they would be interested in. “Doing research on a company and a job is one of the most important things to do beforehand,” advises Minami.
“Sometimes I get questions from students like ‘tell me about Bell’, or ‘do you think there are any jobs that I might be interested in?’.These questions, while relevant, are broad and can often be answered by a quick search online. Instead, try asking questions that build on your initial research; “I read online that Bell is a Top 100 employer. What is your favourite thing about working there?” When a candidate has done their research in advance, it allows them time to skip the surface-level conversation and get right into having those meaningful conversations that build great professional relationships.
“There’s always some research that can’t be done in advance, and that’s why we have networking events. It’s always worth it to get familiar with the company so that you can make the most of your time.”
Final Pieces of Advice
One last piece of virtual networking advice from Minami? At the end of your chat, “ask the recruiter for a follow-up conversation. Saying something like ‘thank you for talking to me – I’m going to be graduating in the spring, can I reach out to you again then?’ – that’s a good way to turn that one-time connection into something that can actually develop into a mentorship or even a future reference!”
So there you have it – some of Bell’s top tips for how to succeed at virtual networking. Hopefully, this advice will come in handy whether you’re at a networking event or are reaching out to career professionals in your field.
Make sure you check out Bell’s Graduate Leadership Program. With a variety of different streams, you can find your perfect career fit at one of Canada’s largest and most innovative telecommunications companies. Learn more about the program here.