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Social events are in short supply these days, but maintaining a social network is still essential — especially during a pandemic as millions of Americans are looking for work. Who you know is a very large part of the job search, so it’s not a stretch to say that networking can be the single most important skill in your repertoire. Any time you have a positive, productive interaction with someone you know (good news!), you are networking.

Social distancing can make it harder to stay in touch with friends and family — let alone former classmates and colleagues. But it’s worth it to be proactive. By making yourself available and staying in contact, you can create and strengthen relationships that will last long after the pandemic ends.

Here are some ways to get started:

• A huge amount of our communication takes place online, so make sure your social-media profile, posts, emails, texts and photos reflect polish and professionalism. If an acquaintance saw your social-media feed, would he or she recommend you to an employer? Do you proofread your emails and texts? Do you have an up-to-date résumé and job history on LinkedIn?

• Tune into online seminars, professional panels and virtual meet-and-greets. When you meet someone new, remember his or her name and use it. Invite your contacts for a happy hour or coffee over Zoom. If you’re looking for work, be open about it — and be ready to give a brief summary of your experience, skills and career. You never know who might be able to open the door to your next position.

• Show that you care about your network as friends, not just as contacts. Call or message your acquaintances to ask how they’re doing. Especially now, gestures of care and concern can leave a big impression.

• Not every networking opportunity is as formal as an interview, but the way you present yourself will influence how people view you. Dress a step above the dress code. (Yes, even on Zoom.) Speak clearly and confidently. Smile.

• If you’ve scheduled a meeting with someone in your network, be prepared to talk about their business or industry.

• Be sure to follow up no later than 24 hours after a meeting by letter, email, or sincere LinkedIn message. Thank your contact for his or her valuable time, and let the contact know how much you appreciate the help.

Too often, people think of networking as something you do when you’re looking for a job. In reality, the best time to cultivate your network is when you least need it.

Searching for a job can be difficult in the best of times. But you don’t have to do it alone. You can access free, one-on-one virtual help with a job connection team member at Goodwill for career counseling, résumé help, interview practice and more.

During COVID-19, you can also tune in to virtual professional-development seminars on a variety of topics — including tips for identifying and expanding your network. A full list of webinars and dates can be found at www.GoodwillCFL.org.

— Jennifer Robertson is a Volusia County-based job connection services virtual team member with Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. She can be reached at JobConnection@GoodwillCFL.org, or by calling 407-235-1541.

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