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A Quick Guide to Networking in the Age of COVID-19

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As COVID-19 continues to cripple Singapore’s economy, job seekers in the country are increasingly finding it difficult to find work. According to the Singapore Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Labour Market Report (First Quarter 2020), the overall unemployment rate reached 2.4%, up from 2.3% in the previous quarter. Things were no better for Singapore citizens; unemployment rose from 3.3% to 3.5%.

MOM’s report also stated that retrenchments increased from 2,670 to 3,220 during Q1 of 2020 due to poor sectoral performance and the economy being in the doldrums. But experts fear that the worst may yet to come. According to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, the fallout from the pandemic could lead to more than 100,000 job losses in Singapore by the end of 2020.

All of this has left job seekers and furloughed workers with few options to keep their careers afloat. Fortunately, one thing you can still do today is network. While social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders have made it impossible to network the traditional way, there are still alternatives you can do to grow your professional connections in these trying times.


Importance of Networking

When it comes to job hunting, the adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” couldn’t be truer.

A few years ago, Deloitte predicted that the shrinking lifespan of skills and rapid evolution of technology would force workers to move from acquiring skills to finding other people who could help them get better—in the form of organisations, small workgroups, or social networks.

Research shows that as much as 70% of job postings were not posted on job sites but passed along through word of mouth (e.g., employee referrals) instead. In addition, 80% of the jobs were filled in through professional connections.

Before the pandemic, Singapore’s MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) events industry generated S$3.8 billion in annual revenue—roughly 0.8% of the country’s GDP. The problem is “normal” networking methods like coffee meetings, trade shows, and networking events are no longer feasible in the time of COVID-19. So what can one do during this pandemic?


Networking tips in a social distancing world

Thankfully, networking activities have also moved online. You just need to know where to look. And while you’re at it, you can follow some best practies to better position yourself with your CV for a networking opportunity.


1. Update your LinkedIn Profile

Let’s start with something you can do right now: update your LinkedIn profile.

Singapore is the world’s third most-connected country on LinkedIn, with more than 2 million Singaporeans having LinkedIn accounts. That’s more than 40% of the population. As early as 2012, more than one in three employers in the country were already looking up candidates on the social network for professionals.


 

  Image source: Napolean Cat                                 

 

                                                                        
The lull in recruitment activity is a prime opportunity to make sure your profile is up-to-date. Take time to fill in as much information as possible because it gives recruiters a lot more to work with. LinkedIn actually has a feature where it measures the “completeness” of your profile and provides suggestions on how to make it stronger.

Spruce it up with a friendly, professional image that matches your desired profession. And give yourself a straightforward headline that will sum up your skills and set you apart from other candidates. After updating your LinkedIn, you can then join relevant groups and follow suggested contacts.

If you signed up for LinkedIn Premium, review who viewed your profile and send a connection request to intriguing contacts. Most of the time, when someone looks at your profile, they’ll be happy to chat with you. Don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation and offer to be of help—perhaps they need a source for a story (if they’re a journalist) or need someone to bounce ideas with.

Creating content online through a personal blog or a medium page is a great way to market yourself. Whenever you publish something new, be sure to share it on LinkedIn. Prompt your followers to drop a comment about what they think to start a discussion. And make sure you do this for other people too. A little bit of give and take will create goodwill and make it easier to interact with people.

The point is to ensure you stay top of mind with potential recruiters. Remember, hiring managers and HR executives also have limited time on their hands to comb through their social media feeds.


2. Join a Traineeship Programme

You can also take advantage of government programmes to bolster your CV while waiting for job opportunities. The Singapore Government recently opened 700 paid research and development (R&D) traineeship positions to help new university and polytechnic graduates prepare for their job search once the economy recovers.

These graduate trainee programmes are designed to help you acquire technical skills, develop your soft skills, and nurture an entrepreneurial mindset while waiting for the job market to bounce back. They also give you an opportunity to meet new and potentially like-minded individuals you can add to your professional network.

Plus, you also get access to industry-relevant career fairs and job portals for fresh graduates.


3. Look for Temp Jobs
 

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The pandemic has been particularly brutal on Singapore’s financial sector, causing vacancies at global banks to fall by 35%. While some sectors, like logistics, healthcare, food and beverage, are still hiring, not all the positions that they offer are permanent.

Some people shy away from temp jobs, thinking that it only destabilises their career and causes them to miss out on permanent opportunities. But as a WSG spokesperson puts it, “Temp jobs are useful not just to have a source of income, but also as opportunities to continue to be productive and actively engaged in the workforce and learn new skills while searching for more permanent positions or jobs that are better aligned with one’s interest and career plans.”

More recently, the NTUC Job Security Council matched 10,000 displaced and furloughed workers with new roles between February and June. Those placed include rank-and-file workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), some of whom get to keep their salary and job title.

“Temping” can also provide opportunities to network with companies outside your industry or skill set. Should a time come when you want to shift careers, for example, your contacts in other industries may prove invaluable.


4. Look for Online Events

Trade shows and conferences may have to be put on hold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join online events. Be sure to check out platforms like Eventbrite and 10 Times for updated listings on webinars, online courses, workshops and other virtual events in Singapore.

When you see an interesting event, fill in the registration form and proceed to make noise on your blog and social media. This will make you visible to other participants looking for networking opportunities.

Some of these events will also have an event guide/ mobile app that list topics, speakers, and attendees—filter out the relevant for networking opportunities. During the event, don’t be afraid to post public-facing questions and comments. By showing your engagement in the virtual event, other attendees will be more receptive to sharing what they think about a particular topic or speaker on social media or the event app.


5. Maintain Connections and Establish New Ones

With millions of people spending most of their time at home, it’s no surprise that social media is where people often hang out—WhatsApp usage rose by 40% during the earlier days of the pandemic.

For better or worse, this crisis has become an apt moment for job seekers to maintain relationships with existing networking contacts and establish new connections. The trick to getting it right lies in your execution.

  • Read, like, and comment on your connection’s content and posts. When you see something relevant or an achievement, use them as an opportunity to reach out. Show real interest in the content and explain why it matters to you—this ensures the conversation isn’t just about your job search or networking.
  • Drop the usual “Hi! how have you been?” spiel. When reaching out, don’t be afraid to talk about the pandemic and its effect on people’s lives. Asking people how they’re in these trying times goes a long way towards showing a bit of empathy and building rapport.
  • Ask to set up a quick phone call or Zoom for an informational interview. Chances are, the people you want to reach out to are working from home and want more social interaction in their lives.

With millions of people temporarily displaced from their jobs, the importance of networking has only become more apparent. While the way it works has changed under the new normal, the driving force of human interaction remains the same. Even after the threat of Covid-19 subsides, we’ll probably continue to network over Zoom calls.

If you are a recent graduate of 2019/ 2020, do check-out Young NTUC’s LITXChange Facebook Group and join the trainee community. Get updates on upcoming events, career resources, job opportunities and more.