Ranting my frustration about connect requests

This article may seem to go against one of the things that I preach in my ‘blogging presentation, and that is to avoid frustrated rants and “getting it out of your system.” Maybe I should be a little more specific. One should avoid mindless rants in which you angrily spew your passions without any thoughts, and in which you say things that you’ll later regret.

Yes, this article is a rant. However, it is not without thought, and there is a purpose to this post.

As many of my regular followers (both of you) are likely aware, I write and present primarily on professional development topics. I’m not as technically sharp as I once was, but I still contribute to groups such as PASS and SQL Saturday in the form of “soft” topics that are of interest to industry professionals. I’ve started using this analogy during my presentation introductions: “when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Saturday, I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.”

Among other things — and if you follow my ‘blog and my presentations, you probably already know this — I write a lot about networking. These days, networking is the lifeblood of one’s career path.

However, there is a difference between networking and connecting. Therein lies the heart of my rant. I’ve written before about people who don’t give a crap about actual networking, as well as spam recruiters.

I still get connect requests from these people, and it frustrates me to no end. So with that…

<Rant>
  • If I don’t know who you are, tell me how we’re connected!!! I get a lot of LinkedIn requests from people whom I don’t know from Adam. Some might be people I’ve met from my user group or at a SQL Saturday, but if I’m not friends with you, I didn’t invite you to connect, I don’t interact with you on a semi-regular basis, or we don’t have some kind of common relationship (more on that below), chances are that I’m not going to know or remember who you are. I do NOT connect with random strangers that I don’t know. If you tell me how we’re connected, then I will be happy to connect with you. But if you send me a cold-connect request with no explanation whatsoever — or worse, send me a message where you kiss my ass without explaining how we’re connected (I’ve had that happen before) — then there is about a 98% chance* that I will delete your request. (And if you try to kiss up to me, insult my intelligence, or try to sell me something, that shoots all the way up to 100%.)

    (*If I recognize where you’re from, then there’s a slight chance that I might at least retain the request, not delete it altogether. But if I don’t know you, I still won’t connect until you tell me who you are. Don’t make me have to work to figure out who you are.)
  • I am NOT in a contest to see if I can get the most connections. So you have 3000+ connections. That’s great. But if you ask me for a recommendation, will I know anything about you? Networking is about relationships. If I need a favor (for example, let’s say I lose my job and am looking for a new one), are you willing to help me out? Or are you looking for something for me and are not willing to give anything back? If the answer no to the first question and yes to the latter, then don’t even bother with me.
  • We don’t have to be friends. We just need to have something in common. I don’t expect to be buddies with all my networking connections. Many of these people I will likely not recognize if I bumped into them on the street. Some might even be people with whom I have some kind of conflict. But if we’re both members of the same “family” (e.g. my alma mater, my fraternity, my gym, #SQLFamily, etc.), then I’m more likely to connect with you. If we’re friends, great, but having a networking relationship with acquaintances is okay.

And I have a special rant regarding spam recruiters. I hate spam recruiters passionately. (I once had a bad experience with a spam recruiter — if you really want to hear more about it, I talk about it in the link.) They give legitimate recruiters a bad name. All of the above bullet points about connecting apply, along with these points.

  • I will NOT relocate. If you try to sell me a position that requires me to move, consider your message deleted immediately. I have a home and a life. I have roots where I am, and I will NOT pull them up unless I desperately have to do so. I will NOT even look at any message that tells me about a job in someplace I’ve never heard of or located hundreds of miles from where I live. Every time I see a message like that in my inbox, it goes straight into the trash. I won’t even bother reading what it says.
  • Don’t even bother contacting me about sales or help desk call positions. Although I’m open-minded enough that I’d look into nearly any job depending on the circumstances, there are some positions in which I have absolutely zero interest. I have no interest at all in any type of sales associate or help desk call* position, and I state that very clearly in my LinkedIn overview. (There are a number of other positions as well, but those are the ones about which I get the most emails.) I don’t even know what on my resume says that I have any kind of interest in either position.

    (*I might consider a position that involves managing or supporting a help desk, but again, it depends on the circumstances.)
  • No growth? No dice. I’m always looking to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean climbing the ladder (although it could mean that). It means improving myself, learning new skills, and possibly even furthering my education. If you don’t offer that, chances are that I won’t budge.

Having gotten that out of my system, I do have some points for legitimate recruiters (some of whom are my friends).

  • I am not actively looking for a position (at least not as of this article), but I do look passively. If something that looks interesting drops in my lap, I’d be stupid to at least not look into it. And if it’s something that works for me — whether it’s an increase in salary or an upward move — then who knows?
  • No, I won’t relocate, but… I do enjoy traveling, so I give bonus points for a position in which I get to do some traveling. Also, I would consider a position where I can work from home full-time, even if the prospective employer is located hundreds of miles away.
</Rant>

Okay. That’s out of my system. I feel better now.

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Bragging about your accomplishments

It’s true that bragging about what you do — boasting, talking smack, and strutting around like a peacock — generally tends to be frowned upon. However, I was thinking about a situation this morning where, professionally, it is appropriate to brag about what you do.

Yesterday, I picked up a new LinkedIn contact. The person in question is a guy I see behind the counter at the corner Cumberland Farms every morning when I stop to get coffee. This is the same guy that commented on my shirt whom I mentioned a while back. He’s a college student studying IT and has worked mostly jobs like working the cash register at Cumberland Farms. Taking a quick look at his LinkedIn profile, you’d think that that was all he did. But I do converse with him whenever I see him, and what he does goes deeper than that.

He went to our last user group meeting, and he told me he’s looking forward to attending SQL Saturday next month. A while back, I told him that he should download a free copy of SQL Server Developer Edition and practice. He did so, and he told me that he’s been spending a few hours each day practicing his SQL skills.

It occurred to me that that’s the perfect thing to write about. What are you working on? What have you done? What did you come across? What have you learned? What questions do you still have? People, especially recruiters and managers, like to see things like that. It shows that you’re learning and accomplishing things, which reflects very well upon you. This is great fodder for a ‘blog or LinkedIn posts. You can mention these things on a resume, in a cover letter, or during an interview, and if you ‘blog about it, you can use that to back it up.

There is a difference between being an egotistical braggart and talking about your accomplishments. If you’re trying to get started in a career field, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. By all means, go ahead and talk about what you do, what you learn, and even what you don’t know but want to learn. It demonstrates that you’re motivated, inspired, and interested — traits that potential employers like to see. While people don’t like people who seem to know-it-all, this is one scenario in which bragging about what you do is appropriate.

When you make it hard for your customers to respond

This morning, I had an issue with my LinkedIn account. I was trying to reply to a message, and I kept getting “Send failed.” That was all I got — there were no error codes, additional information, or symptoms. I poked around LinkedIn’s Help section, and came across this page for dealing with messaging problems. I didn’t go as far as to clear my cache, but I did log out and back in, and I tried it in a different browser, all to no avail. In the middle of contacting LinkedIn’s support, the problem mysteriously “fixed itself.” If you work in tech, I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it is for an issue to mysteriously “fix itself.”

However, the issue I had, in and of itself, is not why I’m writing this article. When I heard back from LinkedIn, I got a message saying “go to this page” (the one I’d already found) and use that to troubleshoot. In response, it displayed the interface you see above. As you can see, they only gave me two options: “yes, I’m good,” and “no, I still need help.” The problem was, my response was, neither. No, I didn’t need help at that point, but I also wasn’t completely good, either. I wanted to inform them what had happened in case they wanted to investigate it further. But they did not give me that option. Between those two options, I clicked “yes, I’m good,” which immediately closed the case; I had absolutely no recourse to add more to it. I looked around for ways to send feedback, but I did not find any good way to do it. Replying to the email resulted in a response saying “you responded to an unmonitored mailbox.” The more I looked for a feedback mechanism, the more frustrated I got. The issue quickly went from “I’m reporting a technical issue” to “you guys need to fix your UI/UX.”

I’ve written before about how critical it is to get feedback, and how design can be a big deal. As much as I like LinkedIn as a business networking tool, I felt that LinkedIn fell short on both of these facets.

Let me start with the UX/UI design. I strongly felt that only those two options, especially if answering “yes” automatically closed the case, was a very poor design. As many people will tell you, the answer often isn’t simply “yes” or “no.” (One of the long-standing jokes among DBAs is that the standard DBA answer is, “it depends.”) And even after I clicked one of those buttons (in this case, I clicked “yes”), the interface was confusing. I was brought to a page that said “click to enter more information” (or something like that). The problem was, click where? None of the “links” allowed me to enter anything else, and there was no clearly logical eye path for me to follow. I had no idea what I was supposed to do once I got to that page. I kept clicking different links, trying to leave feedback. By the time I found a link, I wasn’t even sure that I was replying to my original query. I had no idea to what — or even where — I was responding.

I’ve said time and again that if you’re a technical writer — or a UX/UI developer — you don’t want to make your reader or end user work. Reading is work. Making your end user work is a sign of poor design.

Second, this experience made me question just how seriously LinkedIn takes feedback. True, nobody wants to hear bad feedback. I know I sure don’t. But if you want to improve, you need to know what it is you need to improve. How am I supposed to improve something when I don’t know what it is that I’m doing wrong? Not including a channel for feedback — or making it difficult to do so, as I allude to above — is doing a disservice to your organization and to your clients.

Good communication between you and your client is important. Not only does it help your client, it helps you improve your organization, and it builds trust between you and your customers. Making it difficult for your customers to communicate alienates them — and ends up hurting your business in the long run.

Networking: it’s all about relationships

My last article got me thinking — what and why is networking? What’s it about? How is it supposed to work? It occurred to me that the person who sent me that first LinkedIn request (to which I refer in my previous article) doesn’t get it. She has no clue about what networking is, why it is, and how it works. Networking is not about just saying “I have X number of connections.” “Connecting” is not the same as “networking.” You may have a large number of LinkedIn connections. But are you really networking?

Networking is about building and nurturing relationships — for our purposes, building professional relationships. (I mention “professional” since it’s the main focus here, although solid social relationships often come out of them as well — and they, in turn, strengthen the business relationship. How often do you go out with your coworkers for lunch, a cup of coffee, a drink after work, a ballgame, or — in some rare cases — even a date?) Often, these relationships take time to develop. The stronger the relationship is, the stronger the network is. Subsequently, a good network takes time to develop, often weeks or months, and sometimes even as long as several years.

Granted, the relationship isn’t always social, and many people in a network may be (at best) more acquaintances than friends. There are many people in my network with whom I’ll likely never share so much as a cup of water at the watercooler — and that’s okay. What matters is that the connection is valuable and bidirectional. A network connection is mutually beneficial. I might need a favor from some person, and (s)he might someday need one from me. As long as two people are willing to assist each other in some way, shape, or form — it could be as minor as providing a small piece of advice, or as major as hiring that person for a six-figure executive position — if both sides benefit from the relationship, that is a network.

So how does one establish a network? I’ve touched on this a number of times. I talk about it extensively in my networking presentation. I highly recommend Matt Cushing‘s presentation about networking at a PASS/SQL event. (Amusing side note: as of this article, Matt has given his presentation four times — and I’ve attended all four! I’ll likely make it five-for-five when we hook up again in Virginia Beach. I jokingly told him that he can just start referring to me as “his prop.”) In my previous article, I mention how I connected with the person who sent me the second LinkedIn request I received that weekend. I wrote about how to establish a network online. I also wrote earlier about how common connections can benefit people.

And I’ve mentioned this many times before, but it bears repeating: the person who hired me for my current job is one of my Facebook friends.

Just because you’re “connected” to someone doesn’t mean you have a network. Networking is about relationships, whether they’re casual acquaintances or close friends. The stronger those relationships are, the stronger your network will be. How you nurture those relationships determines how strong your network is. And if you establish a strong network, chances are that you’ll go far in your professional endeavors, whatever they may be.

A tale of two LinkedIn requests

Over the weekend (specifically, while I was at SQL Saturday Philadelphia), I received two different LinkedIn connect requests. The two requests were polar opposites, and I thought they were worthwhile writing about in this article.

As a technical professional, I often receive “cold-call” connect requests or emails. I am very wary and picky about with whom I connect; indeed, I’ve written before about spam recruiters. The problem has become so pervasive that I included this note at the top of my LinkedIn profile summary: “If you want to connect with me, please indicate how we’re connected; otherwise, I will ignore or delete your request. I do NOT accept unsolicited connect requests from people I don’t know.”

In my networking presentation, I include a section on “how to break the ice” — that is, how to initiate a networking contact with someone you don’t know. The two requests I received were perfect case studies as to what to do — and what NOT to do.

I’ll start with the one that describes what not to do. I received a “cold-call” connect request from someone who sent me the following note. Keep in mind that I do not know this person.

“I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

(name withheld)

If you’ve attended my presentation, or if you’ve downloaded or perused my PowerPoint slides, you’ll know that I include a section of what not to do. This person’s email checked off one of the boxes in that category: brown-nosing/sucking up/kissing up. The message was canned, impersonal, and insincere. Not only that, but she gave absolutely no indication as to how we’re connected or if we have any kind of (business) relationship. She gave me absolutely no reason for me to connect with her. “Wanting to build my network with great people” is NOT a reason for me to connect with you!!! Not only did she not give me a reason to connect, the tone of her message insulted my intelligence. This message is a perfect example of how NOT to establish a networking contact.

(And in case you’re wondering, I deleted this person’s request immediately.)

On the other side of the coin, I received this message from someone who attended my SQL Saturday presentation this past weekend. Again, I did not know this person. However…

“I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

(name also withheld)

(Note: the “tie challenge” refers to a demo in my presentation. If you haven’t seen my presentation, I’m not telling you what it is. You’ll have to attend to find out! 🙂 )

To the person who wrote this email (if you’re reading this): nice job! The message was sincere, complimentary (“I enjoyed the presentation”), referred to specific things (so I knew she attended my presentation; therefore, we have a connection of some type), and asked to potentially continue a conversation (“maybe pick your brain”). This is a perfect example as to how to initiate contact and break the ice. I was happy to connect with this person, and I did.

(P.S. I might use your message as an example the next time I give my networking presentation!)

If you want to establish a networking contact, you need to be sincere and give the person a reason to connect. Make the person feel valued. This applies to any networking situation, regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online. Following this guideline will ensure that your networking efforts are much more successful.

I network. What’s your superpower?

I had some things happen just within the past week that reminded me about the power of networking, and just how well-connected I actually am.

At my CrossFit gym last week, one member of the racquetball club (which occupies the same building as the CrossFit gym) and whom I knew from a previous job, told me he might be looking to move on. I told him to connect with me over LinkedIn, which he did.

The other day, another friend from another former job also told me he was looking, and was wondering if I knew anyone whom he could contact about opportunities. I told him to email me his resume, along with an email and phone number where he wouldn’t mind being contacted by recruiters, and a quick description of the position he was seeking. I took his information and submitted a referral to several recruiters I know, most of whom said they would reach out to him.

And last night, I was contacted by my fraternity chapter, telling me that one of their recent graduates was looking into a technology career, and was wondering if I had any insights. We connected and chatted via email, and I told him to connect with me on both LinkedIn and Facebook. Additionally, about a month ago, I signed up for a mentoring program, also organized by my fraternity, and I was assigned a pledge (I believe the politically-correct term they’re using these days is “membership candidate” — sorry, I’m old school) as my mentee. A little while ago as I was writing this, I made arrangements to meet with both of them tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll be taking a quick day trip out to Syracuse tomorrow. (As an added bonus, tomorrow is Syracuse’s Spring Game, which gives me another reason to make the trip.)

(I have a number of other experiences involving mentoring and paying it forward that I’ve been meaning to write up in a yet-to-be-written ‘blog article, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it. Stay tuned.)

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four different people connected to me through three different ways (well, four if you count that one of those contacts is connected through both my gym and a former job). That represents just a small fraction of my network. My network extends a lot further than that (last I checked, I had more than five hundred LinkedIn connections), which enables me to connect these people with many more.

Networking is a powerful tool when it comes to advancing your career. Whether you’re looking to make a move, learn something new, or improve your standing, you need to actively network. You never know where it might lead.

The craft of online business networking

I recently had a friend text me to say she was looking for new employment, and wanted to know if I had any ideas.  I gave her my thoughts, mentioned some resources (I even dropped a name), and told her that she should network on LinkedIn and Facebook.  She told me that she was rarely, if ever, on LinkedIn, and the idea of using Facebook for professional networking had never occurred to her.

What she told me prompted me to write this article.

A couple of things that she said struck me.  First, despite the fact that she wanted to find new employment and was interested in getting connected, she almost never used LinkedIn.  Second, the idea of professional networking on Facebook never occurred to her.

I will mention that my friend in question is my age (we went to high school together) and is not as technically savvy as I am.  Although many people of my generation have largely embraced technology and social media, it’s not unusual or uncommon to find people who haven’t.  Nevertheless, in my position, I take using online communication for granted, so it surprised me that someone would not even think about using a tool such as LinkedIn or Facebook for her job search.

My thought was, Facebook is a highly popular application that connects large numbers of people.  How does someone not know to network through Facebook?  I’m not talking about how to network on Facebook, but rather just the simple fact that you can network on Facebook.

I should reiterate that I have personal experience with this; I got my current job through a Facebook contact.

I am a big believer that, in this day and age of social media, networking online is absolutely critical for surviving in today’s professional market.  A lot of business is conducted through email and text messages; indeed, applications such as Slack have become highly prevalent in business.  Even in one of my previous jobs, Skype was used extensively for work-related purposes.  I have even seen job applications that ask for your LinkedIn account, an indication that businesses take it seriously.

With the use of electronic media in business so prevalent, and with the popularity of social networks such as Facebook, it makes sense that online networking is critical for professional survival.

With that, here are some of my thoughts in regard to online networking.  This is not a comprehensive list; indeed, there may be a number of things I might be leaving out.  By all means, I encourage you to dig deeper into this (which you should be doing, anyway) and check out what others have to say about online networking.

One thing I should note: I talk mainly about LinkedIn, Facebook, and ‘blogs because those are the forums with which I am the most familiar.  This is not to discount other forms of social media (e.g. Google+, Twitter, etc.); if you use other platforms, then by all means, knock yourself out.

Online networking is still networking.  Think about what networking is.  It is a phenomenon where a person establishes a relationship — for purposes of this topic, a professional relationship — with another person.  Networking is a two-way street; the relationship is mutually beneficial to both parties.

When I was in college (which predates the internet — yes, I’m old!), we talked with people online using a system called the BITNET.  I actually made a number of friends by talking to them over BITNET; in fact, I am still friends with several of them to this day.

Networking online does not change the nature of what networking is.  Tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook are exactly that: tools.  They are used to facilitate networking, and if used properly, they can help foster and nurture those relationships.

Online networking expands your reach.  I maintain my Facebook account so I can keep family and friends in the loop as to what’s going on in my life.  Many of these people are located all around the country, and even around the world; I even have friends as far away as Sweden, Israel, and Pakistan.

I’ve written before about how involvement in local user groups is a good thing.  It is, but one limitation of it is geography; your reach goes as far as people live from the group site.  Online networking has no such limitation.  Maintaining an online presence means you can network with people anywhere.

Additionally, an online presence doesn’t just expand your network geographically; it can also expand it numerically as well.  Online networking ensures that you will be seen by more people than those with whom you would contact either face-to-face or over the phone.

Networking — whether it’s online or real life — takes time.  If you’ve been involved in some kind of relationship — whether it’s friendship, romantic, or professional — you know that it takes time to establish.

This is also the case with online (or any) networking.  Just because you’ve created a LinkedIn account and connected with, say, five different people does not mean you have an online networking presence.  Establishing a good network takes time — sometimes months, possibly even years.  If you’re looking for a job today, you can’t just start a LinkedIn account now, connect to a few people, and suddenly have an interview tomorrow.  It doesn’t work that way.  Networking is a long-term investment of time and effort.

You can join groups in Facebook and LinkedIn.  How many and what kinds of groups are you connected to on Facebook and LinkedIn?  Did it ever occur to you that those groups represent people who have similar interests to you?  This sounds familiar.  I think there’s a term for that.  I think it’s called…  let me think…  networking!

Online groups are not that different from physical user groups (okay, maybe you have to get your own coffee and snacks).  If you’re involved with an online group, you are already connected to a bunch of people who have the same interests that you do!

Network with people you know.  I get plenty of connect requests from people I don’t know.  Some of them are spam recruiters.  I make it clear on my LinkedIn summary that I only connect with people I know, and if they tell me how we’re connected or where we’ve met, then I’d be more likely to connect.  But if someone just sends me a request to connect, and I have no clue as to whom (s)he is, the request will likely end up in the trash.

Case in point: not long ago, someone who I didn’t know asked to connect.  However, he also included a note that he was the editor for the podcast I did a while back.  Ah, okay!  We have a connection!  I was happy to connect with him.

Remember, networking is a two-way street.  If someone connecting with you is looking to get something from you but is not willing to do anything in return, that is not networking; that is someone taking advantage of you.  If you don’t trust the other person, don’t connect with him or her.

Keep your information up-to-date.  You can pretty much keep your entire resume on LinkedIn (and Facebook as well, although it isn’t really used for that purpose).  I find it much easier to maintain my information and accomplishments on LinkedIn than I do constantly having to update my resume.  Additionally, when I do need to update my resume, I can use my LinkedIn information as a reference.

However, it’s not just a matter of your resume information.  It makes a good resource for my next point, which is…

What you know matters.  There is a reason why I maintain this ‘blog and include links to it on both my Facebook and LinkedIn.  I’m letting people know about what I think, what I’m learning, what I’m working on, and so on.  This is all stuff that (hopefully) is valuable to other people, not to mention that it looks good on a resume.

People can look at your LinkedIn profile and get an idea of what you know.  How often have recruiters found you by looking at your profile?  If you post what you know, it can help with connecting to other professionals.

Post about your accomplishments!  You just got a promotion because you figured out a complex problem!  You just got a full ride to Harvard!  You won your robotics competition!  Congratulations!  These are accomplishments that people like to hear about, and it’s possible that they might help land your next big thing.  Go ahead and post about them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or your ‘blog.  Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn!

The hive mind is a useful thing.  How many times have you posted on Facebook, “hey hive mind, I need your help on…”?  Did it ever occur to you that the same problem-solving tactic can be used professionally as well?  Your network is a source of knowledge.  It’s entirely possible that someone, somewhere, might have an answer to your problem.

How many times have to posted to a forum such as SQLServerCentral, 4GuysFromRolla, or StackOverflow looking for an answer to a problem?  You’re posting your issue to a wide audience, hoping that someone will have an answer.  An online network is useful in serving that purpose.

Above all, be yourself.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I shouldn’t try to be someone I’m not.  I’ve written before about how difficult it is to keep up with current trends.  Maybe it’s time to reinvent yourself.  Figure out who you are and stick with it.  Don’t waste your time trying to build up your online persona into someone you’re not.

Even online, etiquette matters.  People are more likely to networking with people they like.  Maintaining good etiquette goes a long way in accomplishing that.

There are some things you shouldn’t post online.  Do you really want the entire world, much less, professional contacts, to know all about the multi-keg drunk fest you had with your buddies?  What about the sordid details of the night that you had with the girl or guy you picked up the other night?  Granted, these are extreme examples, but nevertheless, there are some things I wouldn’t even want to share with my best friends, much less, business contacts.  This should be common sense, but it’s amazing (and not in a good way) how many people don’t think about this.

As I stated before, it’s entirely possible that your next manager or business contact could be one of your Facebook friends.  While it’s probably safe to post pictures of your vacation, your kids, or your cats, there are some things that you just shouldn’t post online.

While we’re on the subject of inappropriate things online…

There are pitfalls.  As much as I extol the virtues of online networking, it is not perfect, either.  Data security can be an issue.  There are spammers looking to scam you or make a fast buck.  People establish fake accounts for questionable purposes.  In this day and age of “fake” news, misinformation can spread like wildfire.

Despite the pitfalls that can come with online networking, they should not discourage you from establishing an online presence.  Used wisely and intelligently, online networking can enhance your career.

If you want to be more effective with professional networking, especially in this electronic interconnected age, you need to be able to do it online.  Making use of social media can go a long way in extending your networking reach.