Networking at Home: Intern Edition
By Sarah Ahmed
Finding and nurturing connections with cool people is one of the most effective strategies to explore your professional possibilities and develop your future. Virtual internships offer their fair share of perks, but perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of going all-virtual is the lack of social interaction with coworkers. The typical image of what networking entails involves waving down people in the hall, grabbing a coffee together, or attending a lunch event. What does networking at work look like when you’re at home, surrounded by pets, family, and other unpredictable elements? How do you meet cool coworkers organically if you’re not in the same room?
While there’s no substitute for meeting people at your internship face-to-face, virtual networking removes many of the restrictions that traditional networking imposes. The culture of virtual meetings has made it significantly easier for interns in particular to connect with a larger variety of folks in their company and makes reaching out far less intimidating.
Here are some virtual connection-building habits that you can incorporate into your internship experience!
Leverage your communication tools 📱
Be vocal and add meaning in communication channels
In virtual internships, messaging software like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Webex are the closest thing you’ll get to a passing-by-coworkers-in-the-hall experience. These platforms gather conversations based on context, similar to how office meeting rooms might. Don’t be afraid to walk through an open office door. Hop into public communication channels that interest you and express yourself! Whether you’re an avid commenter or emoji-aficionado, interacting in these common spaces is a great way to break the ice with coworkers you want to connect with.
Find spaces for informal conversation
With the rise of remote work, many companies have recreated spaces for “water cooler” talk and casual banter in their online offices. Joining these communication channels is a fun way to get to know your coworkers in a more personal light and connect based on interests and experiences. Companies also often set up social channels dedicated to the topics we love — spaces to share our pets, local adventures, favorite foods, and express our confusion. Being active in these channels also introduces you to folks who you might want to befriend outside of work. Informal conversation spaces may show up as Slack channels, external groups, or team book clubs. Dig around to find where these spaces show up for you!
I made a point to chat with folks about non-work things, which made working together more enjoyable. I also joined the Webex teams spaces (similar to Slack channels) for literally any and all “clubs” or Employee Resource Organizations, and actually signed up/volunteer with the ones I’m extra passionate about.
Reiterate that your virtual office door is always open
Your virtual office doors are your communication channels. Letting folks know that they can email, DM, or call you invites them to enter your office and get to know you better. Whenever you meet someone you want to stay connected with, make sure you encourage them to contact you afterward. Bonus points if you emphasize that your virtual office is a safe space for people of all kinds.
Seek out small(ish) gatherings 🤝
Attend group sessions
Does your team have virtual group workshops or work sessions? Attending these meetings is an amazing way to meet coworkers and get to know more about what they work on. If your team doesn’t hold these types of gatherings, try to find out if other teams in your company have sessions you can join in on.
Schedule your own collaborative work sessions
Not satisfied with the sessions being offered? Make your own! Set up a repeating meeting and let your coworkers know that they can stop by and hang out together virtually at that time. You can even create these work sessions for a select group of folks, such as your fellow interns, to better ensure that the work session is a safe space for topics unique to that group.
Contribute to your company culture 🏢
Join affinity groups
Many companies use Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and affinity groups to empower employees with underrepresented identities and experiences. These groups are not only an amazing place to find like-minded mentors, but can also provide you with an incredible sense of psychological safety, community, and belonging within your company. Interns are often encouraged to join ERGs and affinity groups, so consider joining them if you can!
Interact during virtual events
As an intern, you may have attended a virtual event or two on video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Making yourself known in these online gatherings is a wonderful way to initiate a connection with coworkers and meet folks in your company you may not know. Try to unmute yourself or use the beloved chat box to ask a question at your next event. Pro tip: Seek out and participate in casual meetups and bonding sessions — these are some of the best virtual events for interns because you can bring your whole self and get a taste of the company culture.
Lately I’ve found it very helpful to go to events, including those that are optional and less formal such as bonding sessions. I’m normally the type of person to skip optional events or minimize my engagement if I do go, but I feel more comfortable in this virtual setting and I’m able to be more confident and outgoing. I especially love when I can share some quick words of praise in the chatbox!
Don’t underestimate interns
Interns are just as cool as full-timers. While they may not have decades of experience in the workforce, fellow interns are crucial connections to have and maintain. You can navigate your virtual internships together and be a source of support when things get tough. After your internship, you can continue exploring the job world together. Initiating a weekly online lunch-and-learn, volunteering together, and connecting after work are just a few ways to build relationships with other interns.
Create your own virtual networking strategy ☕
Have a plan
You’ve found some interesting folks and are excited to schedule some 1-on-1s, but unsure how to actually reach out. First, pat yourself on the back. You’ve done the hard part. Before sending out those emails and messages, have a rough plan for what you want to get out of your networking journey. Look at your internship timeframe — how much time per week do you want to commit to 1-on-1s per week? What are your main learning goals? Do you want to network with your team first, then branch out? Are you interested in learning more about roles different than your own? ****Answering these questions for yourself will help you meet the folks you want to and get insight into the topics most important to you.
After completing my first day at Raytheon Technologies (RTX), I created a LinkedIn post. This gave me visibility to RTX employees since I tagged RTX in my post. As a result, I had many RTX employees like my post and had one comment on it. I connected with them on LinkedIn and reached out to the one who commented since she had similar interests as me!
Set up quick virtual coffee chats
After all that planning and searching for interesting coworkers, it’s time to hit the send button on those meeting requests! Whether you send your request through email or another platform, here are some guidelines and tips to follow when setting up your chats (if you’re unsure about which platform to reach out on, try asking your recruiter, manager, or other coworkers what platform they prefer to communicate on):
- Leverage your intern status! People are more likely to meet with you if they resonate with your curiosities. In your message, mention any similarities you and the receiver have and emphasize that you’re early in your career journey.
- If you’re sending an email, use a subject line that will stand out in a list of work emails. Some people love to have 1-on-1s with interns but miss your request in the hustle and bustle. A subject line like “Quick coffee chat with a Marketing intern” lets the receiver know who you are and what you want before they even open your email. Including time-related words like “quick” or “30-minute” let people know that meeting you won’t take up too much of their time.
- Introduce yourself as succinctly as possible. It’s often enough to include your name, role, product area(s), and relevant career interests. Include your school too if you’re reaching out to an alumni!
- Briefly mention how you ‘discovered’ the person you’re reaching out to and the topic you’re interested in discussing in your initial message. This will help you both prepare for the upcoming conversation. End your message with a clear ask, such as “Do you have time for a quick chat in the next few weeks?”
- Sprinkle some (work-appropriate) personality into your request! Unless you’re in a particularly formal work setting, emojis, well wishes, and references to well-known movies are often appreciated.
It’s intimidating to meet people, especially those you look up to. Focusing on the relational aspects of meeting new people and expanding your network might help calm your nerves. Relationships are often built on commonalities, and at the very least you and your coworkers have humanness in common. Being authentic during your first conversation with a new person will allow you to connect with others in a way that isn’t superficial or transactional, and relieve you of the pressure to be perfect. Your first conversation is ideally the start of a strong, mutually gratifying relationship for you and your coworker, so it’s best to be human from the very start. Here are some tips to help you communicate your humanness and build the foundations of a relationship during your first chat:
- It’s best to avoid asking the usual “How are you doing?” at the first meeting, even if you really mean it. Try asking questions that help people open up, such as “What’s been the highlight of your day?” or “How are you holding up?”.
- Ask broad, inquiring questions and let the conversation flow. This makes the conversation feel less like an interrogation, and more like a casual chat.
- Send a follow-up if you’re interested in staying in touch with someone. Thanking them and letting them know your key takeaways solidifies your connection.
- Ask people how and how often they prefer to communicate. Everyone’s different. Some folks you meet might want to exchange emails every other month, and others may prefer to hop on a video call ‘whenever’.
As great as the benefits of networking can be, getting started can make you feel frantic, anxious, rejected, naive, and can make you doubt your own value. Combine these feelings with limited time at your company and actual work — that’s a lot of pressure. Give yourself permission to not reach out to everyone on your list. Take a break from networking and spend time on activities that make you feel yourself again. Don’t be afraid to enforce boundaries on when you are available for coffee chats.
Maintain your relationships ✨
Look for opportunities to interact
You can’t expect to reap the benefits of a strong network after one chat. It takes time. That being said, you don’t have to wait to meet with folks again to build on your relationships. Here are some ways you can strengthen your connections asynchronously:
- Check in. We’re all dealing with something, and simply making sure the folks in your network are doing okay can mean the world to someone.
- Act on advice, and let them know. Chances are you received some words of wisdom at your 1-on-1s. Update your connections on how you’ve turned those words into action.
- Share relevant knowledge. While you might not want to share that cool “Intro to MarTech” article you just read with the VP of Marketing, sharing news about happenings in your field is a wonderful way to build a fruitful repertoire with your network.
- Share your successes. Graduated? Got 8 hours of sleep? Had breakfast for dinner? Whatever your achievement looks like, there may be some folks in your network who would like to hear about it. Let them know!
Stay in touch after you leave
The day may come that you’ll have to leave your company. As you finish up projects and presentations, send a final thank you and goodbye to your supervisors, mentors, recruiters, and others who supported you throughout your internship. The experience and connections you’ve gained are invaluable. Exchange contact information with folks before you leave so you can continue your relationships out in the world. As you grow your network, look for opportunities to provide value to others.
It’s never too early or too late to begin building your network, and the only way to improve your networking chops is to put yourself out there. An internship is the best opportunity to get your feet wet with networking, and the relationships you form there can last the rest of your career. Networking at a remote internship does involve a slightly different approach, but doing so can be just as — if not more — valuable to your growth as in-person networking. Good luck and please for the sake of yourself have fun on your virtual networking journey!
👀 Employers: If you’re looking for ways to make virtual connections a little easier for your interns and employees, keep an eye out for an upcoming Opal blog post full of ideas for you!