For this week’s newsletter, I interviewed my good friend David Berkowitz. David is the founder of the 2,500-member Serial Marketers community, the publisher of the Serial Marketer Weekly newsletter, and the originator of the $CMO creator coin who, in his spare time, runs a marketing consultancy. His 20-year digital marketing career spans strategy and marketing roles at agencies such as 360i and MRY, as well as startups such as Sysomos and Storyhunter.
In our conversation, we spoke about virtual career development and networking: why we’ve shifted in this direction, the benefits of the virtual approach, how to get started on your own virtual career advancement path, and what the future holds for this space.
How did the shift to remote work affect how people approach their career development and networking?
There were clearly a ton of setbacks and challenges with career development as a result of the pandemic. There were no conferences to go to for a while, and even now, there are far fewer. In-person corporate training in office settings largely disappeared. Worse still, millions of people lost their jobs or were furloughed.
Yet whether people were employed, self-employed, or temporarily out of the workforce altogether, opportunities emerged for them to take career development into their own hands. Many employees saw this as a good use of time since they were no longer commuting. People who were already working remotely or at satellite offices could take advantage of all kinds of professional development offerings that were shifting online. For some groups of people, like those with physical mobility challenges, all of this presented a massive upside. In addition, individuals who may have been more reticent to participate in in-person career development felt they could more safely engage with such offerings digitally.
What are the benefits of virtual career development and networking over more traditional forms of career advancement (e.g., in-person events or interactions)?
The biggest benefits of going virtual are what you’d expect — the opportunity to participate from anywhere, and often anytime, at least for on-demand or frequently scheduled offerings.
What might be underappreciated is how the virtual approach can help match the format to the person. Some people do better learning through text, while others appreciate video. Some people love being in big groups while others prefer breakouts or one-to-one conversations. Some people like to learn from a mix of people, while others prefer groups of people who have a shared identity. Some like live participation; others work well with asynchronous exchanges.
It’s safe to say there is now something for practically everyone. And if there isn’t yet, you can start your own community or program.
What advice would you give to people who are just setting out into the world of virtual career development and networking?
I’d suggest that you start with breadth and then focus on depth. Expand your options and then narrow them.
Initially, if you’re serious about career development, you should try everything, especially if it’s something you haven’t done before. Have you been invited to a community in Slack or Discord, but you never created an account? Go for it. Are you sick of getting more email but you heard of a great community that’s in an email-based Google Group? Sign up. Did someone tell you about a mobile app that you need to download? Download that and the five other things that look similar.
If you don’t even know where to begin, start asking. Ask on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Quora. Ask a few people who have been mentors or who you trust. You’re probably a great Googler; see what comes up.
And get as specific as you want. Are you juggling parenting while working remotely? There are probably tons of communities for you. Want to connect with people from your racial or ethnic background who work in your field? You can probably find that kind of tribe. Looking to learn a very specific skill? There are probably tons of courses, groups, videos, articles, and more you can access.
Once you find one or two or three offerings that resonate with you, focus on those. Participate as much as you can. Prune some of the things that aren’t working for you. Maximize what you can learn from the short list that you really want to stick with.
Are there examples of communities you’d recommend for people who want to explore virtual career development and networking opportunities?
The biggest perk of running a community is getting to know the members of my community. The second-biggest perk is getting to meet community organizers.
If you’re a full-time marketer or someone who just wants to learn more about the field, of course I’d recommend my community, Serial Marketers. For those interested in other topics or fields, I’m happy to share ideas. Community of Seven by Lan Phan is one of my favorites; both the community and the founder are prolific on LinkedIn, so follow them there. Lunch Club is a great way to meet people one-on-one. I am a huge fan of Upstream because of how it combines speed networking, office hours, and events with all-star guest speakers. Serial Marketers has a community you can join there, but there are dozens of other great ones, so look for at least one you think you’d like.
What does the future hold for career development and networking? Even after the pandemic, will in-person events become obsolete because people simply prefer the convenience and other benefits of the virtual approach?
What’s exciting is that so much of what came together since March 2020 has been built with duct tape and poster board. I’m speaking from personal experience; I was constantly tinkering and adapting but with little experience and not much of a master plan. That’s true on the broader level too, whether for established companies like LinkedIn and Zoom or startups like Lunch Club and Upstream. So much had to improve so quickly.
We also had to adapt fast. For those of us who choose to grow so that we survive and thrive through whatever’s ahead, we’re learning what works for us. Most of us won’t give that up, whether or not we’re in a full-time job. We change preferences season to season with how much we want to do virtually or in-person. And sometimes, we might just be tired of all of this and need a sabbatical. That’s fine too — the pendulum of all of this going back-and-forth between energizing to exhausting is also here to stay.