The Worst Networking Mistakes We've Seen
Business networking comes naturally to some. They thrive in social professional gatherings, know intuitively how to chat with those in the know, and are shark-like at snapping up opportunities.
For many, though, networking feels uncomfortable and phony.
If you’re in the latter group, it helps to remember what networking really is. It’s more than reaching out when you’re desperate for a job. Done right, networking is about relationships.
Like any relationship, business networks need cultivation and care. Here are some of the worst networking mistakes we’ve seen and tips for avoiding them.
Forgetting Face-to-Face Networking
FaceTime isn’t just an app. It’s a powerful networking concept often overlooked in this electronic era.
Be sure you’re out and about in the physical world. Sites such as meetup.com can hook you up with events catering to various niches, from geography to profession, career level to hobbies. Dive in and try a few.
Also keep an eye out for career events in the area. These go beyond mere networking opportunities, giving you a chance to talk to companies that are hiring now or will be soon.
Don’t overlook professional seminars. These are rich learning as well as networking opportunities. They’re chances to exchange, not only contact information, but also ideas.
Neglecting Your Personal Brand
Though polishing the online presence is an important part of personal branding, so, too, is self-awareness. Figure out who you are and what makes you stand out. It’s one thing to say you’re well-versed in Java and PHP. It’s another to describe a successful initiative where you used those skills.
Also look for overall trends in your track record. Are you the fixer who rescues struggling projects or departments? Are you the organizer who keeps everything on track? Be sure you can cite specifics to back up your boast.
This might seem unrelated to networking, but being able to talk about the actual work that fires you up is much more interesting than reciting a resume.
Not Having an Elevator Pitch
In order to network effectively, you have to be able to speak confidently. That’s where the elevator pitch—a short description of your skills and goals—comes in. Beware, though, that a too-pat pitch is a turnoff. Don’t memorize a script, but be aware of your talking points.
Ironically, some of us have to practice until we can sound natural. Take a speaking class or look for opportunities in daily life. Start by chatting up a stranger in a checkout line, then go to a professional event with a goal of talking to two people, then three, and so on. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Focusing Just on Yourself
One of the worst networking mistakes you can make is to drone on about your accomplishments or your goals. Remember the definition of network: a system of interconnected devices. If you search for that link with the person to whom you’re talking, you’ll lay the groundwork for a true and lasting connection.
Looking at it from this perspective can also help you feel less squeamish. You’re not networking to ask for favors. You’re exchanging knowledge and ideas. Make sure you listen as much as you talk. Really hear what the other person is saying, and ask questions that show you’re engaged.
Not Following Through
Mom was right: manners matter.
Never close a conversation without a hearty “thank you for your time.” Every instance you collect a business card, send a note the next day. Yes, life is busy, and it’s easy to put this off, but these are simple steps that can lead to a lasting relationship.
If you tell someone you’re going to send them something, whether it’s an article or a referral, make sure to do it. Follow up on recommendations, circling back to your contact to ask her how it went. Thank her, too.
Like any relationship, a business network is only as strong as the effort made to maintain it. Avoiding networking mistakes such as inattention, neglect, and a self-centered focus can help build connections that flourish through the years.