16 Common Networking Mistakes That Can Derail Your Career
Networking is a skill that can help you develop and build long‐lasting business and social relationships. As with most skills, networking can be done well, but it can be done poorly as well, perhaps to the detriment of your career. Let’s look at the 16 most common networking mistakes to avoid.
1. You Think You Don’t Know Anyone
You are connected to far more people than you realize. Take 10 minutes and write a list of past and current work colleagues, industry contacts, friends, family, and social acquaintances; you will likely surprise yourself. Store these names in a file and add to it as you meet new people.
Once a month, go through your list and call at least one person and email three. The key is to stay in touch. Find out what’s new with them personally or professionally, react to news in your industry, or set up a lunch. Put a note in your files to remind yourself what you discussed.
Now check out some social media sites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, which are both powerful gateways to contacts and can further expand your network. If you have a blog or homepage, check out who’s been corresponding with you lately. Twitter can be another useful social networking vehicle. You must reach out to new people to build your network.
Continuously reach out to new people and you’ll see a mother lode of networking possibilities grow.
2. Waiting For A Reason To Network
A network is a social and business resource that must be cultivated and nurtured over time.
Your network supports and sustains you in the good times, but is the key to your survival in the bad times. Too often, people start networking only after they need something. Imagine a friend or relative who only calls when he needs money. Do you take his call? Do you look forward to hearing from him?
Effective networking means creating contacts and relationships now. Dig your well before you’re thirsty, as Harvey Mackay says.
3. Failing To Create A Networking Script
Avoid fumbling and stammering for the right words by practicing what you’re going to say about yourself, your job, or another topic of interest in a networking situation.
Practice it. Practice smiling as you say it, so people get a sense of excitement and energy about you. Then spend some time thinking about questions that might come up and how to respond to them.
Whether you are calling someone or talking in person, consider what it is that you want and what you can realistically expect from the person. Think about the purpose of your conversation; is it to find out information or to seek further contacts? Being clear about what you want will be a more effective use of everyone’s time and will create a better impression than a rambling speech. Be aware that they may not be in a position to do much, so be gracious if all they can offer are ideas, advice, or their experience.
Requesting a job isn’t appropriate at this stage, and that may result in you losing the contact. For networking emails, be personable and upbeat, but make sure your tone is appropriate to the person you are contacting; don’t go into “networking mode” if you are just reaching out to an old friend, for example.
4. Being Unprepared
Thinking you know what you want is not the same as knowing it.
Treat networking the same way you would an appearance at Carnegie Hall. Practice your pitch as well as your answers to questions that might arise. Knowing what you want to get out of a conversation will make the best use of everyone’s time. Do you want a new job? Do you want to make sales contacts?
Do you want to find a candidate for your next upcoming project? Do you need some information about a competitor? If so, are you seeking something specific, or will any information do? If you don’t know what you’re after, you’ll either embarrass yourself or walk away having accomplished nothing.
Doing your homework and planning ahead will help you avoid the mistake of arriving unprepared. If you’re meeting with someone or attending an event you should know why you are going and the types of people who will be there. Research specific contacts who may be there and prepare some conversation topics ahead of time. Keep in mind that having a little bit of background knowledge about the people attending will make starting a conversation much easier.
5. Talking Too Much About Yourself
Face it: Nobody is that interesting. When networking, you need to listen to what everyone else is saying. People help by offering advice, and they are not interested in hearing how much you already know.
While a big part of networking is marketing yourself, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Give others some room to get a word in. Prompt them to tell you a little bit about themselves.
This way, not only will they feel like they are actually part of the conversation, but you’ll learn a little bit about them. And the more you know about them, the more you’ll know what they can do for you and even—brace yourself—what you can do for them.
6. Monopolizing Someone’s Time
At a networking event, everyone wants to mingle and meet a number of different people. So, although making a connection with someone and getting into an interesting and animated discussion can be a great experience, conversations with people at networking events should be kept short and sweet.
To give others the best chance of connecting with the maximum amount of useful contacts, try to spend no more than five minutes with each individual. If you’re networking over the phone or by email, remember that the person you’re speaking with has a life that extends beyond you and your needs and interests. A good rule of thumb is that if they are carrying less than half of the conversation, it’s time to move on.
7. Lack Of Etiquette
Etiquette–good or bad–can extend from table manners to punctuality to your approach to social networking. And if you think people don’t notice, you’re wrong. Committing this type of blunder is self‐destructive, so mind your manners!
There are a number of things that violate networking etiquette:
- Showing up late.
- Interrupting people when they are talking.
- Talking for an extended period of time about yourself.
- Not asking other people who they are and what they do.
- Barging into a group when it is clear that they do not want to be disturbed.
- Blatantly looking for the next person to talk to.
- Drinking too much.
- Talking with your mouth full.
- Not keeping your emails and your social media profiles professional.
- Sharing a person’s contact information without their permission. (This is a huge “no” that will quickly land you a top spot on the black list. Always check with people first, even if you’re doing them a favor.)
8. Forgetting To Bring Business Cards
In one of his books, Jeffrey Gitomer argues that the main purpose of a business card is to get the other person’s card. When you hand people a card, they usually want to do the same. The key is getting their card so you can respond after the meeting with a note that connects you and the conversation you’ve had.
Always carry business cards with you, especially if you’re attending a networking event. It appears unprofessional to give out your contact information on a scrap piece of paper or napkin. Doing so may discourage a contact from getting in touch with you in the future. Your business cards should be printed on quality material and you should give them out generously. The more cards you have circulating at any given time, the more likely they will be useful.
9. Using An Unprofessional Email Name
Your friends may know you as “Daddys1Girl,” “HotStud4U,” “Cougarlady,” or “RumAndCoke47,” but when you’re building a network, use a serious email address, preferably one with your real name. And when you use this email address, make sure you have a complete signature at the bottom.
Make it easy for people to remember you and contact you later. Your email, LinkedIn profile, and standard messaging are key parts of your brand. Consider getting your own website and using your email as the address. You can do this for the cost of one business book, and it’s another way to expand your brand.
10. You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression
Dress sharply when you go to an event where you’ll have the opportunity to network.
Give firm handshakes, stand up straight, make good eye contact, repeat names back to the owners, and show respect to everyone in the room. Never say anything negative about any person, event, company, or organization, regardless of your personal views.
Remember that a networking event can be like a first interview for your next job, but no one will help you get your foot in the door if you come across with an unprofessional or negative attitude.
Remember: You’re selling yourself as much as you’re trying to get something from other people. Make sure you’re selling something they would want to buy!
11. Not Knowing How To Work A Room
Men and women with contacts and power meet many people; they remember only those who stand out from the crowd.
If you “just aren’t very social” or if it “just isn’t in your personality,” then be someone else for the networking event. Be assertive and act like a leader you admire. How would [your hero] handle this situation? You want to communicate self‐assurance and confidence.
Don’t let your introverted preferences get in the way of building the network or career you truly want. The good news is that networking is an art that can be learned. The news you probably don’t want to hear is that in today’s communication‐driven world, just about everybody has to do it. So there’s no sense trying to avoid it or hide.
12. Not Asking Follow-Up Questions
If you’re networking for a job opportunity and someone says, “I wish I could help you, but I don’t know of any openings right now,” take a minute or two to ask some follow-up questions such as: What’s the outlook for the future? Do you know anyone else in the industry that might have something? Any thoughts on what my next step should be? Who would you contact if you were in my shoes?
Follow‐up shows true interest on your part and may help the person you’re networking with come up with ideas he might otherwise overlook.
Would you ever recommend someone to a friend who you knew stretched the truth?
A wise man once said, “Always tell the truth, that way you won’t ever have to remember what you said!”
Always tell the truth and don’t fall for the “truth has different meanings to different people” hogwash. It’s tempting to say, “So‐and‐So gave me your name and told me to call”. It might even get you a meeting. But, eventually, Such‐and‐Such will learn that So-and‐So did not tell you to call. And you’ll have burned not one but two bridges.
Building relationships is all about building trust. If you have a trust issue with someone, when it comes time to make an important business decision you will hesitate. You don’t want someone to hesitate when it comes to you.
14. Not Following Up
You’ve gone through all the trouble to make a contact; why let it go to waste?
You need to follow up after every meeting or job interview to reiterate your interest and to ensure you remain at the very front of the person’s mind. Remember: People are busy and you probably aren’t their No. 1 priority. But they are your No. 1 priority, right? Make sure they know it.
Always thank a contact for their time and advice, either in a handwritten note or a follow‐up email. Follow up every conversation with a thank‐you note, email, or call. Let your contact know whether his suggestions panned out or not. You may think your networking is over, but your paths may cross again.
And don’t be afraid to get back in touch with someone. Send them an article or notice of an event that might interest them. Keep in touch through social networking media or drop them an occasional friendly email telling them how you are getting on.
Remember, what goes around comes around. Follow up with contacts who helped you. Keep them up to date about what company you are working for now, if you secured a new job, or whether the information or leads they provided you were helpful. This will help you to maintain the person as a contact in your network and allow you to return the favor when they’re in need down the road.
15. Not Tying Up Loose Ends
Too often when people in your network provide a helping hand that gives you the opening you need to achieve your goal you think, “It’s finally over”.
After any business meeting, you should document what actions were committed to, particularly yours. In most cases, sending a note regarding your commitments will make you look professional and competent. You will probably need those people again at some point in the future.
Write them a thank‐you note for their help and let them know what you ended up doing. And you cannot just do this for the person or people who helped you find a job or a client. Do it for everyone who helped or offered to help.
16. Not Paying It Forward
Networking is a two-way street.
If you’re reaching out to your contacts every time you need a something (a job, a sales lead, a favor) without ever giving back, people will stop being so willing to help. And rightly so. A good networker is ready and willing to help their contacts whenever they can.
Did you meet someone who you know would be a great contact for your colleague? Introduce them! Know of a job lead that might be perfect for your contact’s unemployed son? Hook him up! If your network sees you as a resource, they’ll be more inclined to nurture and maintain this mutually beneficial relationship.
With these tools in hand, and knowing what not to do, you should be able to network with purpose, add value to your network of contacts, and become outstanding at the art and skills of networking!
Jim Dryburgh is president and founder of The Balanced WorkLife Company.