Every professional knows that networking is an essential component for career success. However, as a career coach, I’ve seen a lot of smart, talented people make a wide variety of counterproductive networking mistakes. While such missteps are usually unintentional, they can severely harm your chances of creating the strong connections you need to get ahead in your career.
If you’re looking to build authentic, powerful professional relationships, here are the top 5 networking mistakes you should avoid like the plague.
Avoid These Networking Mistakes
1. Being Self-Consumed
Networking is like any other adult conversation—it should be a two-way dialogue. For some reason, people often forget this simple fact. They’re so worried about self-promotion and elevator speeches, they neglect the other person entirely. If you’ve ever been on the other end of this, you know how exasperating it can be. It’s easy to tune someone out when they’re totally focused on themselves.
To avoid this networking mistake, remember to demonstrate a genuine interest in the people with whom you are connecting by asking questions about them. Don’t dominate the conversation or look for ways to continually pull it back in your direction. Allow the other person to hold the spotlight for a while and eventually, it will come back your way. Counterintuitive as it may seem, when you show interest in others, you become more interesting yourself.
2. Asking for Too Much Too Soon
Unfortunately, many people don’t start networking until they need something, like a new job. Then, they immediately start asking for favors, like introductions and referrals. This is a sure-fire way to turn people off. After all, favors like this require that people know, like and trust you—and that takes time! You can’t just meet someone and then immediately expect them to put their own good name on the line to help you out. Asking for such things with a new contact can look presumptuous, greedy, and tone deaf.
To avoid this networking mistake, adopt a “give first” mentality. Ask others how you can help them achieve their goals. Offer to make introductions and provide any support you can. This helps build goodwill and a feeling of reciprocity. Most people will want to return the favor by helping you out as well. But remember: it takes time. Start networking now, before you need to leverage your network. Give generously without expectation of return. And, when the time comes that you need something, your network will be there for you.
3. Sticking to People You Already Know
Networking events can feel uncomfortable at first, so many people tend to stick close to those they already know. This is a big mistake! The whole point of such events is to expand your network and meet new people. Yes, this requires getting out of your comfort zone. But that’s not as hard as it sounds, considering that everyone is there for the same purpose.
To avoid this networking mistake, mix and mingle! Strike up conversations with strangers. Facilitate introductions and ask others to do the same for you. You’ll be surprised just how approachable and welcoming people are in environments where networking is involved.
4. Failing to Follow Up
Salespeople have a saying: “The fortune is in the follow-up.” It means that the sale doesn’t typically happen in the first meeting, but rather, it happens after you’ve built on the initial connection by following up.
The same thing can be said for networking. Meeting a person once doesn’t make them a valuable contact. It’s all about the relationship you build over time. Therefore, to avoid this networking mistake, you need to follow up with new contacts you meet.
After you’ve made a new connection, find that person on LinkedIn within a day or two. (Be sure to include a message about where you met, just in case they’ve forgotten!) If this is someone you feel is a particularly strong potential contact, you may also want to invite them to get together one-on-one for a coffee. That way, you can continue the conversation in person and build even deeper rapport. Of course, you probably don’t have time to do that with everyone you meet, and that’s okay. Even if you don’t have an in-person meeting, you can still follow up via email or LinkedIn message to continue getting to know them and building the relationship.
5. Forgetting Your Manners
Don’t underestimate the importance of common courtesies. At times, networking events can take on a social atmosphere. People enjoy a few cocktails and let loose a bit, which is perfectly fine. But don’t get lulled into bad behaviors! You still want to demonstrate your professionalism. Your interactions are still a reflection of your personal brand, and you don’t want to unintentionally taint that because you’re so busy having fun.
Whether you’re at a networking event or engaging in any other type of activity with a person or people in your network, remember your manners. You can still have fun and be friendly, but don’t go overboard. Small niceties like saying, “please” and “thank you,” can make all the difference. Show respect for those around you and maintain professional etiquette. This will help ensure you establish appropriate boundaries and create the kind of relationship that will best serve you (and your career) in the future.
Networking mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, but if you are able to be mindful of the missteps shared above, you will be well on your way to making good first impressions and creating lasting connections.