If you’re thinking about your long-term professional future, there is no doubt that networking will be a part of it. 85 percent of positions were filled through networking, while 70 percent of new employees found their current job by utilizing connections they had made at a company. Even so, there are many professionals who are so afraid of making networking mistakes that they shy away from it all together.
The bottom line: you can’t simply avoid networking.
But if the thought of networking makes you sweat, you can learn strategies to avoid some of the pitfalls that could make you look like a less-than-ideal contact. Here, we’ll talk about a few common networking mistakes and what you can do instead.
Mistake: You keep networking only with people you know.
If you’re a shy person or an introvert, networking events can be much less intimidating if you stick with a friend or chat with someone you already know. You might even feel like you’re reinforcing your connection with that person. However, at the end of a networking event, your circle of contacts hasn’t expanded, and you might feel that you’re no longer able to meet new people.
What to do instead: Find ways to meet new contacts.
If you’re nervous about meeting new people, you can ask the contacts you do have to introduce you to others. Ask for introductions at functions or via email. You can also strike up conversations with new folks if you join groups such as professional organizations or of shared interests or alumni of your college or graduate program.
Mistake: Attending a networking meeting unprepared.
Some people see networking as just a chance to get to know someone better. This can sometimes be the case, but more often than not, holding a meeting without a specific purpose can feel like a waste of time – both for you and for your contact.
Also, if you have a goal in mind but don’t tell them what it is, they’ll have to guess at what you want out of the meeting, which may make them feel they’re putting in more effort than you are. Be clear, be upfront, and don’t be coy.
What to do instead: Ask your contact specifically for what you want.
Rather than hoping your contact will do what you want, stop relying on subliminal messaging. Instead, decide what you want from your contact before the meeting, and ask them while you’re there. For instance, you could say, “I would like you to introduce me to ______” or “Could you send my resume to your hiring manager?”
Mistake: Failing to network until you really need to do it.
Some people think networking is only necessary when you’re actively searching for a new job. But this isn’t true, and this attitude typically won’t work out for the best (as you’ll see later in this list, you might end up asking a new contact for a favor too soon). Hasty networking won’t give you the time to develop your connections organically; instead, you’ll only build connections based on the value you think they can bring.
What to do instead: Make time to network regularly.
Your goal should always be to build contacts that are deep, not necessarily wide. This means that your circle doesn’t need to be huge, but your contacts should be meaningful. Checking in regularly with your network, as well as offering to do helpful things for them when they need it. Then, when you need help growing your clientele or finding a new job, you will have a network willing to stick their necks out for you.
Mistake: Asking for a favor before you’ve done anything for them.
When you only start networking when you’re looking for a new position or to grow your client base, you may fall into the trap of asking your new contact to do something for you first. This mistake can make them feel that you don’t think your relationship is a two-way street, or that you’re only using them for what they can do for you.
What to do instead: Build a new connection by doing something for them first.
The best way to develop a new relationship is to offer something to them first. That can mean that you’ll put them in connection with someone you know, or refer them to one of your clients. At the same time, make sure this favor isn’t simply tit for tat – waiting for them to return the favor as soon as possible. Ideally, you will do something for them strictly to build your connection, not because you want something from them right away.
The Importance of Knowing the “Networking Rules”
Networking can be intimidating if you feel that you’re in the dark about what others expect. But key to successful networking are remembering three components: expand your contacts, create reciprocal relationships, and plan your interactions so the other person doesn’t have to. Once you feel more sure that you’re following the “rules” of networking, you will become that much more confident in your ability to form meaningful professional contacts.