Networking is one of the best ways to find a job, discover new prospects, and grow your career. When done incorrectly, it’s one of the easiest ways to waste your time.
Everyone knows networking is important, but despite their best efforts, many people consistently go about it the wrong way. Much more than simply the means to land a new job or grow a client list, networking is the lifelong practice of building mutually beneficial relationships.
From focusing too much on collecting business cards to failing to help others, avoid these common networking mistakes and your hard work will finally start paying off.
1. Turning it into a sales pitchNetworking events are not the place to deliver a sales pitch. While it’s true that everyone at an event is ultimately looking to benefit from their new connections, that process takes time. Even if you ultimately want to make a pitch to a new connection, save it for later. Focus on finding ways to help them first and they will be more inclined to hear you out down the road.
2. Expecting too much too soonDon’t set your expectations too high, and don’t expect results immediately. While you may be looking for a job or a new batch of prospects, focus on meeting new people and take the time to learn about them and their needs. Networking should become a daily process, so rather than heading to an event and expecting to leave with an offer, start small and work to make meaningful connections.
3. Not being preparedEffective networking takes time and preparation. Make sure you are up to date on current events and happenings in your industry. This will help you breeze through small talk, which, like it or not, is always a part of networking. If you don't know about major global events or trends in your industry, new connections will think you’re uninformed and won’t be as interested in working with you. And spend the time and money to get professional business cards — nobody is going to call that number you wrote on a napkin.
4. Writing people offNobody is too small to connect with. You never know who somebody knows, and you don’t know where a connection will lead you. Be courteous and respectful to everyone you meet, not just the biggest names in the room. While it’s certainly important to use a targeted strategy, don’t ignore people in your industry simply because they don’t have an impressive title. You never know where your next lead will come from.
5. Only thinking about yourselfNetworking is a two-way street, so don’t hijack a conversation and only talk about yourself. Instead, take the time to learn about others and think of ways you could use your skills and network to help them. Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships, and that means you need to know how to help your connections if you want them to help you.
6. Not looking the partWhether you’re at a networking event, grabbing a coffee or just talking over Skype, appearances matter. Networking is a professional engagement, so no matter where it’s happening, take the time to dress professionally. Also think about your body language. Whether you like it or not, people will be more inclined to do business with you if you’re confident and well dressed.
7. Being vagueIt’s hard to help someone when it’s not clear what they want. Don’t make that mistake. Think through your ambitions and be prepared to articulate them clearly. People will also have an easier time remembering you if you’re specific and have a clear vision of who you are and what you want.
8. Not following up or following throughJust like with a job interview, always follow up with your contacts and let them know you enjoyed getting to know them. Follow through with anything you promised during your conversation, from small things like the name of that book you couldn't remember to bigger things like connecting them with the lead you promised. Failing to follow through on any promise, no matter how small, could leave your new connection feeling rejected. Worse yet, they may think you’re incompetent.
9. Forgetting the “thank you”So after all your hard work, a new connection puts you in touch with exactly the person you want to talk to—congratulations! But before you write to your dream connection, take the time to thank the person who helped you. It’s discourteous to take their help for granted, and it’s an easy way to make sure they’ll never help you again. Remember, the goal is to always grow your network, and that means making new connections while keeping the old.
10. WaitingWaiting to start networking until you actually need it is one of the biggest mistakes of all. It takes time to build a robust network, and it’s considerably easier to do that when you’re employed since you’ll have more to offer new connections. Start cultivating relationships long before you need them. That way, if your career hits a rough patch you’ll already have a strong network to turn to.