(By Hannah Morgan)
“Networking isn’t all about you. Listen for opportunities to offer help or introduce your new connection to someone you know. When you give the impression that you are only networking to get something – a job, an investor or new client – people see right through your shallow efforts.“
There is a right way and a wrong way to network. If you are one of those people who hate to network and view it as phony or pretentious, then you are doing it all wrong. Networking is not about building a mammoth list of contacts or passing out business cards like you’re dealing poker. Networking means building mutually beneficial relationships.
Change your mindset, and eliminate these mistakes that ruin the networking experience for you and for your victims.
1. Only networking when you need a job. The truth is that you can’t wait until you need a job to begin networking. Building a network takes time. If you wait until you are in crisis mode to put networking into action, you’ll be disappointed in the results. Professionals, from small business owners to corporate leaders, realize the importance of word-of-mouth marketing and regularly carve networking into their schedules. Invest time every month to stay in touch with past colleagues and meet new people so your network will be there when you need it.
2. Only networking during group events. Networking can occur at any place, any time. Don’t limit your networking activity to professional meetings. All you need to do is be open to the possibilities of meeting someone new. The next time you leave your home, consider it a networking experience. Strike up a conversation with the person standing in line or in the elevator, or just say “hello” to the cashier. If you are an introvert and prefer the intimacy of one-on-one conversations, reach out to someone you’ve been meaning to meet.
3. Avoiding social networking sites. Real relationships can and do result from initial interaction on social media. As a matter of fact, social media is a great way to expand your network and meet people you would never have met otherwise. Begin by adding a comment to a discussion, sharing the person’s work or simply tweeting them a question.
4. Never following up. If you’ve been busy building your network but haven’t followed up with any of your new contacts, it is easy for people to forget you – or worse, you may give the impression you are using people. It is up to you to stay in touch. Treat each new person you meet like a potential best friend. Share information with them, offer to be of assistance or invite them to join you at an event. To make sure you follow up, it helps to schedule a date when you will touch base.
5. Taking without giving. When you don’t treat networking like a mutual exchange of information, it may result in a lot of dead ends. Networking isn’t all about you. Listen for opportunities to offer help or introduce your new connection to someone you know. When you give the impression that you are only networking to get something – a job, an investor or new client – people see right through your shallow efforts.
6. Dropping the ball on referrals. During networking meetings, you may be offered help or receive a name of someone to contact. In either case, you should graciously thank the person and take the recommended action. Once you’ve taken the steps, loop back with your contact, and provide an update. This shows you value the idea and person. If you have no intention of taking action, politely explain why right then and there.
7. Missing the hidden message. Unspoken cues come in many forms. A networking contact may suggest you check out an article or new company in town, for example. Rather than ignoring the suggestion or blindly taking action, ask your contact why he or she made that recommendation. You may discover the person has inside information or knows someone you should meet. Keep your ears and mind open.
8. Not knowing enough about the person you’re meeting. Learn everything you can about the new contact before your meeting. Either circle back and ask the person who referred you how he or she knows the referral, review his or her LinkedIn profile or Google the person’s name and the company he or she works for. Take notes, and prepare questions to delve further into his or her background, interests and recent publicity. Most people love to talk about themselves; give your networking contact the opportunity to share what interests him or her most.
9. Leaving a negative impression. Your only mission when meeting a new person is to make him or her feel like he or she is the most important person you’ve met that day. Be polite, smile, use his or her name and ask lots of questions. This may be the only chance you get to make the right first impression. Be genuine and likable.
10. Thinking you already know everyone. Networking should involve meeting new people. While it certainly makes sense to stay in contact with people you already know, there are benefits to expanding your connections. Meeting new people often results in learning about interesting and unexpected things. Reach out beyond your current circle of colleagues to expand what you know.