10 Aug 13 Networking Mistakes You Need to Stop Making
Written by Lindsay Kolowich
When done right, networking is an incredibly valuable investment of every professional’s time and effort. It helps us make meaningful business connections, get feedback, and advance our careers. And best of all, it pays significant dividends over time.
So why does it seem so unpleasant sometimes? It can feel fake, it’s exhausting, and frankly, standing alone in a sea of unknown faces with nametags and cheese plates can be utterly painful.
But there are ways to make networking less of a chore. It starts with reflecting on your current networking habits and learning where you might be making mistakes. I’m not talking about obvious mistakes, like talking super close to someone’s face or not dressing the part. I’m talking about the more subtle mistakes you may not even know you’re making.
Here are 13 networking mistakes that could be holding you back from developing meaningful business relationships and creating real value out of them.
13 Networking Mistakes You Need to Stop Making
1) You’re waiting to build your network until you need it most.
A lot of people neglect to build their networks until they’re desperate — perhaps they’ve lost their job, they’re looking for a career change, or they’re applying to graduate school and need advice or references. It’s hard to prioritize networking when you don’t have a specific goal you’re going after. But if you’re constantly doing things to help you build your network — even when you’re gainfully employed — then it’ll be strong when you need it most.
When it comes to networking, it pays to be proactive. Don’t wait until fate brings you a new networking opportunity; seek them out yourself.
“Ask a friend who the most interesting person they know is and go meet them. Email a blog author whose content you love with a specific comment or question about his or her work. Reconnect with an old colleague whose work you always admired. Sometimes, these conversations will lead nowhere. But many will generate new ideas, connections, and creativity, so it’s worth the break in the action from your usual busy day,” she added.
2) You aren’t keeping up your personal brand.
When you network with new people, it’s pretty inevitable that they’re going to look you up online later to see what your deal is. They’ll look at your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter page, and your blog posts. They might even Google you. And when they do, you’ll want to have an active, interesting, and thoughtful online presence for them to browse.
That’s why, in addition to regularly seeking out new connections, it’s also important that you continuously develop your personal brand online. That means keeping your social media profiles (like LinkedIn) updated and regularly posting interesting, relevant articles and commentary to your social media accounts. It also means responding kindly when people message, email, or tweet at you, contributing to your company’s blog, and writing guest blog posts for other blogs and publications (like these ones), and getting personal brand exposure through earned media.
3) You’re afraid to attend networking events by yourself.
Even extroverts don’t like going to networking events and conferences alone. It’s straight up anxiety-inducing to stand around by yourself, wondering why everyone else seems to know each other already.
“For a long time, I never wanted to go to networking events by myself,” my colleague Amanda Zantal-Wiener told me. “But eventually, I realized two things: 1) When I went with someone I already knew, that ended up restricting the conversations I had; and 2) if I went into the event with the mindset that I’m a person who will start a conversation with anyone, it was really quite effective.”
Gaining the confidence to approach people and join in on conversations has a lot to do with simply being prepared. My advice? Approach every event you attend with a game plan, starting with looking through the speaker and/or guest list and identifying the people you’d like to talk with. Then, challenge yourself to connect with each of them. People really are willing to talk to you — especially if you’re the first one to say hello.
4) You don’t do your homework.
Preparing for events, conferences, and meetings doesn’t just mean coming with a stack of freshly printed business cards. If you know certain people who are attending or speaking at an event whom you know you’ll be interested in meeting, then you should do research on them ahead of time. When you do your homework, you can skip the small talk and get right into the meaningful conversation you’re looking for in the first place.
“Time is the most valuable resource people can offer you, so respect it,” says Burke. “Do your homework on [the person’s] title, their background, their email address, their preferred mode of contact — e.g., never call Dharmesh, he’s made it clear he hates the phone — and their career history. That way, your conversation via email, phone, or in-person can focus on the advice you need help with, the subject matter you’d like to learn more about, or the organization you want to learn more about.”
5) You don’t follow up with personal messages.
So you go to an event, talk to someone awesome, have a great conversation with them, and exchange business cards before you part ways. Great! But don’t call it a day just yet. Unless you follow up with some sort of personal message, says my colleague Aja Frost, then you risk never talking with that person again — and losing out on a potentially meaningful connection.
That’s why you should follow up every great networking conversation with a personalizedand thoughtful thank-you message or email. Here are 12 templates for follow-up networking emails that I’ve personally found super helpful.
Or, you can send something as simple as a short message along with your LinkedIn invitation:
Hi Shannon, it was great meeting you at the happy hour last night! I enjoyed hearing about the design project you’re working on. I’m an aspiring designer myself, so I’d love to connect and follow your work.”
A message like this gives the recipient both reassurance that you’re someone they should have in their network, and a jumping off point to start a discussion.
If the person you spoke with gave you some suggestions for your own project or career, follow up to let her know how that’s going — and, later, whether or not her suggestions panned out.
Pro Tip: Set yourself up for a substantial follow-up conversation by building a bridge to your next exchange before saying goodbye. Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, suggests asking people what they’re working on right now. Take note of their response and mention it when you strike up your next conversation.
If you tend to easily forget small details or are meeting a lot of different people at once, make follow-up easier by (subtly) writing a note or two down on the business cards people give you, or make some notes on your phone. View Full Article >>