Networking is a skill that can help you develop long‐lasting business and social relationships.
As with most skills, you can network well or poorly—perhaps to the detriment of your career.
Here are the 16 most common networking mistakes to avoid:
1. You think you don’t know anyone.
You are connected to more people than you realize.
Take 10 minutes and write a list of past and current work colleagues, industry contacts, friends, family and acquaintances. You will likely be surprised by how many people you know. Store these names in a file and add new people as you meet them.
Once a month, go through your list. Call at least one person, and email three. The key is to stay in touch. Find out what’s new with people personally or professionally, react to news in your industry or set up a lunch. Put a note in your files to remind yourself what you talked about.
Now check out some social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which are powerful ways to expand your network. If you have a blog or website, check out who’s been corresponding with you lately.
Continuously reach out to new people and you’ll see networking possibilities grow.
2. You wait for a reason to network.
A network is a social and business resource that you must cultivate and nurture.
Your network supports and sustains you in good times, but is the key to your survival in bad times. Too often people start networking only after they need something. Imagine a friend or relative who only calls when he needs money. Do you take his call? Do you look forward to hearing from him?
Effective networking means creating contacts and relationships now. Dig your well before you’re thirsty, as Harvey Mackay says.
3. You fail to create a networking script.
Avoid fumbling and stammering for the right words by practicing what you’re going to say about yourself, your job or another topic of interest.
Practice it. Practice smiling as you say it so people get a sense of excitement and energy about you. Then think about questions that might come up and how you’ll respond.
Whether you call someone or talk in person, consider what you want and what you can realistically expect from the person. Think about the purpose of your conversation—is it to find out information or seek other contacts? Being clear about what you want will be a more effective use of everyone’s time, and will create a better impression than a rambling speech. Be aware that the person may not be in a position to do much; be gracious if all he can offer are ideas, advice or experience.
Requesting a job isn’t appropriate at this stage, and may result in you losing the contact. For networking emails, be personable and upbeat, but make sure your tone is appropriate to the person you are contacting. For example, don’t go into networking mode if you are just reaching out to an old friend.
4. You’re unprepared.
Thinking you know what you want is not the same as knowing it.
Treat networking the same way you would an appearance at Carnegie Hall. Practice your pitch as well as your answers to questions that might arise.
Knowing what you want to get out of a conversation will make the best use of everyone’s time. Do you want a new job? Sales contacts? Information about a competitor?
If you don’t know what you’re after, you’ll either embarrass yourself or walk away having accomplished nothing.
Do your homework and plan ahead to avoid arriving unprepared. If you’re meeting with someone or attending an event, know why you are going and the types of people who will be there. Research specific contacts who may be there and prepare some conversation topics ahead of time.
5. You talk about yourself too much.
When networking, listen to what everyone else is saying. People help by offering advice; they’re not interested in hearing how much you already know.
While a big part of networking is marketing yourself, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Give others some room to get a word in. Prompt them to tell you a little about themselves. This way, not only will they feel like they are part of the conversation, but you’ll learn a little about them. The more you know about them, the more you’ll know what they can do for you, and-brace yourself-what you can do for them.
6. You monopolize someone’s time.
At a networking event, everyone wants to mingle and meet different people. Although making a connection with someone and getting into an interesting discussion can be a great experience, you should keep conversations at networking events short and sweet.
If you’re networking over the phone or by email, remember that the person you’re speaking with has a life beyond you and your needs and interests. A good rule of thumb is that if the person is carrying less than half of the conversation, it’s time to move on.
7. You lack etiquette.
Etiquette can extend from table manners to punctuality to your approach to social networking. If you think people don’t notice, you’re wrong. Committing this blunder is self-destructive, so mind your manners!
There are a number of things that violate networking etiquette:
- Showing up late.
- Interrupting people when they are talking.
- Talking for an extended period of time about yourself.
- Not asking other people who they are and what they do.
- Barging into a group when it is clear they don’t want to be disturbed.
- Blatantly looking for the next person to talk to.
- Drinking too much.
- Talking with your mouth full.
- Not keeping your emails and your social media profiles professional.
- Sharing a person’s contact information without his permission. (This is a huge no-no that will quickly land you a top spot on the blacklist. Always check with people first, even if you’re doing them a favor.)
8. You forget to bring business cards.
In one of his books, Jeffrey Gitomer argues that the main purpose of a business card is to get the other person’s card. When you hand people a card, they usually want to do the same. The key is to get their cards so you can respond after the meeting with a note that connects you and the conversation you had.
Always carry business cards with you—especially if you’re attending a networking event. It’s unprofessional to give out your contact information on a scrap piece of paper or napkin. Doing so may discourage a contact from getting in touch with you in the future.
9. You have an unprofessional email address.
Your friends may know you as “Daddys1Girl,” “HotStud4U,” “Cougarlady” or “RumAndCoke47,” but when you’re building a network, use a serious email address—preferably one with your real name. And when you use this email address, make sure you have a complete signature at the bottom.
Make it easy for people to remember and contact you later. Your email, LinkedIn profile and standard messaging are key parts of your brand. Consider getting a website and using your email as the address. You can do this for the cost of one business book, and it’s another way to expand your brand.
10. You forget you only have one chance to make a first impression.
Dress sharply when you attend an event. Give firm handshakes, stand up straight, make good eye contact, repeat names back to the owners and show respect to everyone in the room. Never say anything negative about any person, event, company or organization, regardless of your personal views.
Remember that a networking event can be like a first interview for your next job, but no one will help you get your foot in the door if you put forth an unprofessional or negative attitude.
11. You don’t know how to work a room.
Men and women with contacts and power meet many people, but they only remember those who stand out from the crowd.
If you “just aren’t very social” or if networking “just isn’t in your personality,” then be someone else for the networking event. Be assertive and act like a leader you admire. How would your hero handle this situation? Communicate self‐assurance and confidence. Don’t let your introverted preferences get in the way of building the network or career you want.
The good news is you can learn how to network. The news you probably don’t want to hear is that in today’s communication‐driven world, just about everybody has to do it. There’s no sense trying to avoid it.
12. You don’t ask follow-up questions.
If you’re networking for a job opportunity and someone says, “I wish I could help you, but I don’t know of any openings right now,” take a minute or two to ask some follow-up questions:
- What’s the outlook for the future?
- Do you know anyone else in the industry who might have something?
- Do you have any thoughts on what my next step should be?
- Who would you contact if you were in my shoes?
Follow‐up questions show interest and may help the person you’re networking with come up with ideas he might otherwise have overlooked.
13. You lie.
Would you ever recommend someone who you knew stretched the truth?
A wise man once said, “Always tell the truth. That way you won’t ever have to remember what you said.”
It’s tempting to say, “So‐and‐so gave me your name and told me to call.” It might even get you a meeting. But eventually such‐and‐such will learn so-and‐so did not tell you to call, and you’ll have burned not one, but two, bridges.
Building relationships is all about building trust. If you don’t trust someone, you’ll hesitate to contact him when it’s time to make an important business decision. You don’t want someone to hesitate about you.
14. You don’t follow u p.
You’ve gone through all the trouble to make a contact, so why let it go to waste?
You need to follow up after every meeting or job interview to reiterate your interest and ensure you remain at the front of the person’s mind.
Remember, people are busy, and you probably aren’t their top priority. But they are your top priority. Make sure they know it.
Always thank a contact for her time and advice via a handwritten note or follow‐up email or call. Let your contact know whether her suggestions panned out. You may think your networking is over, but your paths may cross again.
Don’t be afraid to get back in touch with someone. Send her an article or notice of an event that might interest her. Keep in touch through social media or drop her an occasional email telling her how you are.
What goes around comes around. Follow up with contacts who helped you. Keep them up‐to‐date about the company you are now working for or whether the information or leads they provided you were helpful.
This will help you to maintain people as contacts in your network, and allow you to return the favor when they’re in need.
15. You don’t tie up loose ends.
Too often when people in your network help you and give you the opening you need to achieve your goal, you think “It’s finally over.”
After any business meeting, you should document what actions people committed to—particularly you. In most cases, sending a note regarding your commitments will make you look professional and competent. You will probably need those people again in the future.
Write the person a thank‐you note for her help, and let her know what you ended up doing. Don’t just do this for the person or people who helped you find a job or a client. Do it for everyone who offered to, as well.
16. You don’t pay it forward.
Networking is a two-way street.
If you reach out to your contacts every time you need a something—a job, sales lead or favor—without ever giving back, people will stop being so willing to help. A good networker is ready and willing to help their contacts whenever they can.
Did you meet someone who would be a great contact for your colleague? Introduce them! Do you know of a job lead that might be perfect for your contact’s unemployed son? Hook him up!
If people see you as a resource, they’ll be more inclined to nurture and maintain the mutually beneficial relationship.
If you know what not to do, you can network with purpose, add value to your network and become outstanding at the art of networking.
Jim Dryburgh is president and founder of The Balanced WorkLife Company. A version of this article originally appeared on Careertopia.