Networking gets harder once you become more seasoned. It’s definitely easier when you’re starting out in a career; most professionals are eager to help the next generation.
As a young professional, I made many networking mistakes. I see those junior to me making the same errors, from missing the opportunity to talk to someone who can help them advance to avoiding making connections with journalists. These are easy to correct, though.
To help, here are eight common networking mistakes that PR novices make:
1. Forgetting about digital networking. LinkedIn and Twitter can be used for conversations and networking—they just happen to be online. Too often, young professionals create a LinkedIn profile to get a job but abandon it once they start working. It’s an accessible, high-visibility networking platform that affords your personal brand a solid foundation. Twitter is a complementary tool that can help you understand important issues, allow you to join industry conversations and help build rapport with reporters.
2. Connecting without context. Simply hitting “Connect” on LinkedIn and sending the templated “I’d like to add you to my personal network” no longer makes the cut. Using the connection function should be used as a conversation starter, not simply a request. I never connect with someone I don’t know if they don’t have a relevant message.
3. Not meeting reporters. When starting out, reporters are hungry for sources—especially exclusive ones. Young PR professionals might forget that setting up an introductory meeting benefits both parties. It’s true that reporters are not always your friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. Building these relationships is an investment, and starting early in your career (and theirs) counts. Plus, who knows? Maybe you will end up being friends.
4. Not taking advantage of internal networking. Being in your first career affords you uncommon opportunities within your company. In addition to starting to build experience, it’s a chance for you to talk to people who have been in their roles or industries for years (sometimes decades). Reaching out to senior colleagues for 30 minutes over coffee should be part of your job-and almost everyone would be happy to meet with you.
5. Failing to weigh career path options. When you start out, not knowing what you want to do is OK, because PR encompasses a lot of different things. Still, figuring out what you don’t want to do is very useful; it guides you toward the career path you ultimately want. When networking, people will inevitably ask, “What do you want to do eventually?” and a great answer is, “I’m not 100 percent certain, but I know I’m not interested in X, Y or Z.”
6. Being uncomfortable with silence. Pauses are powerful—in public speaking, in interviews, and in conversations. I often tell junior staffers, “Don’t feel that you have to fill the silence.” Once you have gotten through your main point, allow your listeners to digest it and respond. It also helps you avoid those “uhs” and “uhms,” so you’ll seem more confident and professional.
7. Skipping creating a personal narrative. We help clients create a narrative—whether it’s for corporate, a product or an executive, but we shouldn’t forget to develop a personal narrative for ourselves. It’s not just an elevator pitch—it’s the beginning of your career story. Whether you’re meeting with an industry professional or a reporter, they will want to hear about you, your work and your passions.
8. Asking generic questions. Most professionals who network are asked a lot of the same queries: “How did you get to where you are?” or, “What do you do in your role?” By asking more specific questions, you’ll get better answers and you’ll stand out. For example, ask what someone thought about the latest brand crisis, or whom a reporter is dying to interview. It’s a terrific way to build rapport.
Have other mistakes to add to this list? Please offer them in the comments section.
Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York. Connect with her on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.