Hate networking? You’re not alone. The problem is that making connections with others in your industry is essential for professional success. Make certain key networking mistakes, and you may find yourself stuck in dead-end jobs or even unemployed.
At The Conversation, professor of organizational psychology Libby Sander writes:
Strong networks provide a range of benefits including learning, sources of information, salary growth, innovation and a means of getting things done. Research shows that people with diverse contacts are able to access information that helps them generate better ideas.
Building professional relationships improves both quality of work and job satisfaction. As the landscape of work changes rapidly, employees are making more frequent career moves, which means that networking is a critical competency.
The good news is that building strong networks doesn’t necessarily mean attending an endless series of formal networking events. Put the focus on relationship-building, and you’ll feel better and find it easier to avoid embarrassing missteps.
Are you making any of these networking mistakes?
1. You only network under duress
Does networking feel kind of, well, yucky? The problem might be that you’re only doing it when you have to.
Some folks only network when they’re looking for a new job. Others only go to networking events when their boss asks them to attend one. However, establishing this relationship with the process of professional networking is a mistake. Shifting your mindset about this kind of work could do wonders for your career.
Do you enjoy meeting new people from your industry and sharing ideas on occasion? That’s really all networking is — a chance to expand and strengthen the group of people you associate with professionally. But, if you only tap into this process when attending a mandatory work event or looking for a new job, you might not approach potential new connections in the best way.
You shouldn’t network only under duress or because you want something. Instead, think of networking as the natural and ongoing process of connecting with professional peers. And, work toward letting go of any feelings of dread or pressure you may be holding about it. Open yourself up to the possibility of changing your opinion about what networking is and how much you enjoy it. Only then are you ready to move on to tackling other mistakes.
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2. You talk too much
Being a good conversationalist isn’t about saying interesting things and impressing the other person. It’s more about sustaining an engaged back-and-forth. And that means being a good listener not just an interesting speaker.
Don’t just talk about yourself when you’re networking. Ask the other person questions, too. And, really make a point to listen to their responses. Be careful not to interrupt them or look over their shoulder or around the room while they’re talking. How do you feel when someone does that to you? Ask follow up questions too. It helps the person you’re talking with to feel heard and valued.
Remember that networking isn’t a one-sided game. Just like they told you when you were a kid, you have to be a friend to make a friend. So, be sure to focus on the person you’re talking with, not just on your own goals and objectives.
And, try not to talk too much. This is a common mistake and it’s easy to make if you aren’t careful.
3. You lean into the negative
It might be tempting to try to connect with others through talking about shared problems. For example, you might lean over to the person sitting next to you at a conference and complain about how long the lecture has been. Or, you might attempt to bond with a colleague by complaining about the boss. However, relationships built on these foundations are rarely positive ones.
It’s better to avoid the negative talk and instead focus on finding common ground with new connections. First, identify something important that you have in common. Then, it’s easy to keep the conversation moving in a positive and productive way.
Before you know it, you’ll be adding a new person to your network. And, it will be a relationship built on positivity, support and forward movement. Forging a connection based on negativity, on the other hand, will likely only nurture your shared frustration about your challenges as well as other difficult feelings.
4. You’re unprofessional
There’s no need to take networking events so seriously that you’re inauthentic. Instead, it’s a good idea to relax and try to be yourself. Talk about subjects that interest you in an engaged and sincere way. And, ask questions of the folks you’re getting to know, too. However, it’s equally important not to overshoot when it come to casual conversation and cross over into unprofessional territory.
Be yourself, but be your best self. It’s unprofessional to complain, or talk about your personal life too much, or introduce controversial topics of conversation, as examples. You shouldn’t give out an email address with an unprofessional ring to it either. Stick with your work email and save the “420-4Eva” email account for your personal contacts. Remember, to have fun while you’re networking. But, always keep it professional.
5. You forget to bring business cards
It’s important to be prepared for networking events. Take a few extra minutes to be sure you have all of your necessary materials, including business cards, before heading out to a big meeting or professional gathering.
Be sure to have cards with you at other times, too. You never know where a casual conversation you strike up in a local restaurant could lead. You want to have business cards handy just in case the occasion arises to exchange information with someone you meet.
6. You neglect your old connections
Networking isn’t just about meeting new people. It’s also about maintaining connections. Neglecting the existing members of your professional network because you’re overly focused on expansion is a big mistake. Don’t just think about meeting and getting to know new professional contacts. Don’t forget to keep up with the folks you already know.
Try not to be too rigid when it comes to networking, either. Remember that friends are a part of your professional pack. Anyone who knows you, and knows what you do for a living, has the potential to help you in your career in some way and at some point. You never know where an opportunity — or even just a great idea — might come from.
7. You leave early
It’s tempting to skip out after a long day of networking. But, you could be missing some great opportunities if you do. It’s better to stick around for the duration and see what happens.
Let’s imagine you attend a professional conference. At the end of the long day you’re exhausted and excited to go home, put your feet up and relax. But, as you sit in your final lecture of the day, the person sitting next to you asks you to grab dinner. He and some of his friends are going out after the meeting, and you’re more than welcome to join.
Sure, you might be tempted to say no. After all, you have fulfilled your duties at this event and you’re exhausted. However, you could be missing out on something great here. If you turn down the opportunity, you’ll never know where it might have led.
As a general rule, it’s best to stick around for awhile when attending a networking event. Don’t leave the party early, even if you’ve already met the requirements for the day. There’s often the most networking potential in the hours that follow occasions like this.
8. You don’t use your network
What good is a strong professional network if you don’t call upon it in times of need? Your professional connections are more willing and able to help than you might imagine. Just as you’ve been there for them and are willing to be in the future, they’ll be there for you.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be having a dire crisis to ask others for their wisdom, help or guidance. For example, you might call up an old college friend who works in the same industry as you to discuss a problem you’re having at work when you’re feeling stuck. Or, you might make a point to mention your goals when meeting with someone from your network who works in your field. Perhaps they’ll know of an opportunity or connection that could help.
Don’t be afraid to call upon your network when you need some guidance or when they might be able to help you with a goal. Sure, you want to avoid overdoing it. But, don’t worry so much that you sell yourself short either. Using your resources is a really important part of a successful career. Your network is there to help you. All you have to do is ask.
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