The “where” of networking is open to wherever you want it to be. The “how” is what often leaves people befuddled. Mistakes are made, taboos are tripped over, and good network contacts are spoiled.
What’s the secret? Avoid falling into these networking traps.
1.) You’re Not Making Time to Network
Too often, networking gets put on the back burner while other obligations get completed. If you’re like most people, there’s more obligations on your plate than you have hours in the day. The trap that new networkers fall into is that they let networking slide for another time.
Schedule time to network throughout the week. It can be in any form, but be inflexible with your resolve to make it happen. Set a reminder on your phone. Make a note in productivity apps like Evernote or Asana. Do whatever it takes to hold yourself accountable.
2.) You Go In Unprepared
Networking doesn’t always come with advanced warning. One second you’re volunteering at a soup kitchen or cheering at your kid’s soccer match, and the next you’re striking up a conversation. In that flurry of actions, there’s no time to fumble for words.
Instead, prepare your elevator pitch in advance. An effective networking spiel requires 3 things: what you’ve done, what you want to do, and why it matters to your listeners. Keep the length under a minute (it’s a like a punchy radio spot, not a 3 AM infomercial) and rehearse your words until you can rattle them off verbatim.
3.) You Make It All about You
Networkers just starting out often have the wrong attitude. They focus on one end result (i.e. getting a new job) and trample the rest underfoot. Here’s a tip from Greek mythology. Narcissus drowned trying to embrace and gratify his own image; don’t let your own ego-centrism drag your career down with it.
Instead, give equal focus to what you can do for someone else. People are more willing to do favors when there’s mutual benefit.
4.) You Drop the Ball
Most networkers are heavy on promises, but light on follow-through. Words come easy. Actions are a whole other matter. In the moment, making a good impression feels more important than making real commitments.
Don’t ever promise your network contacts anything you can’t deliver. Our professional reputations are as delicate as porcelain. Making several small promises goes further than an unachievable large promise. Offer to make introductions. Write recommendations. Forward exciting jobs. Small contributions like these can be a catalyst for your career in time.
5.) You Overextend Yourself
Another reason people drop the ball has less to do with what they promise. It’s the number of people who received promises. Social media creates the illusion of connectivity and just because we have 250 or 500 or 1,723 contacts doesn’t mean that there’s an actual relationship there.
At most, the average person can only manage 150 strong connections. It’s called the Dunbar Number. The human mind can only keep track of the lives and ventures of about 150 people. However, don’t stop networking once you hit your cap.
Always give new connections a chance. Gauge your rapport and the connections in their network. Then, conduct some triage. Are all of your relationships strong and in regular contact? If not, shift your focus to your new contact. Never burn your bridge, but feel free to put your energy in a different direction.
Bonus Tip: Networking is an Ongoing Process
Networking is an evolving process. What worked for you today might be entirely different from what works for you tomorrow. Be open to new tactics, new knowledge, and new experiences. You never know which will be the gateway to a new job.
by James Walsh