When you're on the hunt for new career opportunities, networking can be one of your most valuable tools. If you have a robust set of connections, members of your network can tell you about job openings that aren't being advertised, refer you to their contacts, keep an eye out for opportunities that might be right for you and act as references during your search.
It's never been easier to build a strong network now that you can combine social media outreach with more traditional networking. However, it's also too easy to make mistakes while reaching out to other professionals, especially if you’re out of practice. Here are six networking mistakes to avoid, along with some better ways to build good relationships:
1. Limiting your exposure
When you rely solely on social media to form your network, you limit yourself, as some professionals prefer meeting face-to-face at events and over lunch. Same goes if you use only traditional networking methods and ignore the numerous ways online to make new connections.
Try this instead: Build your network using a combination of in-person opportunities and online resources. Whether you attend an online conference or a real-world event, make a point of introducing yourself to other attendees, and don't be shy about striking up a conversation between event sessions. If the event is online, consider emailing individuals on the attendee list to see what they thought of the webcast. It's a good way to spark a conversation. Make sure to bridge the gap between your online and in-person networking efforts, too. For example, your business card should include links to your relevant online profiles. To make this approach work best, you'll need to keep each of those profiles updated.
2. Hiding your agenda
When people first start networking, they sometimes feel shy or embarrassed about asking for help. As a result, they don’t tell people what they’re looking for, whether it’s a new job, a project, a contact at the company they want to work for, or just some career advice.
Try this instead: Be tactful, but be upfront about the assistance you seek. Others will appreciate your candor and will be better able to help you. In addition, before you begin networking for your job search, prepare an elevator pitch that includes a statement explaining the type of role you're seeking. If you neglect to let people know you're in the market for a job, they may not think to refer you when they hear about a suitable vacancy.
3. Keeping a narrow focus
Most people build their networks around others within their industry. Obviously, these connections are important. But if you don't expand your network into other relevant industries, you could miss out. Many professionals also limit their networking efforts to business occasions only, further missing on opportunities to connect.
Try this instead: Attend conferences, workshops and networking events that focus on broader business topics — or on industries only related to yours. For example, if you attend a seminar on business ethics or social media etiquette, you might make several valuable contacts who can expand your consulting network outside your normal group. Also, make an effort to meet new contacts at social gatherings, and always carry business cards with you. The more people you know, the greater the probability at least one of them can hook you up with your ideal job.
4. Expecting immediate results
Even people who participate in all the major industry Twitter chats and spend many weekends at workshops and conferences don't have guaranteed access to a boatload of job openings. In fact, those who are too eager to find work sometimes forget to focus on the relationship-building part of the networking process, the thing that really opens up the job market.
Try this instead: Don't wait until you need something to forge relationships. Work on developing your network every day by deepening the connections you've already made. For example, when you first meet a colleague or potential client, check out any links they provide to their social networks, and follow them immediately. When they mention that they're attending an upcoming conference you’ll be at, reach out to see if they'd like to meet up. You might also offer to connect them with another colleague in attendance.
5. Being too aggressive
While it's important to communicate regularly with people in your network, some people reach out so often that they risk becoming a disruption. And those who become overbearing tend to get ignored or overlooked when job openings come up.
Try this instead: The golden rule of networking online: Don't be intrusive. An email or a LinkedIn InMail once every week or two is probably fine, but nobody wants to receive a reminder about your job search every single day. No matter how often you reach out, have something valuable to say in your emails: Offer an article of interest or a potential connection, for example.
6. Taking but not giving
What happens when a professional arrives at a conference — or creates a LinkedIn profile — while thinking, “What am I going to get out of this?” Usually, not much. That's because most of the professionals at networking events or online conferences will be looking for opportunities, too. And if no one is giving, there won't be anything to take.
Try this instead: Understand the karma of networking: It's all about being genuine and generous. As you connect with your peers, learn about their experiences and skills and the types of projects they're looking for. Then help others in your network by making connections or by setting them up with projects that don't suit you. Your help and thoughtfulness will be appreciated, and your peers will be more likely to return those favours in the future.
Your professional network should always be a work in progress. By following these guidelines, you'll cultivate meaningful, valuable, long-term connections who can help you expand your network, provide insight and advice throughout your career, and even point you toward your next job.