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 easy to make mistakes while reaching out to other professionals, especially if you consider yourself a "non-networker" who's 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 coffee or lunch. The same goes if you use only traditional networking methods and ignore the numerous ways online to make new connections.
Tip: Build your network using a combination of in-person opportunities and online resources. At conferences and workshops, make a point of introducing yourself to other attendees, and don't be shy about striking up a conversation between sessions. If the event is online, consider messaging individuals on the attendee list to see what they thought of the webcast. It's a good way to spark a conversation. 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.
Tip: 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 opportunity.
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.
Tip: Attend conferences, workshops and networking events that focus on broader business topics. For example, if you attend a seminar on business ethics or social media etiquette, you might make several valuable contacts who can expand your network outside your normal group. Remember that a diverse network is a powerful network.
4. Expecting immediate results
Even people who participate in all the major industry Twitter chats and spend their 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.
Tip: 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.
5. Being too aggressive
While it's important to communicate regularly with members of your network, some people reach out so often that they become a disruption. And those who are overbearing tend to get ignored or overlooked when job openings come up.
Tip:Never forget the golden rule of networking: Don't be intrusive. An email or a LinkedIn message once every couple weeks 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: 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 logs onto LinkedIn — while thinking, “What am I going to get out of this?” Usually, not much.
Tip: 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 trying to set them up with opportunities that don't suit you. Your help and thoughtfulness will be appreciated, and your peers will be more likely to return those favors 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.