Career Tip: Don't Make These Networking Mistakes

Based on observations of people making too many of the same mistakes, and those mistakes affecting my own personal network (and sanity), I feel compelled to throw up a “how NOT to network” post in hopes that the social awkwardness and aggressive behavior comes to a stop. Before I get into a rant, I want to backup my reasoning by giving you a quick background of the kind of networker I am and how it’s helped me win big.

I consider myself a connector, an “ambassador of awesomeness” if you will. I thoroughly enjoy being that person that people come to for help if they’re searching for something in their career or business - whether it’s pointing them to a site, an event, or a professional, I’m in this to help others. I appreciate two-way communication, a give and take, appreciation, generosity, and especially those who return the favor. I like a simple thank you, though I prefer a free meal or free drink! It’s these kinds of actions that show me my thoughtfulness, the time and effort I took to help YOU out was worth it. I think that’s a fair request.

It’s unfortunate that over the years, people I’ve let into my life one way or another (either through work or becoming friends), have abused this request. I can’t tell you how many leads I’ve given people, how many jobs I’ve helped them land, or even a couch to crash on while they get on their feet. Reminder: “Thank you” goes a long way.

Perhaps it’s an overlooked gesture or perhaps people are flat out greedy, but reciprocating a good deed like this should be encouraged more. Think of it as paying it forward.

But first...

What is networking?

  • connecting people through genuinely exciting or mutually-beneficial ideas

  • being social and attending professional gatherings

  • fostering meaningful discussion

  • building a community of friends, peers, and leaders who will shape your career

  • helping others help you achieve said goals

Networking is not:

  • blindly handing out business cards

  • steering conversations to be self-promotional

  • upselling your skills or expertise

  • faking your role in your industry

  • talking buzzwords and schemes to make yourself look good

  • stalking social media users online

  • going to happy hour meetups all the time to score free food & drinks

The above list of actions is just a small example of what I’ve seen in networking that really rubs me the wrong way. I’ve experienced connections taking advantage of networking opportunities by being aggressive, insensitive, and flat out creepy. It’s strange to me that these people don’t get the memo on proper social etiquette.

Yet here we are...

Don’t lie to impress others

One of my biggest pet peeves is being disingenuous. I can understand that we’re in an age where job hunting is now all about personal branding, but when you’re feeding into the hype by changing your bio every week to attract employers, there needs to be a line. Sure, you spend a lot of time using Twitter and Facebook and blog, but are you really a “Social Media Expert”? Think of other professionals who have been doing that job for years and would be insulted to have you title yourself as such without the evidence to back it. Be realistic with your bio and your professional headline - what can you prove in that line of work? 

Save those business cards for the right time

I never was a firm believer in business cards as I had more fun telling people to simply search me online if they wanted my contact info. It was a great test to see who really wanted to connect, and who just wanted to collect emails for their address book. Even now that I do have my own set of business cards, they’re not something I give away all the time or to anyone. I like talking with people first and trying to figure out who they are. Are they just talking about themselves and the work they do? Or are they asking me the right questions back? Is there a way we can work together? Is this person just a good contact to have or could I carry on my life without knowing them? That’s how I determine who gets a business card. Additionally, being that person who can’t wait to give out a card before you even get to talk 5min to them makes you seem desperate. Take a deep breath and hang back, it’s not the end of the world if all 250 of those cards don’t get used in one night.

Use social media the smart way

This is a big one for me. I have a love/hate relationship with social media, I take it very seriously but I also understand it can be such a silly, over-saturated industry of so called “professionals” that I sometimes need to laugh. But, I happen to treat my list of social media contacts as I would PR contacts. For me, with everything I do, it’s all about the relationships I’m able to cultivate. So whether I follow you on Twitter, talk to you on GTalk, friend you on Facebook, or heart you on Tumblr, you are someone I put through a process of selection. Here’s some of the biggest ways to piss off not only me, but prospective contacts:

1. Adding them on Facebook WAY too fast. As in immediately after you met for the first time at a party where you were drunk. It’s just not cool and again, makes you seem desperate. In fact, you really shouldn’t add anyone on Facebook unless you consider them a person you value in your private life. You don’t need hundreds of friends to build a reputable network, believe me. 

*I just realized this rule could be applied to LinkedIn as well. You DEFINITELY don’t want to piss off people there

2. Harassing HR folks and employers with too many follow ups. Follow the golden rule of three: don’t go beyond 3 reminder emails if you haven’t heard back from someone. I know it can be quite frustrating to receive little or no reply, but let it go and save your energy for the next round of email pitches. Also don’t show up at their door unannounced, this isn’t the 80s where you print out your resume, put on your finest suit, and just go door to door asking for a job. Same goes for cold-calling, that’s just not the procedure these days. Make sure you have an in first. If not, move on.

3. Mass following people on Twitter. You don’t want to become a spambot do you? I didn’t think so. Sure there’s tons of people we want to chat with on Twitter, but sitting there and going through someone’s list (EH HEM, MINE!) of followers and clicking FOLLOW one by one is practically theft. Why? Again, you took no time to get to know these folks yourself. Want to piss them off even more? Pretend you’re their new best friend and start mass tagging them or replying all in conversations randomly. That person’s list you just stole is curated, which means they follow those people for a reason. So you stalking out who they’re talking to and just following blindly is bad practice. Cut it out and get your own followers!

4. Stop lying about your location. Cool, you just moved to a new city, congrats! Got your own apartment yet or are you just bumming around town? Before you go off telling the Internet that you’re from New York City, settle in like an adult. Be honest and tell people you’re in transition or in between HQs, because if you get an interview and show up late because you haven’t memorized the subways yet, you’re going to look like an ass. I know, NYC is so exciting and everything is so new and fantastic, but I can bet you a buttload of money that telling a New Yorker you’re one of them when you’ve been here for a week will make them hate you instantly. You need to earn your place in this city.

5. Don’t ask someone out on a date. Networking isn’t your gateway to scoring a date. Keep it professional. Just because you shared a beer with a cute girl while talking about work doesn’t mean you have the approval to make a move. Relax those hormones and remember you’re in a professional setting. Ask for those digits at some other place. 

6. Pay up for that consultationHave a friend who’s super smart that you want to pick their brain all the time? Make the time and offer up compensation to ask them those questions. If you truly value their opinion and want guidance, treat them to a meal as if you were paying for an actual consultation. Sure, coffee chats are nice, but giving away advice for free when they could have made $100 isn’t. Asking them for favors (even through a text message!) and then not accommodating to their schedule is also not nice. 

So, the next time an opportunity rises to get your “networking” on, remember these rules of thumb. Don’t be that person. Please.

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