We all know that networking is an integral part of growing professionally. Not only can networking open doors to the hidden job market, it can also provide increased knowledge, new career paths and can even help improve your self-image. However, there is a right way to network and a wrong way to network. Listed below are some mistakes to avoid.
Focusing Only on Quantity
There are many times when a new networker will do everything he can to start adding contacts as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, after a period of time, he realizes that his contacts aren’t providing much professional benefit. The basic fact is that a network created primarily to increase the number of contacts isn’t a good network. Networks are professional relationships, which must be fostered and cultivated, and this takes time. You are much better off building a smaller network which is full of quality contacts in which each person is of mutual benefit to each other than trying to grow your network superficially.
Hint: Quantity does matter, because the more contacts you have, the more opportunities you’ll see. But don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. You need both.
Always Saying Yes
One of the key rules of networking is to provide your expertise and knowledge to others in order to help build your perception as being the knowledge expert. However, it becomes very easy to start saying “yes” to others to such an extent that you are overbooked and overextended. As you network, you must evaluate whether helping someone else will provide rewards back to you. If not, you must learn how to graciously and politely say no.
Hint: If asked to provide help that you know you must turn down, one of the gracious ways to say “no” is to introduce that person to someone else willing or even in a better position to help.
Depending Only Upon Electronic Networking
It’s very easy to create a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account or a Facebook account. It’s also very easy to start up multiple connections on any of these social networks. However, these connections cannot take the place of face-to-face conversations with real people.
Many great contacts start through an invitation on a social network. But, to change an online contact into a great mutually-beneficial contact requires a personal connection as well. After receiving an online introduction that you feel might be beneficial, you should reach out to that person. It’s easy to request a quick phone call or, if local, invite the other person out for a quick cup of coffee, which will automatically set you apart.
Hint: Don’t send mass emails to all of your contacts with generic content. Always use a personal touch when connecting online and make sure the message has meaning.
Not Knowing Your Own Value
One of the things ineffective networkers do is focus only on their skills without truly understanding the value of those skills. Here’s an example of a skill statement vs. a value statement:
Skill sentence: “I can write SQL code.”
Value sentence: “Through coding changes, I can increase efficiencies within a department by automating tasks that are currently manual, thereby increasing productivity and reducing cost.”
As you can see, the value sentence focuses on how someone else can benefit from the skill. When connecting with others, especially those who don’t understand your specific skill set, you must be ready to explain how you can add value.
Hint: Write down some of the ways you have provided value in your career and use those value statements when networking with others.
Not Properly Selling Yourself
Once you have a better understanding of and are comfortable discussing your value, you must work on selling yourself to others. Let’s assume you meet the CEO of a company you really want to join. To that busy CEO with very little time, you are one person that is indistinguishable from the rest. If you just introduce yourself and ask to meet up sometime, the call will never happen and he will forget you before he walks out the door.
Knowing that the CEO meets so many people and has so little time, a better approach would include your value proposition as well as a specific request for contact. For example, saying “I’d like to send you a white paper I wrote that explains how a few small changes in a sales process can lead to a 20% increase in inbound calls. Do you mind if I send this to you and call you next week to see if you have questions?” This approach is much better because you are immediately providing them something that’s helpful while at the same time negotiating the next contact.
Hint: When meeting those who could be considered your peers, you don’t have to immediately get to the sales pitch, but you should be ready when the time is appropriate.
Not Being Professional
Being professional means being prepared. And being prepared can mean many things, from having enough business cards handy to researching companies and keeping up to date on latest business news. Networking means taking the time to do your homework!
A good networker is one who is professional at all times, because he realizes that any contact could be a job interview. Not only does this include dressing professionally, but it also includes actively listening to those with whom you’re conversing.
Hint: If you find yourself unprepared in a conversation, it’s OK to contact that person later and ask questions to increase your knowledge. When you’re done, make sure to thank the person.
Stopping Too Soon
Networking takes time and patience. You may have a few missteps, but that happens to everybody at one time or another. Don’t let it discourage you. If you find you have made a mistake or find that you were unprepared, simply take it as a learning experience and do better next time.
Hint: Remember that networking means building strong professional relationships. That doesn’t happen overnight.