Love it or hate it, networking is how most jobs are found. Career experts estimate as many as 85% of open roles are filled through networking.
But networking isn’t just about going to fancy business dinners and crossing your fingers that an attendee takes a liking to you. Networking requires genuine relationship-building, mutual respect, and social grace. You don’t need to be a social butterfly to be a good networker. But you do need to avoid making these 7 faux pas:
1. Showing up unprepared.
Networking opportunities come in a lot of different flavors. Some are black-tie galas. Others are casual meetups after work. Still others are industry trade shows. Do your homework ahead of time. Know what’s expected, and come prepared. If people will be handing out resumes, print off a stack and bring them in a folder. If it’s a charity event where donations are expected, carry some cash with you.
Regardless, bring a small notebook and a pen. Keep them in your pocket so you can jot down notes about the people you met immediately after you leave.
2. Being transactional.
Networking is not a tit-for-tat activity. If you can help someone you meet out, great; they may give you a hand in the future, but do not expect it. If not, just enjoy the conversation. Favor-trading is not the way that real relationships are built. Try offering something for free rather than always trying to sell. For example, Hawke media offers a free Outsourced CMO consultation to help people with identifying holes in their marketing. Rather than directly selling offer something that is truly valuable to them that could lead to a sale down the road.
3. Mismanaging your time.
Even if it’s a casual networking event, managing your time well is critical. Don’t flit between conversations so frequently that you can’t connect with others, but don’t spend the whole time talking to one or two people, either.
If a conversation is coming to an end, accept it. Tell the person you’re speaking with that it was good to meet him or her, and move on. Aim to spend between 5 and 20 minutes with each person you meet.
4. Seizing the spotlight.
Networking is not about being the center of attention. When you attend an event, keep in mind that it has a bigger purpose — raising money for charity, showing new innovations in the space, or simply mingling with people who share your interests.
A good rule of thumb is to listen at least twice as much as you speak. When in doubt, ask questions: Doing so shows interest in what the other person is talking about, and it gives you more time to spot ways you might be able to help him or her out.
5. Overindulging in food or drink.
Many networking events involve alcohol, but be warned: Drinking to excess does not look good to prospective employers. In fact, around one in seven HR professionals say alcohol consumption is never appropriate at work events.
Treat food the same way. Even if the event has a buffet, do not gorge yourself. Enjoy your dinner, but don’t be that person who goes back for more when everyone else is finished. Food and drink should always come second to conversation when networking.
When you’re networking, you’re representing yourself, not your alma mater or former employer. Even if you did graduate from Harvard and work for Facebook, let those things come up organically. Leading with them comes across as bragging.
To cite your credentials without bragging, speak in lessons and experiences. If you have a funny story that happened while you were working at Facebook, tell it. Be sure, though, that it fits the broader conversation.
7. Failing to follow up.
Relationships are not built in an hour. Get the names and numbers of the people you meet, and follow up within a day or so. Don’t just say “I enjoyed meeting you”; point to something specific about your conversation with each person.
If you don’t know the person well, default to email. A text may be appropriate if the event was informal. If you really clicked, set up a second meeting.
Don’t ignore these tips, but don’t overthink networking, either. Enjoy yourself. Treat the people you meet the way you’d want to be treated. And however the event goes, remember: Another opportunity is right around the corner.