When you’re looking for your next job or project, networking should be an extremely active verb. Casting a net, making contacts, giving and receiving advice. While there’s always a little luck and serendipity involved, the “working” part of networking is real and serves as the foundation that’ll make your next career move possible.
Done right, networking is well worth the time, but done wrong, it could undermine all of your efforts and seriously hurt you professionally. Here are the top twelve “DON’Ts” of networking:
1) Don’t be unprepared.
You should always know your elevator pitch, how to answer questions about your career goals and what steps you’re taking to get there. Carry your business cards with you at all times. Keep your web presence active and up-to-date with your most recent work. Have a current resume, and update it regularly. You never know when a great opportunity will present itself, but you can make sure you’ll be ready when it does!
2) Don’t be inconsistent.
Some people network like crazy for a few days and then stop. You need to keep up your momentum and not let your efforts go to waste. A contact might even take offense if you reach out and then they don’t hear from you for awhile. You don’t want to lose the great people you’ve worked hard to connect with. Think of networking as a job that requires everyday attention and constant diligence.
3) Don’t be uninformed.
You can easily take yourself out of the game if you seem unaware of current trends or current events. Brush up on what’s going on in your business and understand what the implications are for you, both pro and con. Find a handful of reputable industry blogs and spend a few minutes with them every day. Staying current will help to show what a valuable resource you can be to your connections.
4) Don’t be self-centered.
Networking is a two-way street, and gets better results when you see it that way. Don’t just talk about yourself, you also need to ask questions and listen. Remember the people you’re networking with have their own career goals and agendas. Sharing connections, opportunities and ideas is the right way to build a solid foundation for your network.
5) Don’t be a pest.
There’s a not-so-fine line between staying top of mind and becoming an annoyance. You can’t overwhelm someone with calls, emails, samples, and expect they won’t get annoyed. If you come on too strong, you will scare your contacts off. Better to play it cool, make yourself known, ask questions, offer help to others when you can, check in every now and then and build bridges that you can use over your entire career.
6) Don’t be closed off.
Be open to all possibilities and advice you gather from others. If your fixed agenda is to find a job doing X at company Y, you might succeed, but you might also miss a much better opportunity to do A at company B. Really listen to what people have to say. Getting input and fresh insights from others is one of the main benefits of good networking.
7) Don’t forget to stay classy on social.
It’s terrific if your LinkedIn profile shows what a great asset you are and is bursting with recommendations and endorsements, but if your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles show you funneling beer or openly complaining about your boss and company, you’ve possibly just turned off a valuable connection. If you do have anything you wouldn’t want a professional contact to see, make sure all your security settings on those profiles ensure no one outside of your personal circle can access your information.
8) Don’t be too easy.
Everyone knows someone with thousands of online “friends” and stacks of collected business cards. But sometimes, people mistake the numbers as the ends, not the means. The goal isn’t to collect the most cards, it’s to find an opportunity where you can thrive. If all those so-called connections aren’t really meaningful, what are they really worth? Better to have a smaller number of genuine contacts and to work with them in a more focused way.
9) Don’t be disorganized.
Who did you contact, what did they say and what were the next steps? You should know this for every single person in your network. Don’t let opportunity slip through the cracks. Whether you use a database, spreadsheet, note cards, etc., find an organizational method that works for you and helps you keep track of all your networking efforts.
10) Don’t be rude.
Seems obvious, we know, but there are subtle ways to be rude that you might not even realize you’re doing. Not following up in a timely manner, saying you’ll call and not following through, interrupting someone when they’re speaking, not making eye contact or scanning the room, asking for help or advice and not taking it without acknowledging why. These are all easy fixes and can make or break your networking success.
11) Don’t be ungrateful.
No one likes people who use others to get ahead. If anyone does you any kind of favor, meets up with you to chat or even spends just a minute answering your questions, be sure to thank them for their assistance and their time. They didn’t have to…but they did. If you don’t show gratitude, you risk leaving a negative impression. Send a short note, send an email, recommend them to others, just let them know their effort was worth it.
12) Don’t forget to promote yourself.
This one is a no-brainer, and yet is so often overlooked! You can’t assume that everyone knows your value, so you need to make it clear in ways that are memorable and useful for others, without being too pushy. This is different than nagging or bragging, it’s simply making sure people know your skills and the quality of your work. Create online portfolios, use your social media profiles to showcase your talent and consider doing some pro bono work for extra exposure. Let your own work help you promote what you can do.
Of course networking is an imprecise process, and many factors aren’t really in your control. But you can greatly improve your odds of networking success by working hard and working smart. And after all those “DON”TS,” here’s the easiest “DO” of all: make sure to connect with us to see how our team of talented recruiters can help you network to your next great role!