Networking. The word seems to strike fear in the hearts of social wallflowers, while energizing sanguine personalities and calling them to action. Some see it as a necessary evil and something to “work at” but networking is just the cultivation of productive relationships. That’s all. You and I do it every day without thought. We network when we drink a cup of coffee in the break room with the guys from accounting. We network when we ask a co-worker for information on her recent vacation to Myrtle Beach. Networking is simply an exchange of information between two people who have built a relationship. And building good relationships is a wise move.
Why then do so many people fear networking? In my opinion, they’re simply afraid of looking like a selfish phony, a multi-level marketing schmoozer, or a name dropper. No one wants to appear like a name gathering, back slapping, jerk who’s only out to make more money. So what are the specific mistakes people make when trying to learn how to network?
1. Lack Of Etiquette
Just like you wouldn’t go to a job interview without having showered or show up at a wedding dressed for cleaning out your gutters, you must pay attention to etiquette when networking. If you approaching potential contacts in a flippant or offhand way, you may be putting them off entirely.
2. Waiting For the Perfect Opportunity
Too many people start networking only after they need sales volume or after they’ve lost their jobs. Effective networking means creating contacts and relationships now. Dig your well before you’re thirsty.
3. Failing To Create A Networking Script
The best way to avoid fumbling around and stammering for the right words is to know what you’re going to say ahead of time. Practice it. Create a script before your next professional, social, or community event, and then spend half an hour writing down a few questions or ideas for discussion that might come up.
4. No Ideas And No Plans
If you’re going to a business event or social gathering where you believe you’ll have the opportunity to network, make sure you know the real reason you’re going. Presumably, it’s to network! Do you want a new job? Do you want to make sales contacts? Do you want to find a candidate for your next upcoming project? Do you need to uncover some information about a competitor? If so, are you seeking something specific, or will any information do? Are you looking for contacts or a mentor to provide guidance? As soon as someone starts talking with you, you have to hold up your end of the conversation. If you don’t know what you’re after, you’ll either embarrass yourself or walk away having accomplished nothing.
5. Being Unprepared
Feeling like you know what you want to accomplish is not the same as knowing it. Treat your networking opportunities the same way you would a speaking engagement before the shareholders of your company. Prepare! Practice your speaking skills with individuals as well as your answers to questions that might arise about your personal and professional goals.
6. Talking Too Much About Yourself
What really matters to you? Identify your passions. What things or ideas do you love to talk about? Now, imagine someone asked you about your passions, how do you respond? Put the shoe on the other foot and begin thinking about what are the passions of the people in your network and draw those out through well thought out questions.
7. Forgetting To Bring Business Cards
Could there be anything more embarrassing than establishing a good relationship with someone, them offering to help yo in some way, and then searching around for a napkin to write on? Or worse, having your new found contact offer one of hers and you pat your shirt pockets or search through your purse to no avail? Spend a few extra bucks to print professional-looking cards on good-quality paper.
8. Using a Childish (or Worse) Email Name
Your friends may know you as “Daddys1Girl,” “HotStud4U,” “SquishyPlaything,” or “RumAndCoke47,” but when you’re networking, use a serious email address, one with your real name.
9. Being A Know-It-All
While you’re networking, you need to listen to what everyone else is saying. People help by offering advice. They are not interested in hearing how much you already know. Refer back to #6 above.
10. Being A Time Hog
At most networking events, people want to mingle and meet more than just one or two others. Don’t monopolize anyone’s time. If you’re networking over the phone or by email, remember that the person you’re speaking with has a life that extends beyond you and your needs and interests.
11. Thinking Every Day Is Casual Friday
Dress sharply when you plan to go to an event where you’ll have the opportunity to networking. Give firm handshakes, stand up straight, make good eye contact, repeat names back to the owners, and show respect in any way you can. Never say anything negative about any person, event, company, or organization regardless of your personal views. Now is not the time. Remember that a networking event can be like a first interview for your next job, but no one will help you get your foot in the door if you come across as a slob.
12. Failing To Identify Your Unique Talents
What have you always been recognized for (particularly as a kid)? What do you do better than most other people? What skills do people seem to notice in you? From your list of talents and qualities, choose the top five, the ones you do best and enjoy doing the most. Weave the items on all your lists into a statement of your specialty. What are you particularly gifted at delivering?
13. Being A Timid Wallflower
If you want to be a person of influence, you’re going to have to meet many people and those people will only remember you if you stand out from the crowd. If you “just aren’t very social” or if it “just isn’t in your personality,” then be someone else for the evening. Be assertive, and act like a leader you admire. How would [your hero] handle this situation? You want to communicate self-assurance and confidence. Don’t let your introverted preferences get in the way of building the kind of network or career you truly want. Networking can definitely be learned. That’s the good news. The news you probably don’t want to hear is that in today’s communication-driven world, just about everybody has to do it, even people in nonprofit organizations. So there sense trying to avoid it or hide.
14. Not Asking Follow Up Questions
If you’re networking for a job opportunity and someone says, “I wish I could help you but I don’t know of any openings right now,” take a minute or two to ask some follow-up questions: “What’s the outlook for the future? Do you know anyone else in the industry who might have something? Any thoughts on what my next step should be? Who would you contact if you were in my shoes?” Persistence shows true interest on your part and may help the person you’re networking with come up with ideas he might otherwise overlook.
Always tell the truth and don’t fall for the “truth has different meanings to different people” hogwash. No matter how tempting it may be to say, “Ms. Miller gave me your name and told me to call you.” It might even get you a meeting. But eventually this person will learn that Ms. Miller DID NOT tell you to call. And you will have burned two bridges.
16. Treating Your Network as Short-Term Relationships
No one likes to be used. Follow up every conversation with a thank-you note, email or call. Let your contact know whether his suggestions panned out or not. When your job search ends — for whatever reason — inform the person who has helped you. You may think your networking is over, but your paths may cross again.
17. Forgetting Where You Came From
Anyone who has ever networked, whether successfully or not, owes an obligation to all those who will network in the future. Return the favor and help someone else.
18. Failing To Ask
Ask the people with whom you’ve established a networking relationship for the specific help you want. The reason so many people struggle in so many areas is that they are trying to “go it alone.” Go ahead and ask for help. “Do you know anyone that works in the marketing department for XYZ Corporation? Would you mind introducing them to me? Do you know anyone who would be good as an IT manager for a small cap company? Would you or someone you know be willing to speak at the next Lion’s Club meeting?” Just ask.
19. Failing To Maintain A Networking List
Make a list of everybody you know who has some relevance or importance to your professional or community life. Store the names, along with their phone numbers, addresses and emails in a dedicated digital file (make regular backups) or in a spiral notebook. Make sure you are always adding to these names and you’ll see this mother lode of networking possibilities grow. Once a month, go through the names and pick at least one for a phone call and three for an email. Ask them what’s new with them, or react to different events in your industry, or set up a luncheon date. Stay in touch. Keep the contact dates in the card along with a brief note of what you talked about. Go through this list of names periodically to remind yourself of who’s out there for you.
20. Not Having A Mentor
Two heads are always better than one and an experienced coach can help you learn the ins and outs, the do’s and don’t’s of networking your way to success. Consider finding a coach to help you put your networking activities in perspective so that you can network in a way consistent with your view of yourself. A coach can help you see networking in this light and help you polish the skills to make it seem more natural for you.
The road to disappointment is strewn with lists, dreams and goals never shared with anyone. So get out there. Share who you are and show genuine interest in other people. Seek out support and constructive criticism from someone you trust. Build your “personal brand” and you could become a brand adviser for that person in return. Encourage the positive aspects in other people and they will encourage you in return.
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