The worst kind of mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from — let’s avoid those when it comes to networking.
Your professional network does a lot more than submit your resume. A good network is there to provide support, feedback, and advice for shaping your career. The meaningful relationships you build help you navigate uncomfortable job situations, negotiate the right job offers, and gain access to other smart and interesting professionals in your field. Here are a few networking mistakes you may be making and tips on how to improve.
1. You’re waiting to build your network until you need it
The biggest mistake in networking is not starting early enough. Many people wait to build a network until they’re looking for a new job, exploring a career change, or have a specific professional need. You may find someone willing to pass on your resume or provide a bit of advice on short notice. But these relationships will generally be short-lived since they’re based on one specific need instead of shared values, goals, and interests.
A powerful network is made up of people that help support and connect each other. These relationships should start long before you need something. Start early, be proactive, and make networking part of your daily routine.
Not sure where to start? Use a networking app such as Shapr to connect with professionals in your area who share common interests. Look on LinkedIn for people with interesting jobs who went to the same college as you. Volunteer for a charity that excites you and ask some of the other volunteers to lunch.
2. You’re asking too much or too little
Every coffee should end with one specific ask — but without asking for too much at once.
Instead of: Can you connect me with [NAME]?
Ask: Thanks for providing your valuable insight on this topic. Would you be open to connecting me with one other person who can provide an additional perspective on what we’ve discussed?
Instead of: Can you submit my resume for that job?
Ask: Thanks for sharing your insight into my career trajectory. I’m interested in one of the roles I saw posted on the job board. Do you have any additional ideas for the best way to get prepared if I am invited to interview when I submit my application?
By keeping your request small and specific, you leave a window of opportunity for your contact to help out in a larger way without demanding or expecting too much from someone you’ve just met.
3. You’re avoiding people who share your job title
While mentors are great, some of the best ideas come from talking with other professionals in your field who share the same daily obstacles as you do.
Be open to meeting other people at the same place in their careers, and discuss the challenges you face. It will feel good to get ideas from someone trying to tackle similar assignments, and you may even find a regular happy hour friend for celebrating professional wins and getting through hard weeks.
4. You’re not prepared for a conversation
When you meet up with someone new, you should have already done your homework. You don’t have to memorize someone’s resume, but you should glance over their LinkedIn profile and know a little about that person’s background.
Do a quick Google search to see what comes up. You may discover that the person you’re meeting runs a blog on the side about a hobby that also interests you. The more common ground you discover, the more topics you will have to break the ice and help the conversation flow.
5. Your follow up is about you
If your thank you email after meeting someone new just says, “Thank you for your time,” you’re doing it wrong. While this email is polite and courteous, see how you can further the relationship by adding value for the recipient.
Did you mention an article in the context of your conversation? Find the link and pass it along. Did this person mention he or she was looking for a good place to eat in a specific neighborhood? Make a recommendation. By making the email about the recipient, you build the foundation for a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship. Pro tip: we have all the networking lingo already spelled out for you, and you can download it for free.
6. You haven’t kept in touch with your existing network
While you should place an emphasis on continually meeting new people and expanding your network, you should also not forget the people who already provided advice, support, and funny insight along the way.
An easy way to connect with your existing network is through social media. Get a Twitter or LinkedIn account and engage with the content your contacts post. Comment on thoughtful articles they share, and follow up with a quick email to pass along related articles you spot.
Want to win extra brownie points with your network? Host a brunch or happy hour and invite a few people to join who you haven’t seen in months. Your contacts will remember your generosity in connecting them to new people, and will think of you the next time a great opportunity comes their way.
Mandy Menaker is the Head of PR and Brand Development at Shapr, a networking app for meeting inspiring professionals near you. When not writing about networking, fitness, and travel (three very awesome things) she can be found cycling through Manhattan with her 6 lb Maltipoo catching a ride. Connect with her @mandymenaker on Twitter or visit mandymenaker.com.