Networking for beginners

Here are four common networking mistakes, and strategies for making more meaningful connections moving forward.

1. You’re not really there.

You walk into a crowded room and immediately get caught in a conversation. You shake hands, but your eyes are wandering–taking in the room and trying to find the person you really want to meet.

This is a horrible practice, yet so many of us do it says inc. We concentrate so heavily on connecting with the right title that we begin to consider every midlevel conversation a missed opportunity for speaking with the people who really matter. This attitude will undermine your success.

Remember, the person across from you might not have a big title or work for a large organisation, but he is connected to a universe of people. You might need one of those connections someday, or you might just have an amasing conversation and learn something.

To help manage your anxiety, set a five-minute limit on all conversations. After that, unless you’re having the time of your life, politely extract yourself by saying “I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Since we’re both here to network, why don’t we meet some other people?” Or “It’s been great talking with you. Catch up with you later?”

2. You put off networking until it’s too late.

You stopped networking when you got your last job three years ago. Now you need to find a new job and you’re frantically attending networking events and asking everyone you know, “Got a job?” Even friends roll their eyes when they see you coming.

Desperate job hunters are too keyed up and needy to truly connect. Their energy is awful–jittery and anxious–and the conversation is, frankly, boring (“A job? A job? A job?”).

To avoid this, keep up with your contacts even when you don’t need them. Keeping up doesn’t need to be onerous. Some easy ideas include:

  • Schedule a touch-base phone call every two months.
  • Treat strong connections to lunch once a quarter or twice a year.
  • Send links to articles or workshops that you know a specific contact will appreciate.

Notice that these last two suggestions require giving something to your contact. Giving is important. By giving, you model the kind of relationship you want to have: one in which people share and help each other.

3. You network only with people like you.

You’re tight with the people in your department. You go out for drinks on Friday nights, share pictures of your kids, and seek each other’s advice. But this insularity backfires when you make a bad decision about your project. Everyone had agreed that it was the right way to go, but you all missed something completely obvious to people outside the department.

It’s so comforting to connect with people like us. They share our jargon, our perspectives, and our interests. They reinforce our belief that we’re knowledgeable, correct, and good at what we do. Unfortunately, they also insulate us from people who could help us broaden our skills and make better decisions.

Make sure that your network includes people with different skills, areas of expertise, backgrounds, and levels of responsibility than your own. Yes, you lose the comfort of associating only with people who think just like you do. But you gain information and perspectives that can help you fill your blind spots.

4. You’re too busy to follow up.

You connected with fascinating people at last year’s conference. When you returned to the office, you got busy and forgot to follow up. Now you want to reach out to those contacts, but no one is returning your calls.

The underlying problem is that people often think simply collecting business cards is enough. Go to a conference, get a business card, and…done! If only it were so easy.

Getting a business card is only a first step. For a contact to become a true part of your network, you need to engage them. That means participating in some back and forth conversations after the event.

It’s difficult to follow up when you’ve collected 100 cards. Instead of trying to connect with them all, use your plane trip home to identify the top five. These are the people who you most enjoyed, who intrigued you, and who you absolutely want in your network. Make sure to follow up with them.