Networking is what makes the job search go round these days. Just about everything you read about finding your next great employment opportunity mentions networking, and how a large % of jobs are won not only by what you know but also by who you know. Whilst a certain amount of networking can be done online through social media platforms like LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter et al there may still come a time when you just have to toughen up, and attend something euphemistically called a networking event. These social gatherings, often dressed up as corporate functions, provide plenty of opportunities to greet old acquaintances, meet new ones, and slip in some networking.
Some people excel at the art, whilst others really suck big time at it. If the latter sounds like you, we've compiled a list of networking mistakes. These are things you should never ever do at a networking event, or at least not if you want to get somewhere with your networking efforts!
Don't get caught off guard by a last minute event. If you're in the habit of dressing professionally when in any business setting, you're less likely to get caught wearing complete the wrong thing when you realise at 5pm in the afternoon that you're supposed to be attending a function at 5.30.
In a previous post we also talked about the importance of your LinkedIn profile for making a favourable impression on recruiters. Amongst other things, we mentioned keeping it up to date. A networking event is one place you'll regret not having committed to regularly updating it, or making sure you have enough business card on you to promote it. Then again, if it's not up to date, perhaps running out of business cards with the link on it is not such a bad thing! However, it does leave you with the problem of what to hand out to people as a 'lasting memento' of your meeting, or responding in kind when they hand you their nicely embossed, very professional looking card with a link to their highly polished, 100% up to date LI profile. So if you want to use your LI profile as a career advancing tool, and what professional doesn't in this day and age, commit to keeping it updated. Ensure you have a ready stash of business cards, and that you're dressed professionally so if you do wind up having to attend a networking function at the last minute you're ready to go.
Don't front up with a visible stack of printed copies of your resume. A couple of copies tastefully carried in your briefcase or bag is fine. They can be whipped out if anyone asks you for a copy although if you've kept your LI profile up to date that makes a very handy alternative to a formal resume and can be carried about as unobtrusive as a single line on your business card. As for those age old network marketing ploys that involve leaving cards, leaflets, brochures, or in your case, your resume, on every available table, the washrooms etc – that is not a good idea. At best, people will simply bin it and immediately forget who you are. At worst they will remember you, but for all the wrong reasons!
Don't differentiate between people you're talking to. Treat everyone in the room on an equal footing, regardless of status, profession, or social and professional standing. Indeed, treating people who don't meet your criteria of being 'important enough to talk to' as unimportant is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when networking. Sure, you can keep any meeting with them brief but be polite, courteous, and treat them the same as you would the big names you've got in your sights. Definitely don't make any disparaging remarks or put downs because people have long memories when it comes to things like that.
Don't come across as a professional business card collector! You're attending the function to talk to people and make meaningful new connections, not add to your impressive card collection. Slow down, concentrate on your conversations with people and don't be in a tearing hurry to move onto the next 'victim' in case you miss grabbing their card.
Don't be shy about asking for introductions. Indeed, being introduced to, and meeting new people, is exactly what you're there for! Asking someone to help you with this process doesn't make you look unprofessional. It takes a certain amount of confidence to be able to boldly walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself. Not everyone has that degree of assurance.
Don't make stuff up. Name dropping often falls into this category, as well as being a very annoying habit. How many times have you heard someone insinuate via name dropping that they have a closer relationship with 'an important person' than is actually the case. Don't embellish your current professional importance either. The truth will eventually out and you'll lose trust, integrity, and creditability, all of which are important attributes when you're on the look out for a career move.
How many times have you pondered the modern trend of walking around with eyes glued to a smart phone? It seems no one pays much attention to what's going on around them these days because they're so engrossed in what's happening on their phone. When you're on your own, with no one to annoy doing this then by all means go for your life. However, if you're with other people, or in a social situation like a networking event, put your phone away. You may think that checking emails or messages makes you look super important, super busy, and super smart but it's actually quite the opposite. You look rude, disrespectful, unapproachable, and unprofessional.
Don't forget to follow up on promises you've made at a networking event. This is where many people go wrong. If you said you'd send someone a copy of your resume, or the link to an article you found that they expressed interest in reading, make sure you do it. Preferably within 24 hours.
If you want to send an acknowledgement email along the lines of – "it was great to meet you last night", personalise it. Mention a few details about the conversation you had with them. If you asked for advice, be sure to mention that you acted upon it and appreciate their taking the time to give it. A little bit of courtesy like this goes a long way towards cementing a favourable impression of you in someone's mind. Be sure to spell their name correctly too.
However, do not treat the follow up email as an opportunity to start flooding them with requests, self-promoting material or valueless 'just staying in touch' emails. In fact, any further follow up contact should really only be made if you have something of value to contribute to the exchange. If you were talking about something during the event, and you've come across something relevant to that discussion, by all means pass it along to them with a cheery "just came across this article and it reminded me of our conversation the other evening". And so on.
An important thing to remember about networking events is that most of the people you'll meet don't know you so what they see or experience on the night is the impression of you they'll take away with them. You haven't built up a reserve of goodwill with them to fall back on if you mess things up. That's why it is important to work on trying to make as good an impression as possible and you do this by treating everyone equally, by being polite, courteous, and focusing on adding value to any conversations or follow up interactions you have.