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Are you making these top 10 networking mistakes?

by Marya Jan

There is something about the term networking.

It elicits a variety of reactions in people. Some get super excited about it. They envision going to cool parties and rubbing shoulders with the important folk. In networking events, they get to schmooze the VIPs, exchange business cards, make plans for the future and feel that they are in their element.

Contrast this with another group of people who might scrunch up their faces in dismay.

They think that networking is just a fancy term of meeting people that can help you in some way. You make contacts with people who can be of assistance to you in the future, who can be business partners, investors, recruiters or customers.

And they never feel comfortable going to any organised events. They just feel it is unethical.

Which camp do you fall in?

The Truth About Networking

First things first, let’s talk about what networking is, and what it is not.

  1. Networking is about mutual benefit of the parties involved. It is not about taking advantage of a poor soul.
  1. Networking is about putting yourself in front of a potential employer, business partner or a customer. The aim is to let them know that you are available If they choose to do business with you.
  1. You offer to help first. You do not ask for favours before you have earned them.
  1. Networking takes place every where, with or without your knowledge. You talk to other parents at your kids school run, they know you are a freelancer, they are a contact. You know people are your local organisations where you volunteer. They are aware of the fact that you are in the job market. They are a contact as well.
  1. You can also network online. Especially if you are shy or an introvert. Join your industry organisations and forums. Hang out in groups. Connect using Social Media like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
  1. Business networking beats applying to random job applications hands down. It is a proven fact that most of the jobs are filled by word of mouth and personal referrals.

Networking takes place every where, with or without your knowledge.

Here are the top ten networking mistakes that could be costing you your next job offer.

#1 You Think Networking is a Dirty Word

So you fall in the latter group where you just feel it is sleazy.

Get your head around the fact that by not networking, you are doing people a disservice. You are not telling them how you can help them and you are being selfish.

It is about being of service to others first before they will help you or recommend you to others.

#2 You Dress Down For a Networking Event

Going to a career expo or to a talk presented by somebody whose company you really want to work for could be a great way to meet people who can help you. The trouble is, you think networking events are ways to socialise and so you take them lightly.

Yes, you go to a networking event designed for meeting people, but it is for meeting people with a purpose. To let them know you exist and how much you love their products, services or company. How you have a great idea that could solve some of their problems.

Let go of that casual attire and dress to impress.

#3 You Go On a Mission to Collect Business Cards

How many times have you gone to an event and come back with a bunch of business cards? It happens to you and it happens to a lot of people.

Networking is not a game to see who can win the ‘cards’ game. It is an opportunity for you to have a few meaningful conversations. You don’t have to talk to everybody, just pick somebody who looks approachable and start from there.

#4 You Look Desperate

You lead is what you are looking for. That is a fatal mistake.

Think about it for a second. You are going to a party where a father of a friend will be coming. The father works for a company you would like to try to land an entry-level position in. When you are given a chance to talk to him, ask him what he loves about his work, ‘any insider info’ (ask this lightly) and if he would be open to looking at your resume at the end of the conversation.

Never start with that or you will come across as too selfish – or worse, desperate.

#5 Your Elevator Speech Is Too Long

You take over the conversation by breaking into a monologue. Remember if somebody asks you, ‘so what do you do for a living?’, your answer should be concise, to the point and clear. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be more than 30 seconds long.

By launching into details of what you do, or are trying to do, make the other person look around for an escape. Moreover, don’t treat other people like your therapist. They don’t need to hear your life story. However, do explain what you do, or you might lose a genuine opportunity.

Also, avoid being talking to one person for too long, or sticking with your friends. Flirting and other unprofessional behaviour is also strictly a no no. Don’t be a network horror – the person whom everybody wants to run away from.

#6 You Don’t Ask The Right Questions

The first rule of successful, ‘ethical’ networking starts with taking a genuine interest in another person to determine if you can be of any help to them (notice I didn’t say if they could be of help to you).

The first rule of successful, ‘ethical’ networking starts with taking a genuine interest in other person to determine if you can be of any help to them (notice I didn’t say if they could be of help to you).

If you don’t listen and pay attention, you will never gain anything from that conversation. You can avoid lots of awkward pauses or lengthy discussions if you just find out what the other person knows or doesn’t know. Listening is the key to successful networking.

#7 You Overlook Your Daily Contacts

You fail to acknowledge your personal network. In fact that should be the first place you need to start. Make it your starting point.

Friends, family, acquaintances, businesses you are a patron of, local organisations, clubs and associations, university staff and alumni – they all are great sources to get you leads.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with people you haven’t seen in a while. Send them a friendly email and let them know politely you are in the job market and if they could help out. Leave it at that.

#8 You Put Yourself In a Box

When you talk to other people, you define your interests too narrowly. Talk about the general field. If you are an instructor, your general field is education. You could work in lots of ways. You could work with a museum and plan educational visits. You could work in a small company as a trainer. You could help with kids with disabilities. Keep an open mind. Whatever you have learned, you could take the knowledge and transferable skills and apply it in a different field.

Same goes for an accountant, or a bookkeeper, or an IT professional. You do what you do, but you could do it in a variety of fields.

#9 You Are Clueless About Social Media Networking

Just because you are posting updates to your Facebook page or Twitter account, don’t think potential employers can’t see this. Do a Google search on your name and you will be surprised to see what comes up.

Separate your personal social networking from your professional one. Set your privacy accordingly. Only allow your close friends to ‘friend’ you on Facebook and no one else.

Totally ignoring social networking sites is another mistake you can make. These sites exist to keep in touch with contacts in a friendly, not in your face manner. On the other hand, relying totally on these sites to get a job can be a foolish strategy as well.

#10 You Are Inconsistent

The success of your strategy will depend on how long you do it for, and how well you execute it.

Just like any other strategy, for networking to work and show any results, you have to have a proper plan, do it regularly and give it time to work. If you give up too soon, you would have wasted your earlier efforts.

You also have to be proactive. Be the first one to strike up a conversation or say hello. Online, be the one to send out a friendly tweet or send a brief, to the point email.

Be the first one to strike up a conversation or say hello. Online, be the one to send out a friendly tweet or send a brief, to the point email.

Lastly, if you don’t follow up, whether with networking, real life or with online networking, nothing will ever come out of it. Even if you have done everything right, you can still shoot yourself in the foot by not following up in a friendly, not stalker-like manner.

The key to success is to stay in touch with all the job hunters, recruiters, and companies you want to work for, or people you want to do business with.

Never forget, when done right networking has the highest rate of success for job seekers.

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