We all know how daunting networking can be. It’s often the last thing we want to do: going out to “socialize” when we could be on the couch with take-out and Netflix, having to sell ourselves in every conversation, having to get in front of the right people to make the right impression. But, it has to be done. And it should be done right.
Here are 5 common networking pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. Don’t get caught with your pants down
Even if you make a last-minute decision to attend, make sure you’re prepared. Don’t forget your business cards. Don’t go up to anyone uninformed. Spend 15 minutes before you hit the party making a game plan—who you’d like to introduce yourself to, what specifically you’d like to accomplish, etc. Do some research into the people and companies you’re likely to run into; this will make for better conversations and you’ll come across as intelligent and on top of your game. Pick your marks and take accurate, appropriate shots.
2. Don’t be unprofessional
You don’t need to make a special hair appointment or show up in a cocktail dress to a casual after-work event, but you also shouldn’t dress like a slob. Go no lower than business casual, and when in doubt, take your cues from coworkers or other contacts you know are also attending.
Once you’re there, act like a professional human. Don’t dismiss people just because they don’t look important. Don’t go around collecting business cards as if you were trick-or-treating. Don’t lie—you’ll always get caught. And make sure to have your elevator pitch practiced and ready to go. There’s nothing worse than being asked what you’re looking for and having to reply “Uh…. Um…. Work and stuff?”
3. Don’t be naïve
Act like you’ve been to a networking event before. Don’t expect a job from every decision-maker you happen to shake hands with. And make sure not to ask for too much from everyone you meet. This is where a little strategic planning can really come in handy. Plan your big asks before you go. Once you’ve made them, try to relax, act normally, and enjoy yourself. People are just people, after all.
4. Don’t be selfish
Nobody likes a party hog. Don’t be the kind of networker who talks only about herself, thinks only about her needs, barges into conversations uninvited, and otherwise monopolizes everything and everyone. That goes for the shrimp puffs, too.
5. Don’t forget to follow up
This is perhaps the most important. If you’ve made good contact with anyone, make sure to send a polite follow-up email the following day. Or even a phone call, depending on your level of connection! And if anyone does you any favors—i.e. puts you in touch with someone or agrees to circulate your resume—make sure to send a gracious thank you ASAP.