Recently we conducted a Q&A session where we heard from several professionals who asked about networking. In the next few weeks, we’ll address many of the questions they raised, including how to build a network from the ground up. First, though, three common networking mistakes you can easily avoid.
The first and most significant networking mistake is ignoring your network until you are looking for a job. It can be especially easy to ignore your network right after you’ve started a new job. You can feel as though you need to put your head down and do your work, and it can be easy to forget to engage your network until a couple of years have passed and you realize you don’t want to stay at that job forever.
But if you take a different approach and nurture and develop your network consistently, it will be much easier to tap into your network when you need help. By assuming your network only matters when you are looking for a job, you shut yourself off from other opportunities, such as people who might otherwise send clients to you, speaking opportunities, or “just” a professional community that can enrich your life and career in countless other ways. The great news is that it’s not too late to reach out and foster those connections, and next week’s post will cover more about how.
The second mistake is going to the effort to foster connections and then not following up. Who among us hasn’t regretted months later that we’ve failed to follow up after a networking meeting?
Recently I had coffee with a person looking for a job in a field where I have a number of connections. The person made some other mistakes (coming to the coffee late and without a clear sense of what she wanted out of our discussion), but during the discussion, we identified several potential employers where my connections might be helpful. During the discussion, she offered to send me a follow up email reminding me of the connections she wanted me to connect with her. That was three months ago. I’m still waiting for that email.
Instead of shoving business cards in the bottom of your bag after an event or coffee, go into the meeting assuming you need to follow up. The easiest way to make sure it happens is to schedule time to follow up when you schedule a networking meeting. By scheduling time up front—ideally later the same day as a coffee or lunch, and the next morning for a networking event—you’re more likely to follow through. Like neglecting your network, not following up is easily fixable.
The third most common networking mistake is to view your network as a one-way street. This is especially common among more junior people in the workforce, who feel awkward reaching out to more senior people and asking them to coffee, or following up after meeting someone more senior at a networking event, because they feel they have nothing to offer. That’s a missed opportunity.
Recently I met with a first year law student who did an excellent job navigating this dynamic; the student sent a follow up email reminding me of the name of a book she recommended as relevant to a topic we at Apochromatik are advising several law firms on. You can also make yourself valuable to your network by passing along relevant articles, helping publicize openings in their organization to your own network, setting a Google alert to notify you when a person is mentioned in the news, connecting with them on LinkedIn and sending a genuine congratulations message when you receive a work anniversary or new job notification, and just generally staying in touch. Like the rest of networking, none of this is overly complicated; the idea is just that you have something to offer just as everyone else in your network does, whether that’s advice, help with a job, encouragement, a friendly person at a networking event full of strangers, or passing along an article that might be of interest.
There you have it: three common networking mistakes that you can avoid by maintaining connections when you don’t think you need them, following up, and viewing your network as a two-way street. Next week we’ll continue our series on networking with how to build your network even if you think you’re starting from scratch.