Do you hate small talk? Ever feel superficial when trying to market yourself? Is it sometimes difficult to listen because you're too focused on how to network better with your profusely sweaty palms? Me too. I think it's safe to conclude that networking can be pretty awkward. If you're a recent grad on the job hunt or in the middle of a tricky career transition, you'd probably rather just prance around with "Hire Me" scrawled across your forehead and hope for the best.
Yet, according to a survey conducted by global career experts at Right Management, networking is the best way to land a job. It's so much more powerful than blindly sending job applications into the Internet abyss. Although networking can be great, it can also be uncomfortable and difficult to master. It's easy to be polite and just go through the motions, but making that lasting powerful connection that will actually lead you somewhere you want to be is what makes it all worthwhile.
After attending several career boot camp workshops and doing a little more online research, I realized a few of the things I've been doing wrong while networking and corrected them. Sure enough, after taking it all in, my next few networking experiences gradually became easier, less painful, and I eventually got a job out of all of the work. So, with the help of Frank Underwood's social graces, here are seven of the most common networking mistakes to avoid.
1. Being Insincere
One of the reasons professional networking gets such a bad rap is because so many people make the mistake of being fake. Asking for things is difficult and puts you in a vulnerable position, especially when you're trying to pitch yourself to someone. When networking starts to become a chore, no one ends up happy. Do it honestly. Know why you're doing it and identify what you want out of it. At the same time, it's not all about you. If you flip your mindset to think of what the other person wants and how you can help them achieve it, that's when the magic happens.
Along with this, it's good to be more selective in who you choose to network with. According to Dean Mercado a marketing strategist, in an article for Online Marketing Muscle, choosing your target market — aka finding people in industries you're interested in and what events they attend — is one of the most important parts of networking. Don't exchange business cards with absolutely every human you come in contact with. While having a big network is helpful, a network with dead-end connections made by spreading yourself too thin won't be as effective.
2. Avoiding Conversation
Approaching that super cute guy or girl at the bar pretty much equates to the awkward nightmare that is striking up conversation with a potential professional contact. In both cases, being the wallflower has no perks. Initiating conversation with a stranger not only provides a powerful first impression, but gets you one step closer to making a great connection by having the actual conversation you want to have.
It helps to master the art of closing a conversation, too. You may know when a convo has run its course, but can't find a polite enough way to end it. Chances are, the other person is feeling just as uncomfortable by the end and will absolutely love you for so impressively salvaging the situation. CEO & Founder of FindSpark Emily Miethner gave some great tips for conversation starters and closers that'll make for smooth intros and graceful exits. Like a true networking ninja.
3. Being Unprepared
Do your research or run the risk of dealing with ultimate Frank Underwood sass. Don't make the rookie mistake of thinking you can get by with general questions and talking points. Being unprepared is what leads to the first mistake of insincerity listed here. Ask thoughtful questions that show you're familiar and actually interested in the company or the individual. For example, ask about a recent project or accomplishment of the person's company. This means doing your research.
Forbes contributor and CEO of Digital Talent Agents John Hall said the more information you have about a person, the better you’ll be able to relate to him or her. At the very least, he suggests to look at their LinkedIn profile to get a feel for the different ways you can work together.
4. Being Too Prepared
I know it's been said that there's no such thing as being too prepared, but sometimes that's the very thing that may hurt you. You want to avoid going in with a rigid agenda. It's good to have an overall plan, but be wary of the blinders you put on. Keep an open mind and leave those preconceived notions at the door. You never know what hidden opportunity you may miss out on because you were too busy sticking to your plan and fulfilling your expectations.
For example, I once waltzed into an internship fair with the very specific intention to only seek out writing opportunities in print. It wasn't until the very end — at the food table, of course — that I struck up casual conversation with a representative for a TV show. She mentioned a unique writing opportunity at the station, that would also introduce me to TV production, which was something I'd always entertained as an idea, but never thought about seriously. It turned out to be one of the best internship experiences I've had.
5. Being Too Vague
That being said, it's important to have a good idea of what you want. You don't have to have every nitty gritty detail mapped out perfectly, but be sure to present yourself with a clear-enough focus. Not being specific enough shows problematic indecisiveness that suggests you may not be a person with whom people can effectively work. You can have a variety of interests and goals, as long as they're not thrown all over the place in conversation. As Darrah Brustein, founder of Network Under 40 told Forbes, the more specific you can be about what you do, the easier it'll be for others to help you achieve that. Try to find a consistent thread amongst everything to ensure that those aspirations — however lofty and scattered — can become a reality.
6. Not Listening
I'm pretty sure you wouldn't go on a date and think to yourself, "well I showed up, so that's good enough." A good date, that is. People can tell when you're not listening and it's just a waste of everyone's time. In fact, speech coach Nick Morgan provided Business Insider with seven simple ways to tell if someone's not listening to you. Even if you've gotten your rehearsed body language down and you do manage to come across as being genuinely engaged when you're really not, no one gets anything out of it. The likelihood of you finding out valuable information that could help you and the desire of the other person to connect with you is pretty much nonexistent if you aren't present. So tune those ears!
7. Not Following Up
Following up is like that one Jenga piece you need to cleverly place so all your hard work doesn't crumble into a pile of fruitless effort. And timeliness is essential. Experts like Miethner advise to follow up in 48 hours or less to demonstrate genuine interest and actually establish a real connection. Wait too long and that great connection you made may forget all about you or not take your interest seriously. Even if you don't plan on applying for the specific position any time soon, follow up with everyone you meet anyway. They could help you in so many ways you couldn't even imagine.
Whether networking is your strong suit or not, if you remain honest with yourself and your goals, you're sure to naturally avoid these mistakes and become a networking pro.
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