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.
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.