I’ve been called the “queen of networking” for longer than I can remember. At one point, I felt like this was, perhaps, an insult, since so many people think networking is a bad word. But I later realized that’s simply because too many people do it poorly, thus giving networking a bad name. After countless conversations, speeches, and seminars teaching people how to better network, here are the nine ways that you might be contributing to the bad wrap that networking gets.
1. You don’t get buy-in.
One of the linchpins of networking is the ability to create value-add relationships for others, which begins with an introduction. That intention is pure and necessary. Where the error begins is when you blindly send a three-way email introduction (or worse, just give someone the third party’s contact info) so that you and your original conversation partner know the introduction is coming, but the third party is in-the-dark.
I much prefer to take the extra step of calling or emailing before making an introduction to get the buy-in from the third party. This preps everyone and makes the introduction seamless and more importantly, invited by all parties.
Of course, there are circumstances where this isn’t necessary because you are certain it’s a value-add to both parties and/or you have such a trusted relationship with the third party that you know it will be a warranted introduction. When deciding how to proceed, put yourself in the shoes of the third party and ask yourself, “If I got a blind email connecting me to this person by this person, how would I feel?”
2. You don’t follow up.
Follow up is critical both to keep the momentum going once an introduction is made and to close-the-loop afterward. The biggest problem is when someone makes an introduction for you and you never let that person know what happened as a result. This is a fast way to inadvertently signal to that person that you don’t value their time or that they leveraged their reputation with the other party. Do a quick follow up and share what occurred (as well as to say thank you).
3. You keep bad company.
It’s no wonder that when we were kids, our parents were so concerned about whether or not we were hanging out with the ‘bad kids’. You are the company you keep, both by osmosis and by the perception of others. The good news is, if you keep great company, you get to ride on their reputational equity as well as glean great traits from them. But when we keep poor company, they bring us down and lessen the way others perceive us. Consider doing some housekeeping.
4. You take too long.
I believe that 24 business hours is the maximum amount of time you have to follow up with someone before you begin to look like you don’t care or think you are too important. We are all busy and pulled in a lot of directions. But your reply can be as simple as, “I’m back-logged on email right now and wanted you to know that I saw your note. I will get back with you as soon as possible, and look forward to connecting soon!”.
5. You only look out for yourself.
One of the primary reasons networking has a sullied reputation is so many people who claim to be “networking” are simply out for their own advantage. It’s best to shift your mentality to being curious when you meet or connect with people. Ask them meaningful questions and really listen. See what you can learn and how you can find connection points. Always ask how you can help them in some way, not with an expectation of what you can get in return.
6. You only think up.
It’s not uncommon to think that the only way to advance is to buoy yourself to people with higher titles or more perceived power. While it’s fine to connect with people who are further along in their careers, don’t forget that there’s also value in meeting people in every direction of where you are in your career trajectory: down, laterally and up.
7. You underestimate the power of someone’s Rolodex.
When you meet someone, you’re not meeting just them, you’re meeting hundreds of people. As we can see from social media, people have hundreds (if not thousands) of contacts. While some are naturally stronger than others, keep in mind that they are a gatekeeper to the people they know and to whom they could introduce you. Don’t write someone off because you don’t see immediate value.
8. You don’t do what you say you’re going to do.
This is a quick way to chip away at trust and lessen your credibility. If you say you’ll follow up with an email today, do it. If you say you’ll be at the dinner, be there and be on time.
9. You think you don’t need to network.
As someone who hosts monthly networking events in three cities for hundreds of people at each event, I often hear this when I extend invitations. When you say you “don’t need to network”you’re saying you will never be in need of the help of others nor do you want to meet anyone new to help them.
Networking is a fancy word for relationship building, so you’re basically saying that you are happy to live with the circle you’ve created and have put up a wall to anyone else. What you may mean is that you’re not currently looking for something you think you can gain from meeting new people (refer back to point 5) or that you don’t like big events, in which case, express that.
If you see yourself in any of these networking faux-pas, consider working on them in the New Year to expand your circle!