6 Common Networking Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Worried your networking skills need some polishing? Fear not! USC Dean of Students, Brian Harke, highlights six common mistakes made when networking and how to fix them.

"Network, network, network."

If you are getting ready to graduate, applying to business school, or trying to find an internship, you've probably heard that phrase more than you'd care to. Sure, to be successful you need to have the talent the job requires, but talent alone won't get you the job. You need to know the right people.

Most people don't realize how often they're in a position to network. Networking opportunities aren't always special "invitation only" gatherings. Networking happens every day...and you can make your own opportunities. Talk to your friends about who they might know in your field of interest. Ask for an introduction. Pay attention when people mention their job at a party. If you read an article that resonates with you, send the author a complimentary email and introduce yourself. Have coffee with your instructor to discuss your career goals. Reach out to alumni, talk to other classmates, and don't forget to ask your parents who they might know. There are endless opportunities to make new contacts and grow your network. Be creative. Be proactive.

And whether you are just beginning to build your network or think you're a seasoned pro (as too many of us do), there are simple mistakes that we all make during the process. The good news is that these mistakes are not hard to correct.

1. The Hard Sell

Networking is all about getting your name in front of someone and developing a relationship. Share your story and successes, but don't be a pushy salesperson. You should be marketing yourself, not selling yourself. They are very different approaches.

There is nothing worse than an over ambitious person who comes off self-centered, desperate to impress, and takes no interests in the other person. They spend the majority of the time talking about themselves and their accomplishments. This is selling, and it's something you should avoid.

If you are familiar with marketing, you know it's about understanding your audience and how to appeal to them in an effective way. It's about how to position yourself so people respond to you and what you have to offer.

Fix:

Think in marketing terms. You are a product trying to reach a particular target market. You need to create a brand for yourself. Start this process by positioning yourself so that others will be interested in you. Before a networking opportunity, think about who you are, your strengths and interests, and then how to summarize that. Package it in a succinct "elevator pitch" that hits all your points. An elevator pitch is a casual 30-second or less pitch (something you could start and finish in the time it takes you to go up the elevator... with others listening) about your interests, strengths and accomplishments. It's your conversation starter, and is designed to lead to further discussion. If you can literally write it on the back of your business card, then you have a concise position. If it doesn't fit on the back of the card, it's too long... start again. Your elevator pitch and positioning will evolve with time and as you receive feedback. But remember, you don't need to sell.

2. Talking Too Much

Many people fall into the trap of talking about themselves too much when networking. Networking only works when it is a two way street.

Fix:

Remember these two rules: 1. Don't over share 2. Make the other person feel valued.

When you find yourself among people in industries and careers that interest you, start out by introducing yourself and then focus on them. Ask how they got their start, what they love about their job, and what kind of things they work on. Listen to what they say and read their body language. If they're engaged in the conversation and aren't looking for the exit, then it's appropriate to work in the points of your elevator pitch. Keep in mind that it's a conversation. Give the other person time to react and don't forget to listen. If you dominate the conversation, you're probably selling. Whatever you do, don't be a "hanger on." Once the conversation dies, move on. Let the person know that it was nice to meet them, and if you made a connection (you won't with everyone), ask if you can follow up with them in the future. Make sure to use your marketing tools: your business card and a genuine "Thank You." They are both part of your brand image. Keep in mind people will remember the impression you made on them (your image), much longer than anything you said.

3. Expecting a Job

Too often people network like a hawk circling prey. Their focus is purely on job prospects. They network by asking everyone they meet about jobs, or for their help finding one. Be careful not to come off needy and desperate. If you attend an event and focus solely on job opportunities, people will figure you out and shy away. They will be less likely to help you in the future.

Fix:

Slow down. Think of networking as a chain of events which starts with creating your brand and positioning yourself so that others will like you and find value in what you have to offer. Making a good impression on one person may lead to another contact, and so on and so on. Eventually, the job opportunity will present itself. You can't force it to happen. But that's not a reason to be lazy. Networking is a lot of work. You need to do your homework and be willing to make yourself available to others.

Before a networking opportunity, do some research and find out something about the people you might meet (marketing research). Try to find common interests prior to the event. Remember: know your market...and listen. Find out how you can help them. Don't be afraid to offer your help...even if it is volunteering. It is a great way to show off your talents. It also shows that you are willing to work hard to be successful. This contributes to the brand image you are trying to create for yourself. Contacts are more likely to help you if you show interest in helping them.

4. Forgetting to Show Gratitude

No matter how good a conversation goes, you can still leave a negative impression if you forget to thank the person for their time. This is such a simple thing, yet it's so often overlooked. Most networking opportunities die after the first meeting because people forget to send a thank you note.

Fix:

If you take up someone's time, let them know you appreciate it. Whether you are at a large event or one-on-one, always thank the person for their time. If you have their business card or know how to reach them, follow up with a brief Thank You note. Not only are you demonstrating that you value the other person's time and insight, you are also getting your name in front of that person one more time. If you want to leave a lasting impression, make a good one. The contact is more likely to take your call if they think highly of you. Read more about student success and the power of Thank You.

5. Forgetting to Stay in Touch

Most people leave a networking event having had several conversations. Unfortunately, that's often where the relationship ends. Most people neglect to follow up with anyone they met, or only reach out to the ones who might have a job opening in the immediate future. This is a really bad idea. Networking is a life long process. You never know how the people you meet might be able to open doors for you in the future, and vice versa. Make sure people don't forget you. You need to follow up and stay in touch.

Fix:

Follow up. Send the people in your network a note or email every month or so and keep them updated on what you're doing. You can also use social media sites like LinkedIn to stay in touch. LinkedIn is more business-oriented than Facebook. If you find ways to help network members out, share the information with them. Networking is about give and take. By staying in touch, you keep yourself in the forefront of their mind.

6. Being Impatient

The most important thing I can share with you about networking is that it's not about short-term gain. It is about exploration, information sharing and developing relationships with others. You should be in it for the long haul. I can guarantee that networking will lead you toward your goal if you continue to protect your brand image by being viewed as someone who appreciates others and isn't a short term user. Good networking is about being there for others knowing that someday they will be there for you.

This post was originally published on BrianHarke.com.

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