You’ve identified a great networking contact and set up a conversation. Whether at a networking event, a networking meeting, or a chance encounter, this is your big opportunity. Don’t blow it with these networking blunders:
Dull opening. Beginning a conversation with “How is it going?” is hardly compelling. Instead be prepared with a strong opening line that shows you have a clear purpose for the meeting and begins the conversation. Examples of interesting opening lines are, “You have a fascinating background and I would love to hear more about your career path,” or, “I’m very interested in the work you are doing and the skill set required.” At networking events you might try, “What brings you to this event?”
Lack of interactivity. This may take the form of rattling off a list of questions but not listening and responding to what you hear. Some job seekers realize they should listen, but don’t realize it’s also important to speak as well. Asking yes/no questions tends to squelch interactivity. Sharing excessively about yourself also hampers two-way conversation. Look for a balance or back-and-forth that exemplifies good conversation.
Defensiveness. With any luck, your networking contact is going to have ideas, tips and suggestions. Some will be valuable, while others may not initially strike you as feasible or applicable. Accept all suggestions gracefully. Don’t jump to reasons why the idea won’t work. Defensiveness and negativity do not make people want to help you. Instead, listen, ask additional questions and be open to what you might learn.
Being distracted or inattentive. Looking at your cell phone, or looking around the room does not convey interest. Be completely focused on the individual you are engaging with. Text messages and other conversations can wait. Another sign of attentiveness is taking notes. If a contact mentions a website, article or contact, show you are taking the conversation seriously by writing down the recommendation. Track action items so you can follow up afterward.
Taking but not giving. A key to networking is that it should be mutually beneficial. Your goal may be locating job opportunities for yourself. But along the way, you are likely to have many opportunities to help others toward their goals. That can only happen if you are open to giving, and take the time to learn what others need. A job seeker who approaches networking with the attitude of “What opportunities do these people have for me?” will not be nearly as successful as one who enters each networking conversation looking for ways to help as well as get help.
Do a mental check of whether you have some of these relationship-killing networking habits. It’s okay if you feel you might have committed some of these blunders. With this realization and some mindful practice, you can quickly increase your networking effectiveness and harvest the fruit of your relationship-building.