3 Critical Networking Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them
December 23, 2019
A strong network can help you land a new job, find a mentor, or launch a new career path. Your network is your dream team—people who have your back and are vital to your career growth, job satisfaction, and personal development.
But let’s face it: whether you’re a young professional just breaking into an industry or a seasoned pro searching for your next move, networking can be difficult.
Not to worry. There are ways to make networking accessible, fruitful, and—dare we say—fun!
Avoid these three mistakes and you’ll see first-hand how networking can transform your career.
#1 Don’t be vague about how your network can help
Sure, networking typically happens in casual, social environments. But that doesn’t mean you can be casual about communicating your intent. If you’re not clear on what you want from a conversation with a new contact, they won’t know how to help you.
So step one is to get clear on your goals. Why are you networking? What is the best realistic next step you’d like someone to take to help you? This allows you to “strategically and intentionally identify opportunities to meet people, and to plan the conversation topics you want to hone in on,” says Gelwicks.
Are you looking for an opportunity to step into a new role? Grow your skillset? Take on a passion project to feel more fulfilled?
#2 Don’t make up your elevator pitch on the fly
“So tell me about yourself.” This seemingly simple question can leave you speechless if you’re not prepared.
Many people make the mistake of talking about their family, sharing their hobbies, or ticking through line items on their resume. When you’re networking, that’s usually not what the other person wants to hear.
They want to know who you are, what you bring to the table, and why it’s worth their time to know you. In other words, they want to hear an elevator pitch—a succinct and persuasive sales pitch that sells... you. Here’s what it looks like:
Start with a high-level introduction.
“Hi, I'm Elise. I started a business that helps companies elevate and retain their young professionals. We lead workshops about professional presence, business correspondence and taking a proactive approach to work.”
Then, explain in a few sentences what makes you unique. You can also mention what you’re currently working on and your next-step goals.
“As a result, companies see both improved retention rates and employee effectiveness. I feel lucky to partner with corporate clients who empower their young professionals and help them feel more fulfilled at work.”
The last step in your elevator pitch is to ask a question related to your goals.
“I'm interested in talking with leaders about the skills they want their young professionals to develop. Do you know anyone who could be a good contact for me?”
This can feel like a real challenge if you’re not used to asking for help. But understand this: there’s a good chance that the people you’re interacting with are eager to help. They just need to know what you need.
So spend time crafting, practicing, and perfecting your elevator pitch so you can be focused, confident, and ready to make a great impression.
#3 Don’t forget that you’re building a relationship
The biggest mistake Gelwicks sees people make when networking is that they make a connection with someone but fail to actively stay in touch. It’s one-sided: they only reach out when they need a favor.
“Remember, networking is relationship building,” she says. “In order to be able to leverage your network when you need support, you must develop genuine relationships.”
That means regular communication via phone, email, or over lunch—at least three times a year—so you can stay up-to-date on the other person’s life.
To foster a mutually-beneficial relationship, it’s also important to provide value. For example, email the other person with information you think they’ll find interesting (e.g. an article, an upcoming event, etc.) or make an introduction to someone they may want to collaborate with.
These are the building blocks for trusted, meaningful relationships and a strong network that will help you navigate your career.
For more advice on how to build a strong professional network, including how to use a “network tracker” and tips for introverts to find the right networking environments, watch Managing Your Professional Network with Elise Gelwicks.
Other LinkedIn Learning courses you may be interested in:
Women Transforming Tech: Networking with Nitya Narasimhan
Building Business Relationships with Simon T. Bailey
Business Etiquette: Meetings, Meals, and Networking Events with Suzanna Kaye
Professional Networking with Dorie Clark