Too many job seekers miss the mark on what networking is all about. You have heard over and over that networking is about building relationships with people who can provide you with information, advice and contacts to help you find the right role in your job search. The trick is to focus on the long-term endgame; meaning that you should concentrate on building the relationships first, so that your contacts will be more inclined to help you meet new, useful connections or inform you of positions that become open before they are advertised.
Job seekers need to ask themselves, “What am I actually doing with my network?” Are you getting to know and utilize your contacts in the best way possible, or simply building a Rolodex of strangers?
Here are five major networking mistakes for job seekers to avoid:
Problem #1: Not Engaging on LinkedIn
Often, people collect business cards at a conference and later connect with their new contacts on LinkedIn. This is a good start; but are you actually engaging with your connections after they’ve accepted your invitation? Keep in mind that although you might not need their help when you first connect, you may in the future. If you do not take the time to get to know or interact with your new contact online, the connection may not be inclined to stick their neck out when you actually need their assistance. Do the work upfront, and you will see the return in spades.
Relationship Building Fix: For new LinkedIn contacts, compose a personal note mentioning why you want to connect with them, reiterate something they said when you first met or offer to help them with a challenge they might be experiencing. This practice shows interest in them — and not just how connecting benefits you.
Problem #2: Too Strong a Focus on You Instead of Them
Taking into consideration that people are very busy with their jobs, job seekers often want to jump right in and tell new contacts everything about themselves at the onset. Then, if there’s time, they might ask more about their contact. But networking is really about finding ways to make your contacts useful to you, without requiring them to put in too much effort. To do that, you need to know as much about your contact as possible — you can tell them about yourself when the time comes.
Relationship Building Fix: Reverse the order, and first ask the contact about himself; show interest with active listening skills. Ask them how they got started in their career and praise them for their efforts and accomplishments. Remember to use their name throughout the conversation. Come prepared and know how you want the contact to help you. At the end of the meeting, make sure you thank them and ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
You may even consider sending a handwritten note, thanking them for their help, and enclosing a $5 gift card for a cup of coffee. First impressions matter, and in our digital age, handwritten anything shows that you’re going the extra mile.
Problem #3: Following Up Without Offering Anything in Return
Many times, a new contact won’t be able to provide desired information immediately upon request. Instead, he or she might say, “I will get back to you in X number of days.” Now that the stated amount of time has passed, you still haven’t heard back. So what’s the next step? What do you think will increase your chances of getting the information as soon as possible? Are you following up with your network to give or receive? If the answer is exclusively to receive, you may want to re-evaluate.
Relationship Building Fix: In order to build strong relationships with people you meet via networking, it takes more than one interaction. Instead of asking for specific information upfront, try first sending them an article related to their area of business, messaging them a link to a website you want to share or telling them how you took action on something you discussed in your meeting. Don’t even ask for the information during the first follow up; wait until the second interaction to mention your request.
Problem #4: Not Putting in the Necessary Time or Effort
Building a strong, useful professional relationship with a new contact doesn’t happen overnight, but a job seeker who is out of work needs to find a job quickly — which can lead to a conundrum. Relationship building does take time (especially if you are not particularly good at it), but it is ultimately the most effective way to find a job. By not creating professional networks or relationships, your job search will take that much longer.
Relationship Building Fix: If you have not spent time building relationships during your career, start by reading the best book about relationship building of all time: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which is still one of the most widely read books today on this topic. Meet with people who you know are really good at building connections, and ask them for three tips on what makes them successful. Start with people you know, and become committed to building upon the relationships you already have. You will be amazed at the results.
Problem #5: Linking Up With Everyone Who Asks to Connect
Relationships are about people you know and trust who you can rely upon to help you when you need them. Relationship building is not about quantity, but rather about quality. Would you prefer to know your first connections extremely well, or barely remember where you met them? Do you have real relationships with all of your first-level contacts?
Relationship Building Fix: LinkedIn has made it easy to build a network of hundreds of people without ever meeting them face-to-face. Does your LinkedIn profile reflect the more human side of you? Consider peppering your LinkedIn profile with information such as your interests, the causes you care about and promote, organizations that you belong to, volunteer work and recommendations from people who can vouch for the head and heart of who you are. Share what you are doing or the events you’re attending with your LinkedIn connections. When someone asks to meet you, knowing what their interests are will help develop rapport in the beginning of your relationship.
That being said, use your contacts wisely, and connect only with people you actually know. Focusing on making those connections as strong and valuable as possible will likely pay off in the long run.
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Image: Flickr; Ed Yourdon