Common Networking Mistakes and How to Avoid them

The following is part of a Networking Guide to help students and young professionals effectively navigate the networking and relationship building process to help develop and growth their careers. In this section, I’ll talk about some common networking pitfalls and how to avoid them.

For many of us, networking and building relationships is not an easy process. There is a lot of work required and it’s easy to make mistakes along the way (not a bad thing by any means) However, the rewards from networking and building relationships can be significant, so many choose to pursue it in light of the challenges. Below are some challenges and missteps that I see people make (and that I have made myself) along with some tips avoid them.

Not being accommodating – We all live busy lives, but if you’re going to ask someone to meet with you make sure you are showing some courtesy by being flexible around their schedule. You want to make it known that you value their time, so simply telling them you can only meet on weekends during these windows is probably not the best approach.

Wordy Requests – When you reach out to someone to introduce yourself you don’t need to tell the your life story, just the highlights and your purpose. I’ve gotten (and seen requests) that read more like novels. While I don’t want to put limits, I’ve heard anything from a max of 150-250 words in your initial request. Also, since we’re all so smart-phone driven consider that there’s a decent chance this person might be reading your request on their mobile device – novels don’t show up that well.

Going through the motions – If someone is trying to check the box to say that they did the networking thing I can tell right away. The questions they ask are routine or things you could easily find on a website or they quickly run out of things to ask you even though they made a big point of wanting to connect. As someone who appreciates networking, this is one of the more frustrating mistakes I see because in my view it’s showing a lack of respect for the other person’s time and is a missed opportunity.

Ghosting – Yes, ghosting is real, not just in the dating app world but in the networking world too! If you want to network and connect with someone make a commitment to seeing it through.

Asking immediately for connections, referrals, job postings, etc – Recently, a friend told me he had a networking conversation with a student from his Alma Mater who at the end of the conversation asked him “can you please forward me any names of people who you think might be able to help me in my search?” While my friend could appreciate his eagerness and desire to meet more people, its a pretty big request without significant thought or consideration given to my friend.

This one is tricky, because in many cases the whole point of networking with someone is to eventually have a shot at something (interview, job posting, etc) Like anything, there is always a method that works best, and you just want to make sure you find one that gets across your ask, demonstrates your gratitude, and is not too cumbersome. For example, in the case of my friend, a better approach would have been to say, “I am really interested in Finance at companies like Company A, and Company B. If I find anyone who meets those requirements on LinkedIn that you are connected to would you mind if I asked to see if you could help make an introduction?” First, this is much more specific. Second, it gives the other person a way out, because sometimes that individual cannot make an introduction, and last but not least, it puts the homework back on the requestor, which should make the ask much more manageable to handle.

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and missteps, and if you’re serious about networking you will too, so try not to sweat this too hard. Furthermore, I am only one person, so others may think differently on this so if you have thoughts, comments or criticisms I would love to hear them

Some quick thoughts on networking

I do a lot of networking and get a lot of networking requests. I enjoy these opportunities because it gives me a chance to build relationships that enrich my life. I’m lucky in that for whatever reason I truly value people for who they are and appreciate hearing their stories and experiences. I learn a lot from these conversations which help me personally and professionally. While I’m a big believer in networking building relationships I know that this is not something that comes easy or is fun for everyone. For starters, it requires us to put ourselves out there. Furthermore, meeting new people can be awkward and it does take up a lot of time.

Recently, a few of my friends asked me to share with them some principles on how to approach networking. Since I speak a lot with young professionals in career transitions as well as undergraduate and MBA students who are about to embark on internships and jobs, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you can improve your approach to networking with other individuals.

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Time is valuable – Time is a finite asset. If you’re going to ask someone to meet with you for a half-hour of their day that means it’s a half-hour they are not doing something else on their priority list. If you happen to get their attention make sure that you are using the time in the best way possible.  At the very least, show up prepared, make the conversation engaging, and show gratitude for their willingness to meet.

Purpose-Driven – A lot of people, particularly those focused on an aspect of their career search (ex: internship, job-change, etc) know they need to network but they often treat it as a “check the box” activity. While it might feel good to check the box, this violates the time is valuable maxim and diminishes the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship as well as a chance to give and receive value. If you’re going to ask someone to meet with you, make sure you have a clear idea of why you want to meet with them and what you’d like to discuss. Yes – depending on the nature of the person (ex: same level, much lower, much higher) will determine how formal you need to be, but having a sketch of your purpose and perhaps even a plan never hurts.

Two Way Street – One of the biggest challenges I see in networking conversations is that it people approach it as a one way road instead of a two way street. Yes, you are reaching out, and if you have a purpose you clearly are asking for something but remember, at the core, networking is about building relationships and the best relationships are ones where both people receive value. Before you even e-mail someone or go into a conversation, ask yourself, “if someone were reaching out to me, would I want to respond or meet with this person?  I’ve found that empathy and walking in the other person’s shoes is often the best way to connect with someone to build a relationship that can be helpful to you in the short or long-term. So before you head into that conversation, think of what value you can provide to the other person. If you know their interests or subject matter, perhaps you can find ways to share knowledge with them that is valuable to their work. Or, perhaps you can connect them to someone who has that knowledge. They will really like you for that!

Lastly, I realize that there are times (especially as younger or less experienced professionals) where you may not feel like you have value or insight that will significantly alter the other person’s mind That’s okay – First, I think you probably can add more value than you think, but at the very least, if you can serve as a great conversation partner and hold a thoughtful/interesting conversation for 30 minutes and demonstrate your gratitude and appreciation for their time I think they will appreciate your interest and your courtesy.

TLDR: Networking is about building relationships that add value to peoples lives. I believe you’ll find more success when you have a purpose and look from the other person’s perspective as much as you look at your own.

Want to learn? Spend time with A+ people

Hunter Walk, one of my favorite VC’s wrote a great post on spending time with A+ people in other industries. The post is geared for people who are early in their tech careers but can really be applied to anyone. I’ve long be a proponent for Hunter’s strategy and have gained a lot from my meetings with these people.

This week, I got the chance to meet an A+ person in Nikita. Nikita and I were introduced via a mutual friend (thanks Julio!) for an opportunity to write on my blog. While that never panned out, it was clear to me that from our brief conversation Nikita was an A+ individual, so after months of trying to coordinate through our busy personal/work schedules we finally got the chance to connect. It ended up being a fantastic conversation, and reinforced my belief in spending time with people who stretch your thinking. Here are some reasons why meeting with other A+ people is great:

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They Challenge You – Nikita and I are similar in a lot of ways. In addition to both starting our career in consulting and at the same firm, we also have a similar approach for how we engage with others. For instance, we started catching up on work, Nikita began asking me a series of questions that put me on the spot, and made me consider things I hadn’t really thought about. At some point, she apologized for the inquisition (my friends tell me I tend to do this to them..) but it challenged me to think on the spot about things I hadn’t quite thought through.

They empathize with you – MBA graduates, regardless of where they went to school share a lot from the common experience. I’d be experiencing some challenges post-MBA lately and I thought I was alone, only to find out Nikita shared some of my similar thoughts and frustrations. Call it piece of mind, but at least I know I’m not alone!

They stretch your mind – I think a lot about my own management style since I’m now managing people, but a lot of this is done internally. We both are in positions right now where we are directly/indirectly managing others. Comparing/contrasting our experiences managing people made me think differently about how I could alter, improve, or iterate on my own management techniques.

They give you motivation – Nikita’s working on some big things – you can read about them here. It takes courage and conviction to speak and pursue a big goal, and something that I’ve struggled with because I’m human. But seeing and hearing other people who are doing it motivates me to push aside any doubts or concerns and do the same for myself.

Last but not least, they give you ideas – such as this post 🙂

TLDR: Conversations with A+ people give you thoughts, ideas, and energy that can be helpful to other areas of your life. Go and find some A+ folks to chat with and let me know what you learn.