Walking into a room of strangers can be a nightmare for even the most outgoing of us, so it’s no wonder that the idea of networking is met with a mix of fear, dread, and—for a select few—excitement. But there’s no doubt that having a strong network can be beneficial to your career, regardless of your industry, job function, and level. Be aware of these networking mistakes to make your next networking experience more exciting, less dreadful, and (hopefully) more effective.
Most of us have experienced this person: He or she is talented at “working the room”, and probably manages to distribute business cards to 20 new strangers within the first half hour of the event. While this can look like a networking success on the surface, chances are most people will toss the business card that same evening—and very few valuable connections will actually come of it.
It can be tempting to check the boxes of networking (going to events, handing out cards or connecting on LinkedIn, etc.), but if you’re not actually developing meaningful relationships, then you’re likely better off spending your time in other ways.
The flip side of undirected networking is disregarding the activity entirely, which can be particularly tempting for talented technical workers who won’t likely ever have an issue finding employment. But talented or not, having a strong network means you’ll be more likely to hear about (and even get recommended for) the most exciting jobs first. Even when you’re not looking for jobs, staying connected to other smart people in your industry can help your career to develop within a company.
You can network without stepping foot into a networking event or giving out a single business card: It’s just a matter of figuring out what works for you. Perhaps it’s joining a meetup group based on one of your interests, going to talks relevant to your industry or job function, or reaching out to people whose careers inspire you.
Once you do strike up a conversation with someone, you’ll need to strike a balance between giving them enough information about yourself to get them interested, and listening to their story. This is complicated by the fact that you never quite know what sorts of personalities you’ll encounter: Some won’t leave you 3 seconds to participate in the conversation, while others will be near impossible to pull information out of.
Luckily, most will fall somewhere on the spectrum between those two, and you can adjust for your counterparty’s personality by speaking up if they’re more the former, and asking more questions if they’re the quiet type. Don’t stress too much about this—just have the self-awareness to mentally check in on the conversation and make sure you’re both getting some airtime.
Having a compelling conversation is a great starting point to a mutually beneficial professional relationship—but if it ends there, it won’t be helpful to either of you. Rather than letting it go to waste, ask to stay in touch, perhaps by exchanging emails or adding them on LinkedIn. If you’d prefer not to do it in person, send a LinkedIn invitation with a personalized message to remind them of something interesting you discussed.
Depending on the context, it may be appropriate to schedule a time to see them again: Perhaps ask them if they’d like to go for a coffee if you only chatted briefly at an event, or invite them to a talk relevant to a mutual interest. You’ll want to avoid (for both your sake as well as for others) being that person who collects connections but fails to develop valuable relationships with them, so it’s worth investing the time in building a network of people you respect, admire, and enjoy being around—who knows, you might work next to them one day.