The 5 great networking failures - and how to avoid them

A search firm CEO shares his top networking tips.

by Gary Burnison
Last Updated: 03 May 2018

Networking is a big mystery for most people who fundamentally misunderstand the purpose. They think it’s only to help them get a job, but networking is really about building relationships for the long-term.

Networking is a two-way street, starting with what you can do for someone else long before you ask what that person can do for you. Unfortunately, even experienced professionals can be so self-absorbed they network poorly. And that’s worse than not networking at all.

A case in point: I was in the hospital for an outpatient procedure – nothing major, but it required anaesthesia and a little recovery time afterward. As I lay there with an IV in my arm, an anaesthesiologist came in, checked my chart, and asked what I did for a living. When I told him, he responded, ‘Oh, I could never do that—way too much pressure!’

The next thing I knew, I was in recovery when the anaesthesiologist showed up again. Reaching into his white coat he pulled out a two-page document. His C.V. ‘When you mentioned your firm, I figured it couldn’t hurt.’

Really? I was a captive audience, but this was ridiculous – and a common mistake. People think nothing of thrusting their resumes at others at the most inopportune times and places.

Here are five big networking mistakes people frequently make and how to fix them.

1. Connecting with people solely to ask their help

Just because it’s possible to reach anyone virtually through the ‘seven degrees of separation’, don’t think it’s perfectly fine to do that. If an email or an invitation to connect comes out of the blue, followed quickly by ‘I’m looking for a job’, people will be put off. First, you need to build your network with others who have shared interests or backgrounds. You need to nurture your network without asking for something.

2. Suddenly becoming active on social media after a long hiatus

Similar to connecting at random, a flurry of social media activity (such as on LinkedIn) will seem odd to people who haven’t heard from you for years. If you do need to reactivate your network, do so naturally. Comment on a blog that someone has written. Reach out to someone you know to find out what they’re doing, congratulate them on a promotion or venture, or send them an interesting blog or article.

3. Ignoring requests to volunteer  

When someone in your network reaches out for volunteers don’t pretend you didn’t see the request. Whenever possible, donate time, effort, or other support. Giving yourself to a worthy cause is not only a good thing to do, but is also a meaningful way to build your network. You’ll gain a positive reputation, and others will be far more likely to help you in the future.

4. Forgetting to take time for others who can’t help you directly

There is no quid pro quo in networking. Sometimes you do things because you can; for example, someone asks for advice or help, or someone’s university-bound child wants to ask about your field. Consider it good karma: help others with no expectation of ‘payback’ and others will step up to help you.

5. Neglecting former bosses and colleagues  

As you build and nurture your network, you are also building relationships with people who will validate you. Often these contacts are former bosses and current and former colleagues. They can attest to your skills, your accomplishments, and your contribution as a team member or team leader; their words carry weight. All these factors come together when you need someone to vouch for you in a way that opens the door to your next job. Former colleagues may want to ask you about your current industry or company, or may need your help in accessing people in your network.

Networking in both directions - giving first and asking later - is not a one-time exercise. You can’t ramp up only when you’re job-hunting and then go silent when you’re in your new position. Networking when you don’t need to is the best way to establish a positive reputation as someone who is genuinely interested in others and eager to help.

Gary Burnison is CEO of executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Image credit: lolostock/Shutterstock

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