Share and Help your Friends With Their Job Search!
I own and operate a popular website in the parenting space in New York City. Because the website has a strong following, I’m often approached by colleagues and businesses in the area requesting editorial placement and promotion. Almost without exception, I’m glad to lend a helping hand to members of my personal network. The key word here is almost. Occasionally, somebody missteps quite seriously – and I find myself withholding the kind of help I typically dispense quite freely.
There is one woman in particular with a fledgling company who I have been extremely generous with over the past six months. We wrote a profile, promoted one of her events, and I personally woke up at the crack of dawn to attend that event on a Saturday morning. So I was a bit taken aback when her intern contacted me with an “invitation” to purchase a ticket to their next event along with a request that we promote her next upcoming event complete with pre-written ads I could blast out to my social network on her behalf.
This was a networking fail on so many levels. She didn’t touch base with me personally. The email her intern sent was clearly a templated form of communication she had used with every other media outlet except for the part where she was asking for us to promote her event at no cost. When I failed to respond to her intern, THEN I received a personalized email. All of this strikes a particularly obnoxious note because she has failed to invest the time with me personally to get away with this kind of behavior.
Are you cringing because you’ve made these kinds of mistakes? That’s fine. We all make networking mistakes (myself included), but we can also all do better moving forward. Here are four networking mistakes that should be avoided at all costs.
Sticking to the script. When you’re networking, it’s easy to fall back on canned responses in both written and verbal communication. However, a failure to really engage with the people you meet is going to leave your professional network painfully thin. You’re a person, not a robot. Choose to listen, be thoughtful, ask questions, and get personal! Use what you know about a person in the course of conversation. If you’re familiar with their school, hobbies or children, then ask about them. Show genuine, actual interest. Don’t just ask people for whatever it is you need.
You’re a ghost of your former self. It’s never cool to pull a disappearing act after somebody has helped you out, connected you with a colleague, or hooked you up with a job lead. You don’t need to buy them a BFF necklace (does anybody remember those besides me?), but touch base to let them know what happened. Send a thank you note on actual stationary. Offer to return the favor in the future. Establishing meaningful connections is difficult enough as it is, so don’t burn bridges by appearing unappreciative or dismissive.
Making promises you can’t keep. It’s always exciting to meet new people in your industry, especially if they’re a prospective employer. In an effort to make a good impression, some of us might overextend ourselves a bit. Of course, I have time for coffee! Yes, I can attend that conference! I’ll definitely connect you with my colleagues! Need that taken care of tomorrow? No problem. You get the idea. Express a willingness to help, and be clear about how you can add value. However, don’t commit to anything until you’re away from the pressure of a face-to-face conversation. It’s important to assess how much of your time and resources you’re actually able to extend before somebody is relying on you to deliver the goods.
It’s not all about you. It’s about building a relationship. If you only touch base with people when you need something, then you’re going to wear out your welcome quickly. Touch base with members of your network just to connect. Ask them what they’re up to, how the kids are, and where they’re going for vacation. Offer your expertise if they need it. Meet up for drinks, lunch or coffee just to have a good time. You know…treat people like people rather than favors that can be traded.
There are no shortcuts to building up the kind of professional network that builds a career. If you choose to cater only to your own needs, then prepare yourself for a lonely, tough slog. Take the time to do it right, and you’ll find hands raise up to help move you – and your career forward – when you need them most.