Whether you’re looking for a new gig, trying to find new clients, or you simply want to meet new like-minded professionals, it’s important to take advantage of networking opportunities, both online and offline. When done right, professional networking can be significantly more effective than cold emails. Find opportunities to meet with professionals in your field, whether in online professional communities or offline at conferences, events, and meetups and begin interacting, attending, and joining the conversation.
As your networking efforts progress, you’ll learn that there are some great best practices like collecting contact information and sending follow up emails. You’ll also learn through trial, error, and experience that there are some big mistakes that you might not realize you’re making.
Here are some networking mistakes you might be making and what you can do to fix them:
Ignoring online networking
No, this doesn’t mean searching for and connecting with professionals in your field on LinkedIn. That’s the most basic level of online networking you could be doing, and in most cases it simply isn’t enough.
Common wisdom dictates that the best networking happens in person, and that’s true. The ability to have a face to face conversation with others is crucial in developing rapport. It’s easier to get a clear sense of the personality and value of another person in a direct conversation.
But there are only so many in-person networking events that go on every week, and you probably only attend one or two a month. That’s no excuse to let your networking efforts slip when you’re not at an event.
Online networking opportunities you may be missing out on take many forms, and they’re becoming more and more easily accessible with platforms that connect you with a community of individuals interested in supporting and mentoring each other. Continue your search by finding forums and groups directly relevant to your profession and industry. Try to stick to smaller, highly active, highly moderated groups. This can be with groups on LinkedIn or sites like Hacker News, Inbound.org.
Start by commenting with your reactions and perspectives on articles and messages posted by other members, and share relevant articles of your own. Expand further by following some vocal leaders in your industry on Twitter. As you do your daily Twitter browsing, when you find a Twitter chat that is relevant to you, chime in with your perspective. Go a step further by getting involved and sharing your expertise on Q&A sites like Quora. You’ll find that people are eager and willing to continue the conversations you start online, and you may even be able to take those conversations offline.
Thinking too low of yourself
Everyone has a unique perspective and something important to bring to the table. Individuals who fail to understand this end up feeling like they don’t have the knowledge necessary to participate in conversations with more others who have more experience than them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any topic or question is too high level for you to chime in. It will drive you away from potentially valuable conversations and learning opportunities.
Instead of walking away and finding a conversation you’re comfortable with, stay and get involved, even as a spectator. Chime in with intelligent questions that help you better understand the topic in question and advance the conversation. A crucial byproduct of professional networking is learning and expanding your horizons. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you’ll learn more in a single out-of-your-league chat than you would in an entire day of Wikipedia browsing.
Avoiding the executive suite
It’s typical to think that other professionals who are at the top of the ladder are off-limits in your networking efforts. Unfortunately, too many professionals get nervous at the idea of reaching out to C-level executives, and even when they do, they rarely ask the right questions. When you’re talking to a top professional, if you ask any question that you could otherwise find the answer to with a simple Google search, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, your aim should be to ask relevant questions and provide your own well-informed perspective. And to do this, it’s crucial to do your research ahead of time. Study up on the company, be well-versed in the issues and news of the industry, and formulate unique opinions and ideas.
So if you’re a recent graduate working in startups and you want to reach out to and learn from successful entrepreneurs, or you’re an operations manager at a large corporation and want to learn from a COO, go ahead! And when you do land a chance to chat with a member of the executive suite, remember that their time is highly valuable, and so is yours. Come prepared not with the same old canned questions that every other person asks, but with truly unique topics that drive a thoughtful conversation.