You’ve heard before that networking is important, especially while in school. I wrote a little mini-series about networking last week, but what I feel should be discussed this week are the mistakes that you should try to avoid. Networking is not merely a process of shaking hands and exchanging business cards. There has to be some thought and consideration when trying to connect with professionals and the people that can help you in your career search. College students have lots of opportunities to make first impressions on professionals and with that comes an equal amount of opportunities to goof it up. That said, here are the Top 11 Networking “boo-boos.”
11. Limp Fish or the Mechanical Vice Handshake
Nobody likes limp handshakes. Loose arm and wrist do not show off confidence. It makes the recipient feel awkward and uncomfortable. Fish handshakes are also memorable in the wrong ways. Going in the opposite direction, a handshake that makes the recipient wince because you’re using all the strength in your possession is not good either. Hurting the person you want to connect with is also memorable in the wrong way. Balance your handshake. Make it firm and portray confidence without going to either extreme.
10. Bad Dresser
Do NOT go to a professional networking event, such as a career fair, without a neatly pressed suit and shined shoes. Showing up in athletic shorts and a muscle tee makes you look sloppy, and I do not care how much you support X, no slogan tee shirts either. If you want to express yourself while still being classy, wear those funky argyle socks.
9. Asking Bad Questions
Have you ever been told that there is no such thing as stupid questions? They’re wrong. There are a lot of misguided questions you could ask that will land you in the “not a chance” zone. Good examples of such questions are “can I use Facebook while at work,” “will you mind if I come in late” or “so what’s the company drug testing policy?” Good questions are open-ended and require both parties to contribute to the answer in a conversation. The idea is to cock the employer’s eyebrows in a way that makes them impressed with the thought you have put into knowing more about the company.
8. Badmouthing Others
People don’t want to hear about how much you hate someone else. The biggest surprise mistake you can make is talking negatively about a previous employer or professional. Even if they were the worst person you have ever worked for, professionals do not want to hear it. Professionalism is all about respect and if you cannot show that, the person you are talking to is going to think “what is stopping you from talking bad about me?” Bad press hurts you as much as it hurts the other person. Also keep in mind, the networking world is complicated in that you don’t know who knows whom. It could be that the person you are talking to knows the employer you’ve spent the last ten minutes bashing.
7. Answering Your Phone
It’s not a good idea to ignore the person you’re talking to. If turning your phone off happened to slip your mind, at least have the courtesy to ignore it or turn it off. Do not pick up the phone, do not respond to that text. It can wait. If turning off your phone is too much of a reach then vibrate is an alternative- even though most phones now at days have vibrating features just as loud as the ringtone.
6. Expecting a Job
Expecting a job is like expecting a truckload of presents on your birthday. Be glad to celebrate the day with friends and family, and be thankful that the other person is taking the time to at least talk with you. Just because you exchanged business cards and had a pleasant conversation, it is not guaranteed you have the position. The point of networking is to set up mutually beneficial connections. Expecting a job right off the bat is selfish. Don’t be that guy or girl. Plus, if you’re just there for the job and not for the networking experience, you’ll get figured out. These people are professionals. They know what they’re doing and what you’re doing as well.
5. Not Saying Thank You
The little things are easy to forget and yet are sometimes they are the most vital. Thanking the person makes them feel appreciated, and it keeps you in their minds as someone who is grateful for an opportunity. Keep in mind though that it’s not as simple as a passing “thanks.” At the end of the conversation, exchange a handshake keeping in mind mistake #11, look them in the eyes and say “thank you, Name.”
4. Forgetting the Follow Up
Don’t forget to send that email or make the phone call. At these events, professionals are meeting countless people, exchanging business cards by the case, and coming away with forklifts of resumes, cover letters, and portfolios. Less than half of these people however will follow through, so put yourself back in their minds as a viable candidate. Following up shows honesty and integrity as well as showcases a drive others only pretend to have.
3. Not Coming Prepared
If you get asked a question, make sure you know how to answer it. Don’t stand there looking confused and dumbfounded at the notion of answering a simple question. People want to make sure you are committed to knowing about your work ethic before they are willing to commit to you. Know some basic background information or at least know enough to ask some detailed questions.
2. Not Talking Enough
Communication is a two-way street. As much as people are sharing with you, be prepared to reciprocate. Be able to respond with full and complete thoughts and be open to conversation. If the other person feels like they’re pulling teeth trying to get an answer out of you they probably won’t see you as a good investment.
1. Talking About You The Whole Time
Like going on a date, if you spend the whole night talking about yourself it’s not going to work out. Let the other person speak. Gather information about the position or the company or what they do. It also pays to actually listen, and not just nod your head and stare into space. If you want to get them talking more, ask questions but remember they have to be real questions.
Questions? Ideas or suggestions? Follow me on twitter @ChrisComella or email me at [email protected]