Today, I like to think of myself as a somewhat skilled networker. But that doesn't mean I started out that way. As with anything, practice makes perfect -- and, for me, networking required plenty of practice.
Yes, when I was fresh out of college and feverishly trying to build up my web of professional contacts, I made plenty of mistakes that resulted in emails being ignored and introductions leading nowhere.
Like what? Here are five all-too-common networking faux pas that I committed -- so that you can learn from my own trial and error.
1. Making a huge ask.
Be honest with yourself -- you're networking with some sort of goal in mind. Whether it's building a larger roster of contacts, landing a job offer, or securing some industry advice, there's a reason you're connecting with this specific person.
That's understandable. But, one thing I did far too frequently when I was just getting started was making way too large of asks. I thought that the sheer act of sending a friendly LinkedIn invitation or email would mean that person would be willing to divulge all of their career success secrets or to blanket their own networks in my contact information.
Instead, it's better to make a relatively small, simple, and specific request. Rather than asking that person to recommend your new business to everyone, for example, see if he or she would be willing to make an introduction to one person you're interested in meeting.
The more manageable your ask is, the more likely you are to actually see results.
2. Only talking about yourself.
Networking can often feel like an excuse to climb up on your soapbox and preach about all of the awesome skills and experiences you have under your belt -- you want to make a memorable and impactful first impression, after all.
However, it's important to remember that networking isn't just an outlet for shameless self-promotion. Instead, it's an opportunity to forge relationships with other professionals.
Resist the temptation to tout your own accomplishes all the time, and remember to ask questions of the other people you're networking with. That more balanced conversational approach will ultimately lead to a much more beneficial relationship.
3. Assuming you're the first priority.
When I was attempting to forge a relationship with all sorts of new connections, I practically blanketed the world in LinkedIn messages and cold emails. I would always find myself disheartened when -- just the next day -- my own inbox still sat empty.
Embarrassingly, that often led to me following up after a ridiculously short period of time. Why were these people taking seemingly so long to get back to me?
It's a common trap to fall into -- assuming that your own needs and goals automatically fall at the top of everybody else's priority list. But, here's the truth: The people you're connecting with are busy, and you aren't the first thing they need to deal with on any given day.
If you continue to push for a response without waiting a reasonable amount of time, you'll only seem pushy (rather than persistent).
4. Doing all of the taking.
Remember when I mentioned that the point of networking is to build a relationship? Well, in order to be a successful one, it should be mutually beneficial.
That means you shouldn't be the only one extracting value from that exchange. You also need to bring something to the table for that other person.
No, you don't want to head into every relationship with a, "What's in it for me?" attitude. But, making a conscious effort to return a favor when necessary will help you maintain a healthy relationship where neither person feels taken advantage of.
5. Neglecting to be gracious.
If and when a networking contact does something helpful for you -- such as making an introduction, passing along a job listing, or offering some advice? Don't neglect the power of these two magic words: thank you.
It's important to remind yourself that your networking contact didn't have to help you out. That person took time out of his or her own day in order to benefit you -- and that's undoubtedly worthy of a hearty and genuine display of your appreciation.
Networking isn't always easy, and you're bound to commit a few mistakes every now and then. Make your best effort to stay far, far away from these common ones I've made (far more than I care to admit!), and you're sure to notice an improvement in your own networking skills.