It's not always what you know, but who you know. It's a sentiment you've heard time and time again.
And, as a busy and successful professional, you already know it holds some water -- you're aware of the great value networking provides.
However, are you as attuned to the etiquette involved? At its core, networking is really just a conversation.
While that makes it easier to have a more natural and somewhat relaxed exchange with a fellow professional, it also means that it becomes a little too easy to let your good communication habits and common courtesies slide.
So, consider this your friendly reminder. Stop making these five all-too-common networking mistakes, and your conversations are sure to improve.
1. Hearing Instead of Listening
You've just shaken hands and asked someone what he does for a living. He responds, and you nod along enthusiastically. But, if someone asked you to repeat his answer back? You'd have no clue where to even begin.
It's an easy trap to fall into. We become so eager for our chance to talk, we neglect to actually listen to what our conversational partner is saying.
Remember, networking conversations are really only beneficial if you walk away with some value. And, in order to do so, you're going to need to actively listen and absorb what people are saying to you.
2. Monopolizing the Conversation
Speaking of actively listening, when it comes to networking, you should plan to listen just as much as you talk.
Yes, you have a lot of skills to detail, information to provide, and accomplishments to boast about. However, you're having a conversation, not giving a speech. Networking involves some back and forth between you and the person you're speaking with.
So, don't treat every new acquaintance as an audience member waiting to hear your shameless self-promotional plug. Instead, place your focus on having a friendly conversation -- it's not a sales pitch, after all.
3. Steering the Conversation Away From Yourself
Here's where things get a little complicated. No, you don't want to spend minutes on end rambling on and on about yourself. However, on the flip side of that coin, you don't want to constantly shift the spotlight away from you either.
You need to strike a balance between talking about yourself too much and not talking about yourself at all. You don't want to become so paranoid about being an attention-hog, that you walk away from the conversation empty-handed.
So, when your conversational partner asks you a question about your profession, respond with an answer that's genuine, friendly, and complimentary -- without making it sound like the script for a late-night infomercial. Then, follow up your response with a question for the other person.
It'll encourage that conversational back and forth you're aiming to achieve, while still giving you a chance to share a little about yourself.
4. Expecting Too Much
Be honest -- you don't network just to meet new people. Sure, that's part of it.
But, ultimately you're hoping those new connections will be able to benefit you in the future, whether that's introducing you to someone else or offering a specific skill you've been searching for.
However, it's important that you're realistic with your expectations when networking. Don't expect to make your introduction and immediately ask that person to refer you for an open position at her company to jump in and fund your startup.
Remember, you're building relationships -- and that takes time.
And, when somebody does do something for you? Make sure to show gratitude in the form of a "thank you" email or a handwritten note. Let those gestures go unnoticed, and you'll quickly earn yourself a bad reputation.
5. Failing to Think About Follow Up
Since the goal with networking is to build relationships, that's going to involve a lot more than a quick introduction over the appetizer table and a free glass of wine. So, why are you walking away from these networking opportunities with a roster full of names rattling around in your head -- and nothing else?
When you meet someone, ensure that you get your hands on a way to follow up with him or her. Be it a business card, an email address, or even a full name you can use to connect on LinkedIn later, you should be armed and ready with some way to continue the relationship -- even after the event has ended.
Networking is a necessary and beneficial part of the professional world. And, if you're going to do it anyway, you want to do it well. Stop making these common five mistakes, and you're sure to see improvement in both the quality of your conversations and your connections!