10 Networking Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 7, 2013

Do You Not Play Well with Others?

Effective networking is a game-changer. It’s the unofficial homework of today’s business professional. Whether entwined within charitable ventures or business or social clubs, professional connections are far more powerful career-builders than the old school resume. It’s not just "who you know." It’s "who you know who knows who you want to know."

Most of us can navigate a room of name-tagged citizenry with reasonable success. But in this competitive world, why settle for adequacy? Read on for a few of the ways some networkers relegate themselves to the no-man’s land of unanswered calls and discarded business cards, and how they can improve.

10. You're Inconsistent

Merging into traffic from a dead stop requires a floored gas pedal and some aggressive maneuvering. It’s awkward and erratic -- the antithesis of smooth. Basically it's the networking equivalent of elbow-grabbing and sudden spiel-heavy pitches. If you come across as someone who seems to network by flipping your on/off switch, that inconsistency is going to render your efforts ineffective and insincere.

View connection as a lifestyle and maintain cruising speed. Set aside time each week to keep doors open with key contacts. Be relational on an ongoing basis, and not just in fits and starts.

9. You're Unprepared

And...you’re on! There is often no time for a quick Google search when opportunity knocks. So do your homework, maintain your knowledge of current events, trends in your industry, and shake-ups in adjacent companies.

Be ready with "next step" follow-ups and suggestions for furthering a key connection. Don’t walk away from a chance encounter wishing you had restocked your supply of business cards (or updated them to include your current position). Expect fortuitous openings and be primed for seamless entry. Be ready.

8. You're Uninformed

Read the news. And don’t stop with the weather and traffic reports. A working knowledge of current events is an easy way to add value to almost any conversation. Consider it your homework for building a more engaging personality and as a critical element in establishing your relevancy.

Your industry will be impacted by world events. Maintain at least a basic awareness of global situations or risk labeling yourself as non-visionary and not address book-worthy. After all, if you're networking with a bigwig but didn't hear about their recent bankruptcy filing or the fact that they've been bought by another company, you're going to look awfully foolish.

7. You're Self-Centered

If it’s all about you, what’s in it for them?

Don’t try to sell, but rather aim to connect. Questions can be far more valuable than statements, and resultant answers are more likely to provide information critical to discovering connection points. Statements can be presumptive and require others to recognize potential value. By using questions, you make the other person feel involved in the conversation, gather the pieces and craft better bridges.

It literally pays to be a listener.

6. You're Out of Touch

No time for Twitter? Lackadaisical on LinkedIn? While it’s difficult (and often unnecessary) to be a force on all things social media, dismissive statements --"Why would I bother with that stuff?!" -- will mark you as prehistoric and behind the times.

Instead, be strategic. Maintain profiles on the sites that are relevant to your industry and include these links on your business cards and email signatures. More connecting points will lead to more conversational opportunities, which will lead to more effective communication. Be current.

5. You're Impolite

Unintentional rudeness is a connection killer.

Rudeness comes in many forms: lack of follow-through, obvious disinterest and the disregard of social niceties. Bottom line? If you say you’ll call, call. If you say you’ll make a referral, make the referral. Focus on present interactions and avoid simultaneous web surfing while on a phone call, or room scanning for "upgrades" during a face-to-face conversation.

Be kind. Be polite. Be present.

4. You're Lazy

Growing a viable network sounds like a great idea -- until something else comes up. The problem is, something always comes up. Unless you make your connection efforts a priority, they’ll land somewhere behind picking up dry-cleaning and deleting emails. 

Set aside time for follow-up emails, thank you letters and phone calls. Schedule weekly face-to-face meetings and input monthly events into your calendar. It’s more palatable than a mega vitamin and is truly good for you and your career. Be motivated.

3. You've Got Blinders On

Networking events are opportunities to create opportunities. If you march into a social hour with a rigid agenda, you risk parading past fresh possibilities. You’re not selling cookies here. You’re selling the need to talk further and garnering the pertinent information to make that happen.

And don’t limit interactions to immediate needs. Dream big and your life will eventually catch up to your aspirations. Begin now to build the bridges to where you hope to be in five years. Seek those that will inspire you and open your eyes to developing trends that may impact your future in transformative ways. Be open.

2. You're Not Selective Enough

Don’t trick or treat for business cards.

While those with 500+ LinkedIn connections are oft revered, a truer measure of effective networking is the phone call test. If the connection is but avatar-to-avatar, it’s no more than a business belt notch. Since this is not strictly a popularity contest, it's good to be selective. Don’t waste time collecting meaningless cards and connections. Instead gather what -- and whom -- you can truly and effectively cultivate into a pick-up-the-phone contact. Be focused.

1. You're Scatter-brained

Do you get distracted easily? Emails and voicemails targeted toward growing your personal network should be to the point -- focused -- with the goal of getting a face-to-face. Keep them brief: your name, your purpose and a next step Build interest. Don’t answer all the questions or you risk eliminating the need for further contact.

Record a strong and confident personal voicemail greeting. Upgrade your email signature. Proofread your emails with the idea that less is often more. Be professional.

Build Better Bridges

Building and maintaining relationships is a fluid process. An "It’s Wednesday; time to network" approach will never be effective, but sensitivity to random opportunities will distinguish the successful from the straggler.

Aim not to network, but instead seek to build bridges between people, projects and companies. You’ll be a hero without risking anything but the occasional paper cut as you pass on a pertinent business card.

And the payoff? Helping others be successful puts you in the middle of a bunch of successful people, the perfect place from which to achieve your own career excellence.

Network, Get the Job & Then Get Paid

Network is great if it leads to getting a new (or better) job. And when that happens, you want to make as much money as possible. Luckily, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.