5 Professional Networking Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Networking is more than just using connections to find a job. To be successful IT pros need to focus more on building and maintaining relationships than on adding connections or followers.

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Networking is about building relationships with key people - friends, colleagues, acquaintances - those who can share with you information and advice as well as introduce you to their own connections. These, in turn, can help you find the perfect job but too many job-seekers go about it all wrong, says Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Client Services at Keystone Associates. Here are Mattson's top five networking mistakes - and how to fix them.

You've heard over and over that networking is the key to finding your perfect job but where many people miss the mark is in not realizing that networking is a 'long game'. "It's not something you can stop and start at will - even if you're in a job right now, you still should be making the effort to seek out and engage with new connections," says Mattson.

The focus should be on building relationships first, separate from the need to use those relationships to land a job according to Mattson. If you've successfully maintained contacts and relationships over time chances are that your contacts will be more inclined to help you when you really need it.

Problem #1: Not Engaging on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is one of the most important virtual networking tools available, but only if it's used as intended. "Often people collect business cards at a conference, or are introduced at an event, and then connect on LinkedIn with their new contacts. This is a good start, but then most interactions remain dormant. You have to continually engage with contacts and constantly update your own profile to make sure you're 'coming alive' through your profile," says Mattson.

Your profile should honestly reflect what you want people to know about you both personally and professionally as many organizations hire not just based on skills alone but also on culture fit and values.

"This doesn't mean you should share anything you're not comfortable with, sure, but remember that companies are hiring a human being, not just a resume," says Mattson. Making the extra effort to engage with contacts from the start can pay off in spades later; even if you don't need their help or connections at first, they'll be more inclined to help you down the line if you've put in the effort up front.

For contacts you're meeting or connecting with online, Mattson suggests always including a personal note with the connection request describing why you want to connect and how that relates to your career goals. "Compose a personal message that mentions why you feel a connection would be beneficial. Don't necessarily make it all about you, though - you could offer to help with a challenge they're facing, or offer to put them in touch with some other connections of yours; you must also show interest in them, not just hammer on how they can help you," says Mattson.

LinkedIn Groups can be a great networking opportunity but again, don't join a group and then simply lurk around the edges or let yourself go dormant. "Make sure you're spending some time making comments, posing questions to the group, sharing relevant articles or thoughts," says Mattson. This will boost your visibility and help connections reach out to you.

Problem #2: Making it All About You

It's human nature, especially in a job search, to jump into a conversation spewing facts, figures, demands and desires about your skills, knowledge and experience. Candidates want their contacts to know everything about them from the get-go - but that's a no-no. "The trick is to step back and show interest in the other person first. Focus on how they got started in their career. Praise their efforts and accomplishments. Then, ask what their needs are, how they hire good people? What's the hiring process like? What roles are available and how can you help them fill those gaps?" says Mattson.

Another tip Mattson offers is to use their name throughout the conversation to keep it personal and maintain that connection. Be prepared to address how you want the contact to help you, but don't be pushy or aggressive about it. "You always should ask, as the conversation's wrapping up, 'Is there anything I can do for you?'" she says. Afterward, be prepared to send a handwritten note thanking them for their time, and it never hurts to enclose a small gift."A $5.00 Starbucks gift card is a great idea - and think of the lasting impression you'll make," Mattson says.

Problem #3: Not Participating in Give-and-Take

So, you've made some LinkedIn connections; maybe even done some networking face-to-face. You've worked on making sure the conversation was two-sided, and the conversation ended on a positive note, with your contact promising to get back to you with further contact, names, information about an open position, or other information. But two weeks later, you haven't heard anything. What can you do?

Let me get back to you,' can be the kiss of death, according to Mattson. "There are two scenarios that go through my mind when I hear this type of situation. You either didn't impress them enough to warrant further consideration, or you didn't ask the right questions during your contact. Now, it's time to consider what can increase your chances of getting follow-up for additional information," says Mattson.

First, remember to both give and receive information, Mattson says. It could be the case that your contact didn't have the information you requested easily available and then forgot to look for it. Now's the time to get back in touch - but ignore what you need and focus on them in this first follow-up, she says. "You can send them a quick note with an article or an anecdote that's relevant to the conversation you had, and ask how they're doing, ask about them; this will increase the chance that they'll answer this query but leave it at that. Don't push for the information you need yet," says Mattson.

You can also reference any kind of challenge they mentioned in your conversation and ask how you can help them address it, Mattson says. "People are more inclined to remember you if you offer them assistance. Instead of just asking for the information you need, send them an article about their area of business, a link to a website you wanted to share with them, or tell them how you took action on something you discussed in your meeting. Don't even ask for the information in the first follow up, but wait until the second one to mention it," says Mattson.

Problem #4: Networking With Strangers Takes Too Long

Building a strong, useful relationship with a new contact doesn't happen overnight, but networking is the most effective way to find a new job, says Mattson. If you're not incorporating relationship-building into your everyday life, regardless of whether you're conducting a job search, it will take much longer when you really need it, she says.

"Relationship building and networking are commitments. Even while managing your current career, you need to be thinking of the future, and how to find your next job. It can seem nebulous, especially if there's not another specific position on the line, but it has to be done," says Mattson.

And while relationship building does take time, it doesn't have to be extensive. She advises that every month you should set a goal for yourself of reaching out to three people. It doesn't have to be in person; it could be sending a short note via LinkedIn or via e-mail to catch up and see how they're doing. Or, if you can schedule a face-to-face interaction, invite your connection to lunch and spend the time updating each other on what's happening both at work and personally.

Mattson recommends reading (or re-reading) an old classic: Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," which is still one of the most popular books today on the topic of relationship building. "One easy way to start building relationships is to learn from those who do so successfully. When you talk to them, ask for three tips on what they feel makes them successful. Then, use those tips to start building onto your network with individuals recommended to you from your initial circle of contacts - you will be amazed at the results, and at how many more people are willing to help you in your career and job search," says Mattson.

Problem #5: Quantity Over Quality

Sure, you may have thousands of LinkedIn connections, business cards and e-mail contacts, but ask yourself, "Do I have a real relationship with all of my first-level contacts?" "Relationships are about people you know and trust and on whom you can rely to help you when you need it; that's not about quantity, that's about quality," she says.

LinkedIn has made it easy to develop a network of people without having to meet most of them face-to-face. Does your profile reflect not just your career and professional self, but your interests, hobbies, causes, values, organizations to which you belong and recommendations from those you know well? These are the things that matter according to Mattson. "When someone requests to connect, ask yourself, 'Do I know them? How do I know them? Do we have a common connection or interest?'" she says.

"Knowing what the commonalities between the two of you are can develop rapport in the beginning of your relationship," says Mattson. She also recommends setting aside fifteen minutes a day to review one or two contacts, and work to connect with them on a personal level as well as a professional level. That way, you'll be focusing more on the quality of your connections rather than the quantity. "The key is to focus on what networking really is, relationship building. Instead of using networking simply as a tool that can help you find a job, delve deeper. Make sure your focus is on that relationship building first, "says Mattson.

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