When we begin building our professional network, we make networking mistakes we all wish we could take back. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a networking do-over. No worries. We’ve all been there. We all have to start somewhere.
To help you avoid some of the most common networking mistakes, we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council this question:
When just starting out, what professional networking mistakes should a college student, recent graduate or workforce newbie avoid?
Take a look at their insights. Then incorporate this solid advice into your networking strategy
1. Overselling Yourself
While it’s important to put your best foot forward, it can be unappealing to sell yourself too much when networking. Avoid spending too much time bragging about your strengths and experience. Instead, focus more on asking interesting questions that can connect your experience, skills and passions directly to a potential employer’s field.
2. Asking for Mentorship Right Away
Avoid asking an experienced professional to be your mentor. It’s like asking somebody you just met if they’ll be your girlfriend or boyfriend. Instead, ask questions (the best way to get to know someone) and propose a time to get coffee or lunch to continue the conversation. If there is mutual interest, it’ll be easy to schedule the follow-up meeting.
3. Asking for a Job Upfront
I often speak to students at my alma mater and through other nonprofit organizations. Many times in the first meeting, students ask if we have an opportunity open for an entry-level or internship position. I love their hustle, but cultivating the relationship before asking for employment is a big networking mistake. Build a mutually-beneficial relationship first!
4. Only Asking ‘What Do You Do?’
When you ask, “What do you do?” people don’t want to engage with you because you’re cutting to the chase too fast. Instead, start with an opening as simple as, “What brings you here?” You’re able to build a connection and a bond without only finding out if the person is going to be valuable to you in the long run. You don’t just want to seek value; you want to help as much as you can.
5. Expecting Immediate Results
Rome was not built in a day, and the same applies to building a network with experienced professionals. Patience is crucial, and you have to start by getting to know your contact. Next, determine how you might be of assistance in the near or distant future. Finally, take the time to provide value to others. Over time, they will appreciate, and remember, your effort.
6. Only Networking Online
The internet is great for networking thanks to email, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. But there are still many advantages to talking to someone face to face. This isn’t always possible, but if you’re in the same city as someone or will be at the same event, try to arrange a few minutes for coffee or lunch. There’s no substitute for making personal contact.
7. Making It All About You
The one thing I see students do when they are networking is making the conversation all about themselves, which is one of the biggest networking mistakes. If a student wants to make a positive impact on a prospective employer, they should ask about the company, the role and its management team. This shows the prospective employer that the student is genuinely interested in the company.
8. Ignoring People Who Aren’t Executive Level
When people see flashy titles like CEO and VP, they tend to get awestruck and treat that person like royalty, while those with lesser titles will be overlooked or even snubbed. Any businessperson with networking savvy will tell you to treat everyone as if they were the CEO because one day that person might be. Always make positive connections and always follow up.
9. Being Unprepared for Networking Conversations
Make the most of every opportunity by coming prepared. Put together a 30-second elevator pitch that will help you stand out if someone asks about your experience or why you’re at the event. Take a look at who else will be attending and whether there are individuals you want to make sure to talk to. The more networking events you go to, the better you will get.
10. Acting Like You Know Everything
When you’re around experienced professionals, you have a unique experience to learn from people who have spent much more time doing things that you want to be good at. Never try to impress them with what you know. Instead, seek to understand and learn from them. People are more impressed when you are coachable than when you know it all because it shows you are secure and eager.
11. Failing to Ask Questions
Sometimes students feel intimidated being surrounded by experienced professionals. These professionals want to support you! Think of questions you’d like to ask ahead of time, and don’t be shy about approaching people you want to network with. After all, they were once a student and young professional themselves.
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC has also launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.