Making good impressions when networking is critical. It’s important to pay attention to what you say and do because your actions impact relationships and opportunities. To put your best foot forward, avoid these 10 common networking mistakes.
1. Waiting several days to respond to an introduction
When someone facilitates an introduction, don’t wait several days to respond. Timeliness is critical, especially when introductions relate to a job opportunity, new client, speaking engagement etc. If you drop the ball and delay response, not only can you lose out on the opportunity, but you can also lose out on future introductions from that contact too.
Even if your schedule is tight, take a minute to reply within a day of receipt — both out of respect and gratitude for your existing contact and to initiate communication with your new connection. Remember, your contact is doing you a favor and your non-response not only impacts you, but it also reflects poorly on them too.
2. Reaching out to people on LinkedIn before updating your profile
If your LinkedIn profile isn’t current, avoid drawing extra attention to it by sending connection requests. Make improving it a priority and at minimum, update your headshot, headline and About section and include accurate basic employment (titles, companies, dates etc.) and education facts.
Your profile is often the first impression you make on others, so make sure it’s updated and best reflects who you are today so it resonates with the people you want to reach.
3. Connecting only to “bait and switch”
If you send a well-crafted, personalized connection request and the person accepts, don’t immediately follow up with a message that pushes your company or product/service. That isn’t networking — it’s a sales pitch — and it’s off-putting to others, especially when you’ve approached them under the guise of networking.
4. Forgetting to dress strategically
If you underdress for an event in-person or online, you’ll stand out for the wrong reasons. While dressing for business has become more casual in many instances over the past few years, your style and what you wear are still part of your personal brand and the impression you make on others. Just as you’d prepare a sharp outfit before a job interview, plan the right outfit for an event you’re attending.
If attending an in-person event and you’re unsure about the dress code, ask someone else who’s going to the event or has attended in the past. If you don’t know anyone, ask the event coordinators for some guidance. Preparing ahead is better than dressing inappropriately (and sending the wrong message).
5. Handing out business cards too soon
If you’re attending an in-person event, it’s still acceptable to bring business cards (add to your mental checklist of phone, wallet and keys). Don’t forget what you learned pre-pandemic and pull one out within the first minute of meeting someone, however! This comes across as pushy and may signal that you’re desperate for new customers, a job etc. Business cards should not be a part of your introduction, but rather your exit from a conversation, e.g., Great talking to you – here’s my card. I’ll email you to schedule a time to continue our chat about…
The best networking conversations flow organically and end with an exchange of cards and follow up plans.
6. Winging how you introduce yourself
When meeting someone new, whether online or in-person, you largely control the initial information they learn about you. Introducing yourself without any thought or practice wastes the opportunity to make a great impression on a new contact. Don’t sell yourself short by sharing your title and company name alone; these are details of a larger picture. On the other hand, don’t ramble on about yourself either, which dilutes your intended message and doesn’t make a great impression.
Identify key points about who you are, what you do and what makes you unique. Practice so you sound confident, conversational and friendly (not robotic and rehearsed).
7. Monopolizing someone’s time
If at an in-person event and you hit it off with someone and feel like you could speak with them for hours, don’t. Be cognizant of the amount of time you spend doing so because even if the other person appears 110% engaged in the conversation, after a while, it may be out of politeness. They most likely want to meet others before the event is over (and you should too).
When you meet a great new contact, after a brief chat, exchange contact information and make plans to continue the conversation at another time.
8. Dismissing others through bad body language
When talking to others in person, you communicate a lot more than you realize through nonverbal cues. When you want to talk to someone, you naturally convey open and engaged body language. If the person is not someone you’re connecting with, however, be mindful of your presence. If you have a closed off stance and avoid direct eye contact (gazing around the room for “someone better” to talk to instead), this can make a bad impression and even insult the other person.
While you don’t have to develop a relationship with everyone you meet, you can still engage and chat briefly before politely moving on to someone else.
9. Flaking on promises made
If you promise something to someone you know or just meet (an introduction, link to a resource, invitation to a webinar), follow through on it! If you forget about (or put off) the promise, you’ll come across as unreliable and undependable, no matter how successful you are in your career. This behavior damages relationships and negatively impacts your personal brand.
If you’re busy and need more time to follow through on something, send a quick note and say you’ll follow up soon. Most delays are understandable; following up goes a long way in letting others know that you’re still thinking about them and will deliver.
10. Approaching relationships as one-and-done
Networking is not a one-time event. Cultivating and maintaining relationships requires effort over time. How you do so and with what frequency depends on the contact: how you know them, where they’re located, the nature of the relationship etc. With some, you might regularly engage with their content on LinkedIn or reach out before an upcoming online event to see if they’re attending. With others, you might schedule an email to touch base or invite them to a webinar. Effective networking is multifaceted, online and in-person, over time.
Whatever your professional goals are — increased visibility, expanded network, new job, business growth or a board seat — networking is one of your most valuable tools to get there. Regardless of career success, many people still make networking mistakes that can get in the way of achieving their goals.
Introduce yourself with a clear and impactful message, respond promptly to when people reach out and follow-through on promises made. Using best practices, you’ll strengthen your personal brand and drive your career forward.