A good definition of networking I have seen is “the developing of contacts or exchanging of information with others in an informal way, as to further a career.” While most people would agree with this definition, some may fail to realize that networking is a skill that takes time and dedication to develop. Without ample practice, you can easily commit some common networking faux pas. Here are a few to consider and avoid. It’s amazing how often these actually happen.

  1. “Get an inch, ask for a mile” – Know what is appropriate level of help to ask from a contact. I helped a friend’s friend once with some job search advice. I met him for the first time over lunch. I took time to understand his experiences and goals, and then provided some advice for him to consider. A week later, he sent me a linked-in request to recommend him. I was floored and unimpressed. I was originally thinking of sending him some additional ideas and maybe even other people to talk to, but this action stopped me completely from any further communication.
  2. “Use candor to criticize” – Your contact does not want to hear you complain about the company where they work. A friend (“Sarah”) told me this story. She referred a friend (“John”) to a job opening at her company. “John” went through the interviews and unfortunately didn’t get the job. The next time Sarah got together with John for drinks, he spent 30 minutes complaining to her about how bad the hiring process was for this job. John may think this is ok since it’s not about Sarah’s department, but he failed to realize that by criticizing the hiring process, he indirectly is criticizing Sarah for referring him. Nobody wants to be blamed for doing something nice. Needless to say, Sarah is thinking twice before referring John to another job opening.
  3. “It’s all about me, me, and me” – Job search can be an emotional, grueling process. It’s natural to have a lot of inward focus on yourself during this journey. With that said though, when you are taking an action based on the help of a contact (e.g., talk to someone the contact referred or apply to a job referred by your contact), remember that your actions also can affect your contact’s reputation. For example, if you are somewhat difficult or unprofessional or unimpressive in your interviews, the interviewer not only can have a negative opinion of you but also may question your contact’s judgement in referring you. Practice interviewing skills and realize that sometimes a bad interview can affect more than just your reputation.
  4. Too many debits and not enough credit” – A debit is a withdrawal you make from a bank while a credit is a deposit. Think of networking as a “bank” where you have help credits. Most people are very open to helping others, so when you first ask for help and make a “debit,” it’s no big deal and most people will help as long as you are considerate. However, it’s important to remember to provide updates and say thank you afterward regardless of result. For examples, if a contact referred you to a job, but it didn’t work out, you still should get back to your contact with an update and say thank you. If a contact provided advice during your job search and 3 months later you found a job, it’s good to go back to this person and share the good news and thank them again for their help. These are some of the ways to build more “credit” in this “bank.” Another way, especially if you are friends, is to make efforts to meet up with your friend to build the friendship. Friends like to feel that you want to be friends and not only contact them when you need help.

These may be very simple concepts. I hope you are not surprised by any of them. If you are, perhaps that’s something to look into. At the end of the day, the definition of networking should have an emphasis on the word “developing” of contacts or exchanging of information with others in an informal way, as to further a career. Developing networks takes effort, time, persistence, consideration, and it’s best done when you least need it. Once mastered, it is a skill that will pay dividends for many years to come. Good luck out there.

– Lei

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