Networking requires strategy, research and social grace. But as competition for jobs remains high, it’s easy to fumble.
“Remember that you have two ears and one mouth, and use them in proportion,” said Bobbi Moss, general manager at Govig & Associates, a Scottsdale, Ariz., recruitment firm.
Networking is about building relationships, not simply selling yourself or looking for personal advancement at each meeting.
“People have talked to me for only a few minutes, and then asked if they would be the right fit for a position. That’s too aggressive,” said Suki Shah, chief executive of GetHired.com, a new jobs site based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Here are five networking “don’ts.”
Don’t misuse the Internet
Some workers rely too much on email and networking sites such as LinkedIn.com. But nothing beats meeting face to face, whether it’s over lunch or a cup of coffee, experts say.
“People forget that it’s very easy to delete an email, not return a phone call. It’s very difficult to leave a meeting,” said Scot Melland, chief executive of Dice Holdings, a New York-based provider of specialized career sites. “People remember faces and conversations more than the written word.”
Don’t send sloppy or mass emails. Take the time to check spelling, especially each name, and customize letters for specific recipients based on your shared interests.
“It’s very easy to determine when I am on the receiving end of an email blast. Those messages get an automatic delete,” said Peter Crist of Crist|Kolder Associates, a Hinsdale, Ill.-based recruiter of executives and board directors. “They write me: ‘Dear Mr. Christ.’”
Don’t be vague
Tell network contacts about specific ambitions for your career or professional growth so they know how to support you. Tailor your message based on a contact’s experience.
“A very experienced product executive told me during a single lunch that he wanted to start a company, go back to school and serve on a board. How on earth could I ever help that person? My take-away was that he didn’t know what he wanted to do,” said Mr. Melland.
Workers should also focus on expanding their network to include specific members.
“Don’t throw your business cards around and give them to dozens of people or randomly. Employers want to talk to people who have focus, and have taken the time and attention to learn about the organization,” Shah said.
Keep networking, even when you’re not looking for a job. That way, your network is in place when you do need it. Stay in touch by sending occasional updates about your career interests and accomplishments.
Let people in your network “know about your long-term career aspirations, additional training or next steps there might be for you,” said Lucy Leske, partner at Witt/Kieffer, an Oak Brook, Ill.-based executive search firm. “People will see you as having goals.”
But, she adds, don’t be negative about your current employer. “By not dissing your current boss, [your network] will also see you as loyal,” she said.
Don’t be selfish
Networking solely for your own goals is a mistake—also help your contacts. For example, before a meeting, research a contact’s business and its challenges, and offer solutions based on your experience.
“It shows that you have initiative, that you have an interest in that person, and you are not just trying to extract value from them,” Melland said. “And it demonstrates that you have skills.”
At the behest of a colleague, Melland recently met with an unemployed young person who turned out to be unprepared for the meeting. “He had no understanding of my company. He had leveraged a personal relationship, and was expecting me to help. It was a waste of my time,” Melland said.
Helping your contacts connect with each other, and sharing useful information are other ways to provide value.
“Somebody just sent me a report on the NYC tech start-up scene,” Shah said. “I appreciated it. That’s a great way to stay connected.”
Don’t misuse your network
Distributing your references’ contact information too frequently can lead to burnout. And don’t abuse your network with too much contact.
“There is a polite way to check in,” Crist said, “but don’t send me an email every week badgering me.”
Also, be wary of name-dropping. Just because someone is key in an industry, an interviewer may not be impressed. Furthermore, be confident about your references’ reputation before distributing their contact information.
“A reference from someone who is not a stellar worker will make you look bad,” said Carol Middlebrough, employment advocate at Our Place DC, a Washington nonprofit. “If you know they are flighty, they are probably not the best worker.”
Finally, while including your parents in your network can be helpful, bringing them to an interview is not. According to a recent survey from staffing firm Adecco, 30% of recent graduates said their parents were involved in their job search, and 3% said their parents have joined interviews.
“This is a parent trying to go too far in helping,” said Janette Marx, an Adecco senior vice president. “When it comes time for an interview, parents need to let children stand on their own."