5 Common Networking Mistakes That Are Stalling Your Career Options (and What to Do Instead)

Lily Herman
5 Common Networking Mistakes That Are Stalling Your Career Options (and What to Do Instead)

Building a network is a crucial part of a successful and worthwhile career, but many people struggle with getting started and then utilizing that network once the connections are made. Even worse, a huge number of professionals are making cringe-worthy networking mistakes that are in turn negatively affecting their careers.

What could you potentially be messing up with your networking efforts? These are 5 of the most common networking mistakes people in the beginning of their careers tend to make and the good news? There are easy fixes for what to do if you’re making some of these errors.

1. You Ask Too Much of Your Professional Network

Imagine how frustrating it is to open your inbox and receive one of the following emails:

  • “Hi! I want a job at your company!”
  • “Can you introduce me to [very senior person at your office] because I need a job?”
  • “We haven’t talked in three years but I need a letter of recommendation in an hour, thanks!”

All three are really, really big (and inappropriate) favors to ask a professional contact, even one you know pretty well.

What to Do Instead

Instead of shooting huge asks to everyone you know, take the time to think of how each specific person could contribute something small and manageable to your cause.

For example, if you don’t know how to break into journalism, reach out to an alum from your college who’s a couple years older and can speak to the first few years out of school and in the world of media. Ask that person for a quick call or a coffee meetup. Someone is much more likely to say yes to that than a random “get me a job!” inquiry.

Need a little help crafting an email? We’ve got you covered with several email templates for reaching out to your network.

2. You Take a Lot More Than You Give

One of the biggest mistakes people make at the start of their careers is asking their network for all sorts of favors without even offering to give anything in return. It can be a big turn-off that leaves people unwilling to help you out in the future.

What to Do Instead

While you might think you have nothing to give others professionally, that can’t be further from the truth. Whether it’s posting someone’s blog post all over social media or helping a friend proofread an important memo, there are smaller ways you can give back to others to show them that you appreciate their help and can also be a crucial contact, too.

Not sure how you can help someone? Here’s the biggest tip: Just ask. Even if someone doesn’t have something for you to do right away, asking will set you up as a person who can be approached and counted on in the future.

3. You Only Reach Out to People When You Need Something

Another big networking mistake people make far too often is reaching out when they need a favor and never just to say hi and take interest in another person’s line of work.

Think of it this way: When your name pops up in someone’s inbox, what do you want their initial reaction to be? If their first response is something along the lines of “Ugh, what does she want now?” or just a quick click of the trash icon, you might want to think about your etiquette a little more.

What to Do Instead

Some people feel like reaching out randomly is taboo, but it really isn’t. Here are some quick ways you can stay in touch with your network without it coming across as self-serving or needy:

  • Send an email or a tweet congratulating someone on a promotion or big professional win.
  • Read a cool article that reminds you of someone’s line of work? Send it to that person.
  • Shoot an email just saying hi and scheduling a coffee meeting to catch up and/or pick that person’s brain about something specific.

There’s no reason to be a stranger until you need something.

4. You Don’t Do Your Research

Picture this: You’re getting coffee with someone who emailed you asking to meet up and pick your brain. You show up for the meeting, and it becomes clear in the first five minutes that aside from knowing you have an impressive title at an impressive company, that person has done absolutely know research on who you are and what you do.

Talk about frustrating. Would you meet up with this person again? Probably not.

What to Do Instead

Before your meet with anybody or ask your network for favors, be sure to have an idea of what’s going on in people’s professional lives.

If, for example, you’re going out to coffee with someone, google him or her and look up the following before you head out:

  • Job title and company
  • Any recent big company news
  • Any recent professional news on that person
  • That person’s professional background
  • Any professional social media (Twitter is a great example)

Also prepare a list of questions to ask that person, even if you’re meeting so you can ask for a favor.

While you don’t need to tell someone that you stalked him or her online, coming in with questions and an understanding of who you’re talking to is crucial for building and maintaining the professional relationship.

5. You Aren’t Appreciative When Someone Helps You Out

There’s nothing more exasperating than doing someone a solid and not even getting a “Thanks so much for your help!” email. A surefire way to make sure someone never responds to your networking emails again is to not show gratitude.

What to Do Instead

Luckily, this is a very easy mistake to fix. Whenever someone does you a favor, send them a genuine and specific thank-you note immediately, and offer your help.

What can this look like? Here’s a quick template:

Hi [name],

Thank you so, so much again for [what person did for you]. I can’t tell you how much it helped me [ask]. I ended up [what was the result of this person’s help].

Thanks so much again, and if you ever need anything, you know where to find me!

Best,

[Your name]

Here what this looks like in practice:

Hi Julie.

Thank you so, so much again for connecting me to John at Google. I can’t tell you how much it helped to talk to a product manager about his role there and the steps he took right after college to get into the field. I ended up meeting him for coffee today, and he was kind enough to walk me through the specifics of applying to product roles. I’m even sending in job applications for several positions tonight.

Thanks so much again, and if you ever need anything, you know where to find me!

Best,

Lily

Boom, gratitude.

The good news is, all of these mistakes can be corrected starting right now. Be thoughtful about your contacts and what you ask of them, show gratitude and get ready to build that impressive network you always dreamed of.