Networking events can be a minefield of potential mistakes. To help you navigate, we’ve gathered thirteen pieces of advice from top professionals, including CEOs and partners, on what to avoid. From avoiding spreading yourself too thin to not overstaying with new connections, this article is your guide to successful networking.
- Avoid Spreading Yourself Too Thin
- Beware the “Transaction Fallacy”
- Listen More, Talk Less
- Avoid the “Salesperson Fangs”
- Don’t Cling to Known Associates
- Set a Clear Networking Goal
- Avoid Over-Investing in Connections
- Prepare an Elevator Pitch
- Don’t Target Specific Contacts
- Record Your New Contacts
- Respect Your Current Employer
- Don’t Ask for Jobs On-Spot
- Don’t Overstay with New Connections
Avoid Spreading Yourself Too Thin
I often see a common mistake at networking events. People spread themselves too thin. Some industry parties or corporate expos might welcome a thousand people—trying to meet everyone is a fool’s game.
Instead, look into the guest list before going, and make a prioritized shortlist of only a dozen people you’d like to link up with. Brush up on their work history and upcoming projects so you’ll be able to speak with ease once you meet them.
It’s far better to make even one or two solid connections than many half-hearted meet-and-greets.
Beware the “Transaction Fallacy”
With over two decades in the digital agency business, I’ve attended my fair share of networking events. One mistake that professionals often overlook is what I’d call the “Transaction Fallacy”—approaching networking as a transaction where you’re trying to “get something” out of the interaction immediately.
Networking is about building relationships, not instant gratification. Trying to close a deal within the first conversation appears pushy and insincere. The key to networking is developing genuine relationships that have the potential to be mutually beneficial in the long term.
Consider networking as a form of social investment. When you engage with people without an overt agenda, you create an environment of trust and authenticity. This fosters stronger connections more likely to yield fruitful collaborations or opportunities. Forget the immediate gain and focus on planting seeds for future growth; the harvest will come when you least expect it.
Listen More, Talk Less
A common networking mistake I often see is people talking excessively about themselves and not actively listening to others. While many attend networking events to promote themselves or their business, my approach is different. I go to these events to learn about others, considering how they might fit into my network or become potential collaborators.
By adopting this mindset, I find that people are more willing to open up about themselves and their businesses. As a result, I gain valuable insights and create stronger connections than when I’ve focused solely on promoting my own business.
Avoid the “Salesperson Fangs”
The absolute biggest networking mistake is what I call “salesperson fangs.” This happens when the moment someone expresses any interest in the person, they sink their fangs in like a snake. In most cases, the person being attacked was just trying to be kind and is punished for it.
Remember, networking is like dating. The more questions you ask of the other person and the more you get them to talk, the more they will like you. The goal in networking is to expand your network (thus the name). The goal isn’t to sell to (or accost) the people in the room.
Your network will expand if you are genuinely interested in helping the people that you meet. Be interested in them and help them get what they are looking for. If you do that, you’ll become a center of influence in any room that you network in.
Don’t Cling to Known Associates
When attending networking events, it’s easy to go with a friend or colleague. Perhaps it’s a natural inclination to want them to come along. Or it might be a way to take some of the pressure off attending if one is not as comfortable with events where they do not know many people.
However, attending with someone you know can potentially be a mistake if you wind up spending most of the event with that person. Instead of meeting new people and striking up conversations with different attendees, you spend more time than you should with the person you already know.
When we go alone, sure, it might be very intimidating and nerve-racking, but it will push us to engage in conversation with new people and strengthen our networking skills. The only way to build that confidence and comfort level in attending networking events is by pushing out of the comfort zone and going alone. Most people are actually in the same boat and are happy to strike up conversations to meet new people.
Lindsey Garito, Director, People and Culture
Set a Clear Networking Goal
I believe the first step to making your networking efforts a success is defining what you would like to achieve.
Would you like to meet potential employers or recruiters? Do you wish to increase your clientele? Or are there specific people you would like to meet, such as professionals from a particular industry? Answering these questions will help you make the most of any networking event instead of wasting your time or awkwardly hanging out alone in a corner.
Setting a goal will also help you determine the best ways to prepare, such as making business cards, and preparing an elevator pitch to introduce yourself or your business memorably. It’s disappointing to see high-potential professionals badly review networking events just because they didn’t attend with a specific goal in mind.
Anjela Mangrum, President, Mangrum Career Solutions
Avoid Over-Investing in Connections
I’ve learned from experience that it’s important not to over-invest in people when networking. While building connections is essential, I’ve found that striking a balance is crucial.
Over-committing my time and energy to a single person or connection can lead to missed opportunities elsewhere. Setting unrealistic expectations or putting too much pressure on one connection can also be counterproductive. It’s essential to diversify my network, set clear boundaries, and manage my time effectively.
Networking is about cultivating a wide range of connections, and by avoiding the trap of over-investment, I can ensure that I make the most of these opportunities while also nurturing valuable existing relationships.
Kimberley Tyler-Smith, VP of Strategy and Growth, Resume Worded
Prepare an Elevator Pitch
It might seem okay to go impromptu, but preparing an elevator pitch is always a better idea. An elevator pitch, or a 30-second introduction about yourself and your business, can be a great way to get the conversation started. Ensure you have thought through what you want to say beforehand to confidently deliver it and make an excellent first impression.
Another mistake to avoid is getting too focused on creating a sale or pitching your business. I’d say that the best way to turn people off is to push your products and services hard. Networking events are about building relationships, so focus on having meaningful conversations and connecting with the people you meet. New relationships, including professional ones, are built on a solid foundation. Make sure you build rapport before you launch into a sales pitch.
Don’t Target Specific Contacts
One of the more harmful mistakes to make at networking events is to create a hit-list of contacts and then avoid everyone else.
By far, the most important networking moments of my life occurred spontaneously and organically; they didn’t involve me seeking them out.
Naturally, high-profile contacts tend to be highly sought after during networking events, and they are unlikely to pay proper attention to you, harming your chances of establishing contact. However, when making the rounds, you tend to bump into the perfect connection, and it feels far more genuine when it occurs organically. Conversely, when trying to target specific people, it always feels forced and agenda-driven, which makes people feel uneasy and on guard.
Instead, just take your time and be open to speaking with whoever comes your way. Not only does this help you to meet more people, but it also makes those connections seem more genuine.
Record Your New Contacts
A common mistake to avoid at a networking event is assuming you’re going to remember everyone you meet. The reason this is a mistake is that it can cause a lot of missed opportunities.
I remember one of the first networking events that I ever went to. I met a lot of new people, some of whom were great potential partners for the company I was working for at the time. However, I failed to take any record of who I’d met, how to contact them, etc. While I could remember a few standout individuals, something you’ll learn is that some of the best partnerships come from the people you don’t expect, and forgetting who you’ve met can be a big mistake.
So, next time you go to a networking event, make sure you keep a record of who you’ve met. I guarantee you it’ll be more than you remember. And chances are, you’ll get some great partnerships or collaborations out of it.
Respect Your Current Employer
It’s essential to remember that you aren’t just representing yourself at a networking event—you’re also representing your employer.
An unfortunate incident occurred last year where one of our marketing leads and I were at a networking event together. He apparently complained to someone there about his current job and was openly angling to jump ship. This got around to me by the end of the day, and he definitely got his opportunity to jump ship.
It’s no secret that networking events are a great chance to explore other job opportunities—just use a little tact and patience in when and how you act on those opportunities, and don’t publicly speak ill of your current employer, especially when they’re in the room.
Don’t Ask for Jobs On-Spot
Asking for a job on the spot is something I don’t recommend at a networking event. It can make you look desperate, and it’s really not a great opportunity for that.
When at a networking event, you should be focusing on talking to as many professionals as possible and simply getting your name out there. You want to make a good first impression and give them your information so they can contact you if need be.
Simply getting to know people is key, and making notes in your phone about them is helpful. Then, when you contact them about a possible job opportunity in the future, you can refer back to these notes to make a connection.
Don’t Overstay with New Connections
It’s important not to hang on too tightly to those you click with. It’s important to recognize that everyone is at the networking event for the same reason: meeting people. If you’ve given another person enough information to understand your story and how to reach out, the important connecting will be accomplished in a future (usually one-on-one) meeting.