The Most Common Professional Networking Mistake

Colleagues having informal meeting in cafe, cropped
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Professional networking is one of the most powerful tools job seekers can use to find their next job. Because almost everyone has a lot of connections on LinkedIn and friends on Facebook, you would think that it would be easier than ever to land a job via networking.

It's actually harder than it seems, in part because of the accessibility of contacts on social media which can lead to overusing those resources. It's so easy to connect that it can be tempting to ask anyone for help.

It also gives job seekers who aren't networking correctly the opportunity to waste time connecting with the wrong people - those who aren't willing or able to help or don't even know you.

If I get a request for a job referral, for example, from someone I barely know I won't recommend them. It's not fair to them, to the potential employer or to me. I've got to be sure that someone is well qualified for the job before I'd consider recommending them, and I can't refer you unless I know you.

The Biggest Networking Mistake to Avoid

Job seekers often rely on online networking, and networking contacts may have little - or no - exposure to those who are asking them for help. That's the biggest mistake that job seekers typically make - relying on email, LinkedIn messages, or second-hand referrals to conduct their networking campaign. For it to work effectively, you need to up your networking efforts a notch or two. Simply put, networking in person works.​

Take Networking to the Next Level

Networking is work. It's not simply sending a LinkedIn message or a request for an introduction. In order to be fully motivated to make a strong referral (and put their reputation on the line) most people will need to feel comfortable with a prospective candidate. Your resume and LinkedIn profile will need to be in order, of course, but the intangible also needs to be in place. That's the people part.

Most people will have difficulty being genuinely enthusiastic about a candidate based on an email endorsement of a friend or colleague. So, the ultimate goal for your networking targets should be direct contact, preferably in person. It's much easier to refer someone you have met in person or have chatted with on the phone than it is someone who has simply sent, for example, a LinkedIn request for an introduction.​

Set Up a Meeting

The best approach, when it is geographically possible, is to try to arrange a face to face informational consultation or informational interview. You may be surprised at how easy it is to set up a meeting, especially if you emphasize that you are seeking advice and assistance. Having a general conversation first and not asking for a referral too soon, will provide your contact with a way to get to know you better without having to feel obligated to recommend you.

The best option, if feasible, is to set up an informational consultation in the workplace with your contact. That way you may get some introductions to other colleagues, managers or Human Resources staff while you are there. Mentioning that you would benefit from scoping out the work environment is often a convincing way to present the option of meeting at your contact's office.

Meet Up for Coffee

If a workplace meeting isn't an option, invite the person for a cup of coffee. I know one job seeker who got her last job by simply asking people she connected with on LinkedIn if they could meet up with her for a few minutes over coffee to share their advice. Every single person she asked said yes. Even if they couldn't help her directly, they were willing to refer her to someone else who might be able to help.​

Bring a Business Card

Have a business card with all your contact information, including the URL of your LinkedIn profile, ready to share with the contacts you meet with. That way it will be easy for them to get back in touch with you and to refer you to their connections.

Offer Your Help

Networking works both ways and giving to get is one of the most important secrets of networking success. Before you leave your meeting, remember to offer any assistance you might be able to provide. The more you help others, they more likely they will be to help you.