The Most Common Professional Networking Mistake

The internet is great, but personal contact is even better

Colleagues having informal meeting over coffee
••• PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier / Getty Images

Professional networking is one of the most powerful tools that job seekers have at their disposal. Almost everyone has a lot of connections on LinkedIn and friends on Facebook, so you'd think that it would be easier than ever to land a job via networking. It's actually harder than it seems, however.

The accessibility of contacts on social media can lead to overusing those resources. It's so easy to connect that it can be tempting to ask anyone for help. But job seekers who aren't networking correctly often waste time connecting with the wrong people, those who aren't willing or able to help.

Requesting a job referral from someone you barely know isn't fair to you, to the potential employer, or to the individual you're asking. Your references should be sure that you're well qualified for the job.

The Biggest Networking Mistake

Job seekers often rely on online networking, and these networking contacts might have little or no exposure to those who are asking them for help. The biggest mistake job seekers typically make is relying on email, LinkedIn messages, or second-hand referrals to conduct their networking campaign.

Up your networking efforts a notch or two. Networking in person works better.

Take Networking to the Next Level

Networking is work. It's a lot more than simply sending a LinkedIn message or a request for an introduction. Most people need to feel comfortable with a prospective candidate to be fully motivated to make a strong referral and put their reputation on the line.

Your resume and LinkedIn profile should be in order, of course, but you should have other factors in place as well.

The ultimate goal with your networking targets should be direct contact, preferably in person. It's much easier to refer someone you've actually met or have spoken with on the phone than it is someone who has simply sent a LinkedIn request for an introduction.

Networking is called networking for a reason—it involves several intermeshing parts and people. Move on to someone new after an appropriate interval at social events, allowing your "target" to do the same. People are there to mingle. You could make a poor impression if you interfere with that.

Set Up a Meeting

The best approach is to try to arrange a face-to-face informational consultation or informational interview when it's geographically possible.

You might be surprised at how easy it is to set up a meeting if you're upfront about 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 feeling obligated to recommend you.

Set up an informational consultation with your contact in the workplace if it's feasible. You might actually get some introductions to other colleagues, managers, or human resources staff while you're 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 for Coffee

Invite the person for a cup of coffee if a workplace meeting isn't an option. One job seeker landed a position by simply asking people she connected with on LinkedIn if they could meet up for a few minutes over coffee to share their advice.

Everyone she asked said yes. Many were willing to refer her to someone else who might be able to help her even if they couldn't help her directly.

Bring a Business Card

Have a business card with you at all times. It should include all your contact information, including the URL of your LinkedIn profile. Be ready to share it with the contacts you meet. Make it 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 success. Remember to offer any assistance you might be able to provide before you leave your meeting. The more you help others, the more likely they'll be to help you. And don't forget that thank-you note!