Networking events are priceless opportunities to establish real connections with people who understand what you do and where you want to go in your career. But sometimes these encounters can feel oddly transactional and uncomfortably rigid.
If you want to be the most professional and genuine version of yourself at your next conference or business mixer, start by selecting events that feel right to you. Consider which networking environments have been vetted by your peers and provide atmospheres that are conducive to achieving your goals. Then, visualize the impression you’re hoping to make before, during and after your first hello.
Before you can put your best foot forward, you need to understand what not to do. Here are 10 networking fails you should avoid at all costs.
1. Forgetting to Prepare
Are you attending an event to meet one particular person? Do you want to learn what it might be like to work for one particular company, join a professional association or volunteer for a worthwhile cause? Doing your research before you arrive will help you make the best use of your time.
Write down the questions you’re hoping to ask or the things you’re hoping to learn, keeping in mind that it’s best to be flexible based on the tone and flow of the conversations you have. Review the items on your list before the event so you don’t feel tied to a notepad and can be free to shake hands and make eye contact.
2. Asking for a Job Right Away
No one likes to feel used. That is especially true for supervisors, executives and other leaders whose days are regularly comprised of back-to-back requests and complaints. Too often, professionals want to jump the gun and ask about open positions and growth opportunities before really taking the time to become acquainted with someone new.
With limited exceptions, networking mixers are not intended to be job fairs. Being out of work or unhappy in a current role is often anxiety-inducing, which could make it hard to contain your ambition. However, this type of restraint will show potential employers and colleagues that you are confident and know how to successfully navigate your job hunt.
3. Exaggerating or Fabricating the Truth
It’s really difficult to get away with lying about your skills, contacts or previous experiences. Not only could a quick online search expose your dishonesty, but you also might end up with an assignment that you are incapable of doing well. For a safety professional, that could mean putting others in serious danger.
Don’t let any perceptions of your own inexperience get in the way of having fun and being honest at a networking event. Remember that everyone attends conferences, receptions and other career-oriented events to learn and improve. Plus, having the courage to admit what you don’t know – and asking lots of questions – gives others the opportunity to share their expertise.
4. Sticking With One Person Too Long
In a room full of strangers, finding someone with whom you can feel comfortable is a huge relief. When a conversation is going well, and you’re benefiting from another person’s positive energy and small talk mastery, it might feel counterintuitive or even rude to walk away. But at professional mixers, it’s important to remember that you and your new contact are both there to expand your horizons.
Push yourself to connect with at least two people for every half hour you are networking. A great way to achieve this without micromanaging your own time is to participate in conversations that include three or four other safety pros.
5. Leaving Your Business Cards at Home
Physical business cards are still very important in our digital world. If you have cards from your company with information about how to reach you at your workplace, bring at least 25 of them with you to each networking event. If you are a consultant or freelancer, create your own business cards with your contact information, website and a short description of the services you offer.
Keep them in your wallet or another small container where they will not be exposed to ink, food or the old tube of lip balm at the bottom of your bag. That way, your lasting impression will be as polished as you are.
6. Adding an Unprofessional Name to Your Address Book
Most people use their own private shorthand for remembering individuals they’ve met. These systems are most commonly used in relationships of close familiarity or very casual acquaintance. For instance, you probably have someone in your phone’s address book that you call “Joe from Gym,” “Deidre Recruiter Red Hair” or “Paul the Worst Do Not Answer.”
There’s nothing wrong with having some fun, until it gets in the way of building professional relationships. At networking events, it’s always better to ask for someone’s card or last name than to put them incorrectly in your phone and have your caller ID embarrass or insult them later.
7. Drinking Too Much
Having more than one or two alcoholic drinks at a networking function is never a good look. But as a safety professional, you can expect to be held to an even higher standard when it comes to your fitness as a driver, subject-matter expert and conversation partner. Would you hire a safety pro who left an event tipsy and got behind the wheel? Would you want to follow up with a person who slurred their words or said things that didn’t adhere to professional norms?
If you’re shy or uncomfortable in new social situations, it can be tempting to use alcohol to dull your inhibitions. Instead, think about some other strategies you can use to cope with your anxiety in advance of your mixer. Exercise, meditation and even practicing potential conversations could be more effective. And no matter how much you think you might drink, plan for someone else to get you home.
8. Acting Too Cool for School
Industry functions are typically open to people at many different stages of their careers. This is often a purposeful effort to expose emerging professionals to people who are more experienced and to give experienced people the pleasure of advising and mentoring the next generation. In an ideal networking situation, you will find people who know more and less than you about topics relevant to your day-to-day activities.
Because this dynamic is critical for a successful event, you don’t want to be the person who monopolizes the time of high-ranking influencers in the room. This behavior will make others question your generosity and will limit your own growth. You might be surprised at what even the most seasoned safety experts can learn from entry-level pros.
9. Getting Too Personal
Some interactions between people live in the gray area between the personal and the professional. Colleagues might enjoy going out for lunch and talking about movies, for example, or business contacts might get their families together from time to time. But the rules of networking are clear: There is no room for sharing intimate personal details, and there is no room for romance.
If your spouse or partner is not a safety professional, they should probably stay at home. If your significant other is part of your profession and wants to attend an event with you, your relationship should be on pause for its duration. If you’re single, you should never use someone’s presence at a networking function to initiate a non-collegial interaction.
10. Following Up at the Wrong Time
The easiest way to lose track of a new contact after a networking event is to neglect to follow up and thank them for their time. It’s a simple thing to do, and it can yield significant results as you continue building your professional connection. Just as sending no follow-up can damage your credibility, an incorrectly timed follow-up can make you seem inconsiderate or careless.
It’s best to send a thank you note or email soon after your event so the recipient will remember you. However, waiting until after a busy conference, long trip home or period of jet lag will make you seem all the more thoughtful and keep your message from falling to the bottom of the mailbox. Keep your correspondence brief, friendly and clear about any next steps you previously discussed. Your contact will likely appreciate your initiative and recall your interaction with a smile.
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