Networking is an essential tool used to get to know professionals in a given field and to possibly get a job. Networking can also help you get involved in professional organizations or help you find a mentor.
"Networking is the key to building new contacts and resources. You may be standing next to someone who can hire you for the next job, provide insight into a tricky problem you're struggling with or even become a mentor, but if you don't start talking, you'll never realize it," said Margaret DeMarino, a corporate trainer who specializes in communications and teaches a networking class called "Work That Room."
Many articles extol what to do while networking-but what are some of the things you should absolutely, positively never do? ADVANCE spoke with some networking experts to help you steer clear of networking faux pas.
Before You Network
First and foremost, how can you effectively network if you don't show up to networking events? Not getting involved can obviously hurt you right off the bat. If you join some kind of networking group, make sure you attend.
"I've seen people thrown out of groups if they aren't reciprocating in some way after 3-6 months," mentioned Ron Gold, president, Marketing Works, East Setauket, NY.
Also, if you are a smoker, remember not to light up right before an event. "You are still a fire-breathing dragon long after you think," said Raeus Jae Cannon, CEO, Referral Exchange Organization, Knoxville, TN.
Additionally, remember to do a hygiene check and dress professionally before going to a networking event. "Dress for a professional event like you are going on a job interview, unless it's a casual event, such as a golf tournament or a barbecue," DeMarino said.
And don't get there late. You may make some of your most important connections before many of the other attendees even show up. "Think about who might be attending that you might want to meet with, and always get there early," Gold advised. "I find there are always a few people there beforehand and it puts you in an advantageous spot to start early."
At business functions, people tend to cluster with those they already know. But the point of networking is to get out there and connect with new people. "They feel there is safety in numbers, but their 'safety net' actually becomes a trap," DeMarino explained.
"For example, I recently did a workshop on networking for female bankers, and I was struck with how many people just stuck with people from the same bank or with people they already knew," she continued. "The first thing I did was get them up and moving and talking to people they didn't know. The energy in the room became kinetic. A good networking rule is to try to meet at least five new people at every gathering."
Cannon said sitting down at networking events is a bad idea. "Get up, move around! The more you move, the better vantage point you have as the crowd moves. Each new area you visit opens up new possibilities," she advised. "Sitting sends the message you're not interested in meeting new people and are possibly waiting for someone."
While talking to people, don't make any touchy jokes or comments. "People are easily offended these days-you don't want to start a relationship off with an off-color comment before it even begins," Cannon mentioned. "Networking may look and feel like you're at a cocktail party, but you're not. You can have some fun while keeping a professional demeanor."
Don't forget the names of the people you meet. DeMarino suggested using the repeater method to learn names at networking events. Remember to say the person's name several times in your mind after she tells you it, and then use it once or twice within the first few minutes of conversation.
Additionally, Cannon said not to talk on your cell phone or text during a networking event. It's best to leave your phone in the car. "If you're spending time on your phone or Blackberry, then you're sending the message you're not interested in meeting new people," she noted.
Eating and Drinking
A lot of networking events have (often free) food and drink, and as much as that tray of cookies or sandwiches looks appetizing, remember to think before you devour.
"Don't spend your time hanging out at the refreshment table," DeMarino advised. "It's hard to network when you're juggling a forkful in one hand and a drink in the other."
Also, if there are alcoholic beverages, remember moderation is key. You are trying to make an impression on people you don't know-not attempting to win a chugging contest.
"One or two drinks are fine, but you're reputation will proceed you if you are seen as a little tipsy," Cannon said. "The tongues will wag and not the way you'd like."
The Business Card Shuffle
Come to a networking event with a business card, even if it's one you have to make yourself. You want to give others something with all of your information on it. Remember to start off with all of your business cards in your right-hand pocket (if you are right-handed), Cannon said. Then keep the cards you've collected in your left-hand pocket. This way you won't accidentally give out someone else's card.
One "don't" many networking experts stress is not to "hit and run," as Cannon puts it. Don't go up to a new person, dump off your business card and not take the time to learn about the other person and how you can potentially help him. "People are more prone to help you if you are helpful yourself," DeMarino said. "Don't forget networking is a two-way street."
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