Career Strategies Feb 10 2011

Seven Networking Event No-Nos

By kelly eggers

Related: Networking with Family and Friends | Networking With Industry Associations

Large-scale job-search networking events can help you bolster your rolodex and make connections that can land you a job.

Coming across as both professional and engaging to those new contacts, however, isn't as simple as it may seem.

"It takes about 200 times the information to undo a first impression than it takes to make one," says Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, and president of D.C.-based Only Connect Consulting, a career consulting firm.

It might seem like a lot of pressure but remembering the things you shouldn't do will help make networking a bit easier. Here are seven of networking's biggest no-no's:

1. Don't Arrive Late

To make things easier on yourself, time your arrival so you can maximize the interactions you're most interested in having.

"Especially for people who typically shy away from networking, the inclination is to arrive on the later side," says Zack. "The opposite is a much better strategy: Being the first person there, it's calmer, laid back, and people haven't yet settled into groups. You won't feel like there's no one to talk to."

2. Don't Just Stand There

This is not the time to wait around for people to approach you. You need to work the room -- even if you're on the shy side. There are ways for anyone to step outside of your comfort zone and avoid awkwardness.

Start off by asking questions, says Zack. And don't worry about impressing who you're speaking with -- just act naturally.

"Many people think they're bad at networking," says Zack, "But when you work with rather than fighting against your natural communication style, what were liabilities become your greatest strengths."

3. Don't Feel Like You Need to Talk to Everyone.

When looking for a job, you might enter a networking event with a "more the merrier" mentality. However, it might be advantageous to take a "less is more" stance, instead.

"It's better to meet fewer people and create a deeper, lasting connection than simply talking to everyone in the room," says Zack.

Instead of going to a networking event and grabbing 40 business cards in two hours, speak with fewer people for a longer period of time. Give each person you talk to at least five minutes to get to know you -- and you them -- before you move on, Zack advises.

This way, you'll leave networking events energized by new, true connections rather than overwhelmed and tired from meeting too many people.

4. Don't Come Unprepared

Most hosts of networking events publish a list in advance of companies and people attending.

"Find a couple of companies that stand out to you, and look up the hiring trends there over the past three months to see if your skill set matches what they've been looking for," says Frank Dadah, general manager of financial contracts with Winter, Wyman, a Boston-based staffing firm. That will give you a great lead-in in a conversation, and show you came to the event with a purpose.

You should come armed with questions for company reps -- but remember, it's not an interview.

"You want to talk to them about what they're looking for and what's important to them," he says. "The more you can engage them and get them talking about themselves, the more they'll remember you."

5. Don't Read Them Your Resume

Simply having questions for reps isn't sufficient -- once they've told you what kinds of skills they're currently looking for in job applicants, you need to be ready to tell them how your experiences line up with their needs.

"You should know [your resume] inside and out without needing to look," says Dadah. You're trying to maintain a conversation -- and generally, conversations aren't based upon concisely written bullet points.

"Your goal is to land an interview," says Dadah, "and to do that, you need to stand out from the hundred people that just dropped off their resumes."

6. Don't Try to Multi-Task

Within the first few minutes of meeting someone new, you probably don't whip out a notebook to write down what they're saying -- and that should be a rule for networking events, as well. Instead of being distracted by a pen and paper, focus intently on the conversation you're having. After you've grabbed a business card and stepped away, jot down a few things that will help you jog your memory when you follow up with them later.

7. Don't Forget to Follow Up

"If you're not following up, you're not networking," says Zack. "You should stay in touch, without thinking about what you'll get out of the relationship."

Within 48 hours of your first meeting, you should send an e-mailed note that pinpoints the most important parts of your earlier conversation, so they remember who you are specifically. A timely turnaround will show that you're both interested in them and available to continue the conversation.

"Send them a link to a project you discussed, or ask them how the game they were going to that night ended up," advises Zack. "Give them something that is useful to them."

Write to Kelly Eggers

Related: Networking with Family and Friends | Networking With Industry Associations

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