Everyone gets that the power of connecting with people can help us achieve our goals. Unfortunately, the term “networking” sometimes has a bad connotation, being labeled as salesy, slimy, fake, opportunistic or even rude. Some introverts claim they can’t network, and certain cultures cringe at the very idea of it. After over three decades of mentoring, teaching, coaching and writing about networking, I have seen there is one negative constant associated with it: The unbelievable “bad behavior” of networking. Now that I am a professional job search coach and networking is core to my system, I am sounding the alarm about how to avoid networking blunders and bloopers.
Before you say, “I can’t believe people do this,” or “Oh, this is so basic,” read carefully, and challenge your thinking. If these mistakes are so basic, why do they occur daily? We see these basic networking bloopers taking place today by everyone from college graduates through presidential candidates, but they can be easily avoided. Don’t put yourself in that networking blooper reel.
- ‘Let’s Do Lunch’
This is what I call a “plop.” The request to meet is plopped in the middle of the virtual table with hopes that someone will reach in and take some action. Guess what? Nobody does since it’s so vague!
This blooper comes in many different flavors:
- “I’d love to get together for lunch if you have a moment here or there.”
- “You’re the busy one, so tell me when we can meet!”
- “Name the date!”
- “I’d love to connect soon.”
- “Send me your calendar availability.”
If you are the networker (i.e., need something), then you need to take ownership of making something happen. Avoid “let’s” or anything passive. Be clear that you own it and that you will make it happen. Options: “I’ll send a meeting invitation and will call you,” or “Where would you like to meet, and which day next week works for you?” or “I’ll propose three times via email, and will you pick one or recommend another? Then I’ll send the meeting invite so it’s on both our calendars.”
- Being Overly Apologetic
“Oh, I know you are so busy, and I don’t want to bother you, but …” “Whenever you get a chance, can we get together?” “I only need five minutes of your time …” These apologies come across in writing, over the phone or in an office when you knock on someone’s door. Often, the wider the perceived difference in the professional level, the greater the apology (e.g., you’re a low-level employee, and the other person is a director).
The first impression is that you may be insecure or unsure about what you would like to learn or how you need support. Solution: Anchor in your “go-to” opener for a request. “Mr. Jones, I would like to request 15 minutes of your time to ask you two questions regarding my career. May I request that with a meeting invitation?” Remember, nothing takes five minutes; therefore, you need to prepare your questions so that you stay within the time frame you requested.
- Not Having Business Cards
I’m on a board of women in technology, and on the monthly invitations we clearly say, “Bring business cards, and come early to network.” Every month, there are fascinating people who I would like to connect with, yet they don’t have a business card. Several people ask me for my card, so I kindly ask them for theirs. Nine out of 10 have nothing. Oh, the excuses are predictable:
- “I no longer work for my company, so I don’t have any.”
- “My company doesn’t provide business cards at my level.”
- “I ran out.”
- “I forgot them.”
- “I never carry them around — my bad.”
- “I’ll just connect with you on LinkedIn right now, OK?” (No, it’s not OK)
- “My dog ate my homework … you get it.”
No matter what generation you are, what field you are in, your employment status, your passion for technology or desire to save trees, business cards are still a default information exchange tool. They will help you more than you know, both as a giver and a recipient of a business card.
Solution: Invest under $20 in a packet of Avery 8371 or comparable for 250 printable business cards. Download the free template in Microsoft Word, and simply put your name, phone, email address and LinkedIn URL. Done! No more excuses.
Remember, the ball is in your court to follow up, so don’t expect the recipient to do anything. You need to ask for everybody’s business cards. If they don’t have one, ask them to write it on the back of one of yours (since you’ll have plenty and the back will be blank). Within 24 hours, send a personal note with your connection request on LinkedIn, and save the card. An email follow-up note is a great touch.
- Barging Right In
The greatest example of this was on national TV recently. During a presidential candidate debate, it was clear that Senator Warren and Senator Sanders were having a heated conversation. But Tom Steyer had an agenda of his own: He had to shake Senator Sander’s hand. Steyer didn’t read the body language, hung around awkwardly, and then barged right in to grab Senator Sanders’ hand. It didn’t go well.
Recently, I answered my phone, and it was one of my online course clients who needed help. They launched into their need. I could not find a pause, and their question was big and broad: “How do I combat ageism in my job search?” I politely said, “[Name], I’d like you to adopt a new technique for every career-related phone call you make, even if you know the person you’re calling well. The first thing out of your mouth (after identifying yourself) should be: ‘Is this a good time to talk?’” Networkers, learn the difference between being assertive and barging in.
These are just a few networking bloopers to avoid. Stay tuned for future articles exploring more.
This article (part 1 of 3) originally appeared here on Forbes.com.