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Thirteen Networking No-nos For Job Seekers

I enjoyed reading this Eva Tahmincioglu article about networking no-nos.

The article mentions good tips for staying professional while networking, handling situational interviews, using social media and basic things like thanking the person with whom you're networking.

I've been thinking about my own networking experiences over the years, and I have a few to add to the list. Here are my thirteen tips for maximizing your networking efforts:

1. Know what you want before you start. You're having coffee with your networking contact. The problem is, you're expecting him or her to tell you what you should do with your life because you have no clue. The other person isn't Mom or Dad; he or she is a busy professional who expects you to show up with targeted questions. Know generally what industry you'd like to inhabit (nursing, merchandising, etc.) before you start networking. Sorting yourself out a little bit will save everyone's time.

2. Meet in the middle. If your networking contact suggests lunch or coffee and wants you to select the meeting place, aim for a professional, comfortable, easily accessible (for the contact) setting. Don't suggest your favorite beer and wings pub that plays the loud '80s hair band music. Follow this old saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Only replace "dress" with "Lunch." Don't suggest a five-star restaurant but don't suggest a total dive, either. What you suggest will leave an impression.

3. Pay for it. If you're meeting a networking contact for lunch or coffee, offer to pay for their meal or drink. The person may politely refuse but at least you've offered to pay. It's a nice touch on your part. Remember, he or she is giving you something invaluable: time, knowledge and professional contacts. If money is tight, suggest meeting for coffee.

4. Don't be an ageist. If you're under age 30, never talk about how you worked for an "older guy" who "just doesn't get it" about technology or processes or whatever. Likewise, never tell your networking contact he or she looks younger that you were expecting or that he or she "looks good for your age." Sure, the person with whom you're networking could be entering the Just For Men Brush-in Color Gel/Nice 'n Easy Gray Solution hair coloring stage of life, but no one wants to feel like a dinosaur waiting for the giant meteor to hit. Just don't go there, okay? We Gen Xers will thank you.

5. Don't be an email snob. Another tip for Gen Y: Never, ever email someone and weeks later tell them that you only check your email once a month. I've run into this problem with 20-somethings. Hey, you may live on IM and Facebook, but the Gen X or Baby Boomer networking contact you're hitting up still relies heavily on email because (1) it's what they're used to; and (2) it creates a paper trail for management that Facebook and Twitter cannot match. You need to bring your game to where your networking contacts play, and Gen X and Boomer professionals still play primarily on email. Set up a Gmail account and get in the habit of checking it every day. It's easy guys, really!

6. Work on their schedule. Chances are, your networking contact is a very busy person. Think about it this way: if he or she wasn't extremely busy working, would you be bothering him or her? Probably not. Realize the person may not be able to meet with you until next week or even next month. Don't suggest meeting tomorrow. Instead, ask him or her what works best on their schedule and offer up some days and time frames that work best for you. Let your networking contact define the boundaries by asking, "I'm wondering if you have a few minutes to meet with me?" and letting him or her suggest 15/30/45/60 minutes. Remember, you're asking for their time and they don't have to give it to you. Never forget that.

7. Don't make people feel like a stepping stone. Sometimes networking is about meeting with someone who can put you in touch with even bigger fish in the sea. But don't make your networking contact feel like a mere stepping stone, a boring formality to be endured over coffee. People can sense when you're looking right past them to the next conquest. Show the person respect, listen closely to what is being said and thank them for making the time to meet with you. A good rule of thumb is to thank them three times -- e.g., at the start of the meeting, again in the middle of the conversation ("thanks again so much for your time, I really appreciate this!") and at the end of the meeting. Value everyone who meets with you. Put your smartphone away and give the person your full attention. If you do, you're more likely to have doors opened to you. Plus, it's just the nice, polite thing to do.

8. Learn about the person. How did your networking contact end up in this particular career? What drew them to this kind of work? What do they like about it, and what aspects of it can be challenging? What have they learned about the industry? Take an interest in how he or she got to where he or she is in life. Some networking contacts might not lend themselves easily to questions -- you have to get a feel for the person -- but you'll be amazed how most people respond positively when asked to recall "the good old days." Chances are, you'll learn quite a bit, too!

9. Do some research. In the age of Google, there's simply no excuse for not doing a bit of research ahead of time. Read the person's online bio. Know where he or she went to school, what degrees he or she holds, and so on. Know some vitals on the company, too: When it was founded, how many employees it has, the product lines it sells. Go to Google News and look up recent articles about the company. Failing to do any research makes you look lazy. And who wants to hire a lazy employee?

10. Remind them who you are. Who hasn't gotten an email from someone who sounds vaguely familiar and you're left searching the web, your email database and your recollection trying to figure out who they are, exactly? If it's been a few years since you've been in touch with someone you'd like to tap now for networking purposes, don't assume they'll remember you. I know it hurts the ego, but business moves at lightening speed and some people have terrible memories. Keep your first message short by briefly re-introducing yourself. Mention your past relationship to them (former employee, former student, etc.); what you've accomplished since you last saw them (I got a MBA, went to law school, was in the Peace Corps...); why you're contacting them now (to network, of course!); and your contact information. Keep it to twelve sentences max. Brevity is important.

11. Don't be a whiner. Don't hit someone up for a future opening at their company but reveal a distaste for the type of work that would be required on the job. Don't talk about how the job would interrupt your career advancement or your personal hobbies. Suck it up and show you're eager to do the work. Enter a "no complaining" zone when you network because no one likes a whiner.

12. Set parameters. Ask your networking contact if you may follow up in three months (or some other time frame) about the status of job openings, and so forth. Don't bother them in the meantime except to say thank you (see next tip). Then contact them when the time comes. They'll appreciate being left alone in the interim, and they'll notice also that you're patient and can stick to your word -- both of which are very desirable qualities in a new hire.

13. Send a thank-you card. Not an email, but an old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you card. It's amazing how few people send formal thank-you cards these days, and you'll automatically stand out if you do. Target and Walmart sell packs of blank thank-you notes. Buy some. Stop by the post office to get a pack of stamps, too. Keep both handy at home. Send the card within 24 hours. Sure, it takes a few minutes to put the note together but you want to put your best foot forward, don't you? If you're like me, finding the stamp is more than half the battle.

Networking is hard work, but it can really pay off if you use common sense, have a bit of humility and take a genuine interest in the people you meet along the way. Good luck!

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