Wheeler del Torro is a celebrity chef and serial entrepreneur. He is the founder and lead educator of The Rittenhouse Square Group, a think tank that teaches networking and other vital social skills to undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students to help maximize their investment in higher education.
No matter what industry or job you are in, you will eventually discover how important it is to build a network of people around you.
These support systems determine how much growth an individual achieves. Because of the advantages an individual gets by having one, we know for a fact how fundamental networking is to personal development.
The truth is, people network for a number of reasons —from finding work to forming relationships to gaining support. Whatever angle you would like to come at it, one thing remains true: networking is about fostering deep human connections. When people relate with each other, there is an unspoken code of conduct that should be followed. Nurturing networks requires deliberate action, so it pays to think about it keenly. Here are the top five networking mistakes you may not know you’re making, and how to fix them.
1. Stating your agenda too soon.
People network because they want something. Your goal is probably to get a job, land a business deal that favors the handicapped, or get a referral for a specific venture in which you’re engaged.
To avoid appearing greedy and inconsiderate, never ask for what you need right at the onset. When you network, remember that you are dealing with people who are there for the same purpose as you. It is important to listen for and consider how you can help to meet their needs so that you can build meaningful relationships with them.
How to fix this:
If you want to nurse one disappointment after another, focus on what you want to gain from others. But if you want to succeed in building a powerful network, focus first on being of service to other people.
Everyone has something to offer, either materially or intellectually. Take it upon yourself to find out what you can share with others for their benefit, and vice versa. Cultivating a giving heart is the only sure way to establish beneficial relations.
Pretty soon, you will also find someone who will be committed to fulfilling your needs. Remember to appreciate the help of others because they are not obligated to offer you anything, even if they can.
2. Assuming that people care about your success.
It is not the responsibility of your parents, your professors, or your employer to ensure that you are on a trajectory to success. That responsibility is all your own. As such, it is important that you take the time to clearly plan out what you would like to accomplish and whose help you’d like to solicit along the way. While people cannot be expected to proactively advocate for your success, people are almost always willing to help out when presented with a specific request.
How to fix this:
Networking is about benefiting from each other. If members of your network no longer find use in being there, they drift away. If you want people to pay attention to your needs, then that’s exactly what you need to be doing for them. How do you do this? Concern is the strongest gesture of human relationships. Everyone appreciates being asked how he or she is doing. This is important to do for a couple of reasons. First, being in a network is all about looking out for each other. In fact, you probably understand each other’s struggles better than most people not in your line of work. In addition, if you care about the needs of others, they will often feel more inclined to return the favor. But someone needs to initiate the spirit of benevolence.
If you need help from an individual, try to know his or her life well. What does he or she like? What investments does he or she prefer? What kind of personality does he or she have? Imagine how embarrassing it is to seek financial help from someone who has just been declared bankrupt over local news (and you were completely oblivious to it)! An interaction like that would communicate that you only care about their financial muscle and what it can do for you. If the same interaction began by you expressing your sympathy and offering to connect that person to your contacts for business deals, they would find you to be an asset instead.
3. Going for quantity rather than quality.
There is nothing wrong with having a large number of friends and acquaintances. However, there is also little meaning in randomly handing out your business card to everyone within arm’s distance. A Time article puts it simply: “Networking needs to be about relationship building, not card collecting. It’s not and will never be just a numbers game.” (1) It’s true that there are opportunities everywhere and, the more people you know, the higher your chances of getting help. However, do not fall into the trap of relying solely on social media to nurture your relationships, even if you can have an unlimited number of followers there. The nature of social media encourages people to post mass updates about their life, but it is not as personal as catching up over coffee and having a real conversation face-to-face.
How to fix this:
Taking the shotgun approach rarely works for successful networking. Remember that you, just like everyone else, have a limited number of hours in a day. Business Insider posits that, “your mantra when networking should be ‘quality, not quantity’. The goal of networking is to forge meaningful relationships with select individuals — not to have superficial interactions with as many people as possible. (2)
Even if you wanted to, it is close to impossible to foster meaningful interactions with a huge number of people at the same time. Instead, think about the networks you want to build. Who are the types of people that can help you? How can they help? Then, find where these people are and spend your time meeting and building relationships with them.
4. Refusing to ask for help.
If we can accept help from apps and strangers, why do we struggle to accept help from our friends and family? It is most often about the fear of rejection or embarrassment, but the fact of the matter is that very few people who are asked for help will say no, particularly if they have the ability to help better another person’s circumstances. Unfortunately, most people who need help do not like to put their struggles out there for the world to see, so they tend to keep their problems to themselves.
How to fix this:
Be humble. Everyone has struggles. The difference is, the people who are successful are honest about their struggles and are unashamed to ask for help.
Be specific and strategic. In a piece on The Wall Street Journal, Market Watch reporter Ruth Mantell expands on this idea, “Networking requires strategy, research and social grace…. Tell network contacts about specific ambitions for your career or professional growth so they know how to support you.” (3) If you are trying to access benefits in a certain organization, ask people in your network if they know someone there who can assist you. If you are looking for a job in your dream organization, find out who you know on the inside and see if they have any tips on how to be a good job candidate.
Be attuned to technology. A lot of things today depend on what is happening on social forums. Stay in the loop about current trends, both in pop-culture and in your industry. In addition, new applications are continually being developed that allow people who cannot see to type, comprehend text, and even drive. Build yourself up to the challenge of asking people for help to use these programs. You can ask those who are already using them, or companies that develop them. Keep in mind that it would be awkward to ask help from someone if you have not spoken for a long time, so proceed only after you have taken time to catch up. Otherwise you will appear to be an opportunist.
5. Not knowing how to use your strengths.
We are often encouraged to reach for our dreams. Some get their big break by chance; most of us have to use our network as a stepping-stone to the top.
The reality of life is that people interact with each other because of the calculated benefit they assume they will receive from each other. Unfortunately, people who have not historically interacted with people with disabilities do not realize that they, too, have assets that can benefit the people in their network.
How to fix this:
It is important to first understand your unique abilities and the type of people who would benefit from being in your network. If you are unsure of your skills, reflect on your strengths in your current and in past jobs. Ask your friends and former teachers and supervisors. Come up with a list with which you feel comfortable, and then listen for a need for any of these talents when you are networking with new people.
Indeed, there are a lot of opportunities for individuals to improve their lives today than there were several years ago. Know your goals and how you intend to fulfill them, and then analyze the resources that you already have. It will only make sense to be in a network if you stand to gain more than what you can achieve on your own.
In order to prepare for any networking opportunity, be ready to socialize with your contacts. The worst experience you could have is to leave a meeting without establishing a personal connection with the people there. You can start by brushing up on current affairs and industry news that cuts across all sectors of the economy. Or, read up on sports and pop-culture. A well-rounded individual will have an easier time in starting a conversation, keeping it going, and showcasing their interests and expertise. This will create the possibility to find common ground with the person to whom you are speaking.
Remember, effective networking is all about being authentic. Whenever you feel intimidated, just keep this simple networking rule in mind from Fortune magazine: “Relax, have fun and don’t try to foster relationships that aren’t natural.” (3)
(1) White, M.C. (2015). “5 Networking Mistakes That Keep You from Getting Ahead”.Time Magazine. http://time.com/3762517/5-networking-mistakes-that-keep-you-from-getting-ahead/
(2) Mantell, R. (2012). “Networking Mistakes We Often Make”. The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303448404577408054120961574
(3) Kriz, S. (2015). “5 Common Networking Mistakes You’re Making”. Fortune.http://fortune.com/2015/08/05/scott-kriz-networking-tips/
Join Del Torro and his team on Wednesday, October 5th from 5:00-6:30pm for Within Reach Networking Workshop. RSVP on NYU CareerNet.