Before you head to a networking event, be it a large gathering or an informal lunch, take a few minutes to read this article and brush up on your networking etiquette. Here, we cover the main things NOT to do, as well as offer some examples of how best to conduct yourself.
1. Being on your phone
The first thing you should do after arriving at a networking event is put your phone on silent. While turning it off may end up being counterproductive (you may need to put something in your calendar or add a new contact), you also want to minimize the distraction it presents to yourself and others. A ringing cellphone will quickly derail a conversation, and a phone in hand will make starting one to begin with incredibly unlikely. Why go to an in-person networking event just to spend time on your phone?
Next, let’s talk about unpreparedness. While your personality will be the most important thing on display, it’s also important to be prepared to leave the best possible impression. You’ll want to ensure you know and follow the dress code for the event, print out copies of your resume, and have business cards handy if you have them. In general, leave yourself time before the event to prepare anything you may need last minute. This should also prevent you from being late or feeling rushed, which can do more to fuel nervousness than almost anything else. Finally, it can be a good idea to check out the list of companies that are expected to attend the event. Doing a little bit of research can give you the information you need to have more productive, engaged and memorable conversation the next day.
3. Lying (including ‘bending the truth’)
Humans tend to inflate their accomplishments and minimize their shortcomings. While we all do this to some extent, you should try to stay strictly factual when it comes to talking about yourself and your experience. This is true for two main reasons. First, people are usually better at detecting boasts and lies than they let on, so you may come across as untrustworthy or pompous. Next, even if a lie goes undetected, it can eventually come back to bite you later. Imagine you’ve implied years of lab experience in developing neural networks for machine learning, only to be offered an interview for a position that’s out of your depth as a result. Salvaging that conversation would be next to impossible.
4. Prejudging a potential conversational partner as a waste of time
You never know where your next opportunity will come from, and you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Deciding who should get your attention based on appearance, size or prestige of his or her company/organization, or other such factors will probably hurt you in the end. At worst, every conversation is a chance to practice how you present yourself professionally. But, more than likely, you’ll end up with more and better connections – as well as opportunities you may never have considered or even thought possible.
You also never know who else is in a person’s network or what position he or she will occupy in the future. Particularly because word travels, in business and life in general, it’s almost always the most prudent choice not to burn bridges or otherwise act with disrespect. This extends beyond avoiding prejudging your conversational partners and includes other important points, like always remembering to thank those you’ve spoken with or who’ve provided you with their contact information.
5. Not following up (or following up repeatedly just to check in)
The best way to cement the impact of a good conversation is to follow up. This indicates your genuine interest, reminds your contact of the conversation you’ve shared, and sets the stage for continued communication. However, remember that “continued communication” has strict limits. You should avoid repeatedly following up with people in your network if they haven’t replied to prior communications or your conversation hasn’t yielded any action items or other productive reasons to follow up.
Avoid these actions (and be prepared as always), and there should be no need to fear a networking faux pas.