As a professional recruiter, making connections is my business, so I often meet with would-be candidates or other professionals who reach out for help or job advice. I am generally happy to have a get-to-know you meeting. I know how hard it can be to find a new job or get a bit of good advice. But too often after meeting with potential candidates, I realize I’ll never call or refer them to clients or colleagues even if they are potential fit. And I know I am not alone.
Here are the top 5 networking mistakes people make (and suggestions on how you can more effectively network with recruiters).
1. Not knowing what job you want next
Many people (at all levels) can’t articulate this when asked. By the time you get to a networking meeting, it’s important to have an idea of what you are interested in doing next, what industries appeal to you (if you are looking to change industry), and what skills you have that might transfer. This is sometimes referred to as your “elevator pitch.” Recruiters are good at identifying talent, but we are neither mind readers nor job coaches. It’s okay to be open to new things, but it’s not okay to be ambiguous—that just makes you look as if you want the recruiter to figure it all out for you and find the perfect job for you. That’s not in our job description.
Think about what’s next for you and how your skills might translate. Be clear. Some people think being specific is limiting, but really, it’s empowering. If you know what you want, it’s easier to find a job doing what you want to do; and it’s easier for your network to help you. When asked what you want to do next, avoid meaningless phrases like, “I want to work with smart people who are committed to a common goal.” Doesn’t everyone? Work with a job coach if you need help identifying these things before you start networking for your next job.
2. Requesting time to meet but not being available
This seems obvious, but too often people ask me to meet and then are not available when I offer up possible dates. It may seem like a small thing, but if you are asking someone for his or her time, make sure you arrange your schedule to accommodate.
When you ask to meet with someone, offer up a few dates that work for you in order to increase the chances that you’ll find a mutually convenient time to get together.
3. Not buying the coffee or the lunch you initiated
This happens more often than not, and though it shouldn’t, it still surprises me. If you ask another professional for his or her time, be prepared to pay for the coffee or the meal. By paying the bill, you show respect for the person’s expertise and time. And frankly, it’s just good manners.
If you can’t afford to buy lunch, suggest coffee. It can get expensive, but it’s an investment worth making.
4. Not sending a thank you note
If someone takes the time to meet with you, send them a thank-you note. E-mail thank-yous are okay but snail mail is more personal, and it gets noticed. Never text a thank-you note. Also, avoid writing a novel extolling your personal virtues and skill sets. Thank the person for his/her time and helpful information and leave it at that. No one likes a braggart.
Make sure you ask for your contact’s card so you have an address, (nothing is more embarrassing than having to send an e-mail to ask for the contact information so you can send a thank you note). Be gracious and timely—it goes a long way.
5. Not responding in a timely fashion
Too often I’ll send a follow up e-mail or request more information and the candidate will take days to respond. If I’m contacting you for more information, it’s likely I have something in mind. If you wait to respond, we may lose the thread, and you will lose your opportunity.
Respond quickly. If you can’t respond right away with the information requested, respond that you are working on it and will get back to the recruiter or contact as quickly as possible.
Remember that every touch with a recruiter or another professional is an opportunity to put your best foot forward. Keep these five things in mind the next time you network, and you’ll increase the likelihood of getting the call when the right opportunity comes along.