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Professional networking isn’t for amateurs. Or the faint of heart. In fact, if mismanaged, your professional networking efforts may actually hinder, rather than advance, your career. People are often unaware that they are making job search networking mistakes and that’s assuming they even know such mistakes are possible.
You can engage in various levels of professional networking. The least complicated way requires simply that you connect with individuals you know or have been referred to directly. You can, if you so desire, expand that network by joining groups such as chambers of commerce or professional associations. Or, assuming you are technologically savvy and are comfortable with social media, you can connect with other professionals using one or more of the social networking sites (SNS) at your disposal.
No matter which method(s) you ultimately employ to establish and maintain a professional network, there are traps that many people fall into which can and should be avoided. Some apply to using networking to find a new job, others apply to simply building a network of professionals who can provide you with information, serve as references, act as sources of work or simply offer peer support or mentoring.
Here, then, are some things you ought not to do during the course of professional networking:
- Don’t assume confidentiality. This is perhaps the most important thing to remember. Networking with professionals should be professional. No matter how trustworthy a professional contact may seem, sharing personal and/or confidential information with that person is not recommended. You don’t know who that person might know, nor do you know whether that person has an agenda that might be different from, if not counterproductive to, your professional goals. If, for example, you share with someone in your network that you are seeking a different job, you can’t control whether that person discloses your secret to your employer (perhaps in hopes of securing your current job) or pursues the position you’ve been eyeing for his or herself. While it is hard to imagine a successful job search that doesn’t involve at least some networking, just be aware of this truth, be discreet, and be prepared for the fact that your current employer may find out.
- Unless your networking efforts are in furtherance of your responsibilities and goals with your current employer, do not use any of the resources provided at your place of employment to network. Don’t assume you have any right to privacy if you use a computer, phone or internet connection provided by your employer. With software that logs keystrokes, employers are able to access virtually any communication in which their workers engage.
- If your professional networking efforts are geared towards finding another job, you should be very discreet when posting on job boards or social media. What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet; you just have no control of where the content you post ultimately ends up.
- Do not include co-workers in your network if you are looking for another job. Not, at least, if you hope to keep your current employer from finding out you looking to move.
- Ensure that your online presence is consistent across all social media platforms. If your LinkedIn page is very professional but your Facebook page is not, you may be asking for trouble. Not worried because Facebook is private, you say? Guess again. Even if you restrict access to your Facebook page (or SNS such as Twitter), you cannot restrict what those to whom you grant access do with your information. Others can forward or otherwise publish your content and information without your permission and without you having a clue as to where it ultimately ends up.
- Don’t ask people if they know of a job opening. Most won’t and asking puts unnecessary pressure on them and sets you up to receive a simple “no” rather than other information that may be more helpful. Instead, ask people if they have any advice for you and if they would be willing to refer or introduce you to to someone it may be helpful for you to speak with. This way you continually expand your network and cast a broader net.
- Don’t neglect your network. Networking is all about building relationships and for best results you should continually nurture these relationships. Don’t just reach out to your network when you need something. Make an effort to send a greeting card or personal note now and then. If you see a news article you think might be of interest to someone in your network, reach out to them with a copy of it. If someone in your network is job searching, help them out by introducing them to someone in your own network that it would be advantageous for them to know. Just be helpful, friendly, and open and your network will be far more receptive to helping you when you need it.
Professional networking is exactly that: A network of professional contacts that serve as resources to assist you in your career. Treating it as anything less is amateurish.