5 Biggest Networking Mistakes Guaranteed to Stall Your Career

Networking demands skill, talent and a knack for risk taking.

Woman.reddish brown hair.glassesNetworking. How many times have we heard it? It’s like saying, “bless you” when you sneeze. It has, in a sense, lost its real meaning.

No matter how you tweet, link, face, or gram, you have to succumb these days if you want to avoid career suicide. With all this online socializing, however, your knack for meeting strangers one-on-one (probably the best networking tool of all) gets rusty and pushed into the background of your skills.

There's no such thing as accidental networking. Networking is a mission. When you're headed to a function to meet and greet people who can further your career, you have a strong sense of Purpose. Even a chance meeting can provide a networking opportunity.

Once you discover that new acquaintances have professional power, you instantaneously decide to make the meeting worthwhile. There's no real secret to it. Most people, myself included, hate to admit we network because then we reveal we're actually using the world's greatest career-building trick. Maybe we think it smacks of cheating. You know you do it; I know you do it; others know you do it; and you read that you're supposed to do it, but somehow you deny you're doing it. I mean, only the etiquettely-challenged would introduce themselves by saying, "Hi, I'm Jane. I'm here to network." Yikes.

How you network can make all the difference in your career success. If you want to get ahead, your networking skills have to be sharp, savvy and yes, leveraged in such a way to propel you forward. Otherwise, you pretty much run the risk of getting overlooked for promotions, considered as a great candidate for a new job or spotlights that assist your career such as speaking and writing engagements.

When given a choice, people will always do business with people they know or with a person that has come highly recommended by a valued and trusted member of their network. The benefits to networking are endless but you have to be good at it. Really, really, good. Great networking improves your ROI on:

• Friendship benefits: You’ll make new friends that last for a lifetime.
• Receiving and giving advice: You’ll get viewed as an expert.
• Opportunities: Whether you garner upward career mobility or are making a move, employers want people who are highly recommended from others in like or supervisory positions. Your network can give you that.
• Assistance on the job: You have somewhere to go for assistance, suggestions, referrals and you even have someone covering your back or giving you a heads-up when you goof.
• Positive influence: You become who you associate with.

Here are five of the biggest networking mistakes you can make:

Mistake #1. Avoid a great profile on LinkedIn:
LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good, solid social networking. It has become the winning social media tool for career networking. Whether you are trying to grow your reach, find content or explore opportunities, this virtual meeting vehicle is the first and last stop for many professionals. The latest trend is for employers to view your LinkedIn profile at the same time they review your resume. Potential contacts who can give you career help will also check you out first on LinkedIn.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to assume that LinkedIn is only good if you are seeking a new job. Not so. It gives legitimacy to your current position. You may network with someone who will seek out your LinkedIn profile to find out more about the professional you. However, you will generate no interest without an interesting and dynamic summary. LinkedIn is not a playback of your resume. To attract contacts, you’ll need to demonstrate your personality, take on the business world and show your worldliness. If you want to be taken seriously, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile. You will receive requests to connect and you should learn to reach out to others to grow your network.

Here’s an example: Personally, I have almost 19,000 followers. I reach into my network frequently. The list is rich with people who can help refer me to others for questions, articles, resources, candidates, employers, referrals, and questions I am asked but don’t have answers. Not so long ago, someone from Washington DC called me in Los Angeles. They needed a temporary litigation support paralegal in Denver. I was able to reach into my network and find someone within 15 minutes of the call at 7:00 pm.

Facebook is good. However, it is generally thought of for social, not professional use. You can get a little crazy on Facebook and distill your professional image. Although employers are “not supposed” to view Facebook, my bet is they are on it. It’s a fantastic networking tool but make sure you distinguish family and real friends from your professional network. Think about setting up a professional page designated for the sole purpose of career networking.

Mistake #2. Don’t go to association meetings, seminars and get-togethers.
It’s one thing to join your association. It’s another to work the networking advantages it brings. Face-to-face encounters render far longer benefits than an occasional email to someone you have never met. People tend to remember you. What will you learn from association networking? What’s happening in your community, new techniques, where the jobs are, the latest software, trends, what firm is doing what (so you can take that information back to your firm and be valuable to management), salaries, and important events. It’s a great way to stay current, uncover “hot buttons” in your field and who knows? You might even have a little fun and make good friends.

Mistake #3. Be sure to alienate every recruiter who calls you. In fact, stand them up when you book an interview. 
Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, CEO’s, COOs, VP’s, supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues, educators, speakers, other paralegals, and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, statistics, economics, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they often know if your firm is in trouble before you do. Why? Managers are calling them, replacing people, perhaps talking about outplacing services. It might be they are witnessing a number of attorneys from your firm who want to leave – only the recruiter knows about it, not you.

Don’t be so smug if a recruiter calls or emails you about a new position. I can’t tell you how many times people ignore the call or treat the recruiter abysmally only to wake up a short time later to the news their firm is laying off, merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh! I’ll call that recruiter who called me about that job.” Right. Try calling them back after you have snubbed or stood them up. Most likely, they won’t take the call or if they do, it is mostly likely will be with misgivings as to how you will behave professionally with their clients.  That’s not exactly an auspicious way to start a relationship with a key holder to a new position.

Mistake #4. Don’t network with colleagues in your firm.
One of the biggest mistakes professionals make is that they are networked in social media; go to association meetings; build a network; and reach out into the community but neglect to network within their own firm!  If you're able to build rapport with hiring authorities at your firm, you can be the first to find out about forthcoming internal promotions and great assignments and strategically position yourself for growth.

Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new satellite office in your dream destination, and if you're connected with the right person, you could get a head start on applying for the transfer. You can also be first in line for the juicier cases and matters, and because of your relationship, be thought of first in terms of utilization.

Who do you know? Some of the most important people to connect with are the conduits to the power in your firm. That is, someone who can speak for your job category. Network with colleagues, partners, associates, managers, administrators, staff – be sure to include everyone. In one firm I worked with, I got my best information from the receptionist who answered all the phones. People can tell you what’s going on in your own firm. You’ll get noticed. Everyone wants to be with a winner that people respect. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not get you advanced up the ladder.

Mistake #5. Ignore the benefits of networking.
You can benefit as your contacts develop. Continuing to build new relationships and nurture existing contacts can be hugely beneficial to you as members of your network grow into the next phases of their career.

Success stories such as Ralph Lauren, Mark Cuban, and Jeff Bezos all rose from modest starts. You can be sure those who showed them support with no agenda during their growing pains enjoyed the ride once these icons’ careers exploded.

The key is to keep your networking process going without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and their hopes, wants, dreams and desires. Ask questions they would be excited to answer. Listen carefully to what they say and you'll have surrounded yourself with a circle of people who would not only be willing but excited to help take your career to the next level.

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals, CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and a national seminar speaker. She is a former Paralegal Administrator for two major law firms. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib and Newsweek. She is a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Recipient; a Los Angeles/Century City Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement Recipient; co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association and a former exec in law firms and a $5 billion corporation. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Talk to her at chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com.