Professional Networking 101: What You Do and Don’t Do When Trying to Grow Your Network


Professional networking can be challenging in so many ways. Growing and maintaining a network also present two distinct challenges. But many people think of networking as a stiff and awkward interaction where the end goal is to get a job or gig, and this causes a lot of painful or forgettable conversations for all parties involved. Networking efforts also may not necessarily have an immediate payoff, but rather the start of professional relationships that have potential to grow over time and provide the opportunity to share knowledge and skills.

Here are some of the common goals, and subsequent mistakes to avoid, in professional networking.

Do: Show your skills, experience, and other accomplishments in a manner that relates to the conversation.

The whole point of professional networking is to meet people and show them what you’re capable of. When you’re meeting in a predominantly professional capacity, you’ll ask one another what you currently do and perhaps what your background is in. Offer helpful information since networking isn’t necessarily about getting a job or gig, but about sharing knowledge. Ask about projects they’re currently working on and see if you can tie your skills in with that.

Don’t: Seem like you’re desperate for work or sales.

Even if you are in need of a job or gig, you need to frame this in what you can do for the person you’re talking to rather than what they can do in terms of giving you work or referring you to someone who can. You need to put yourself out there but don’t sound too adamant or sales-y as people don’t like the feeling that they’re being sold to.

Do: Conduct yourself in a cordial and professional manner appropriate for the setting and industry.

Smile, show good posture, and make eye contact with the person you are speaking with. Start with casual small talk about the event or surroundings before immediately getting into what you do. Depending on what settings and conduct are appropriate for your line of work, pay heed to that.

Don’t: Put on airs to the point that you sound completely awkward and unnatural.

If you’re more introverted and have a hard time in social situations, this part can be harder to avoid. But don’t look down at your phone in the middle of a conversation, or look like you’re bored or can’t wait to get away from the conversation. Networking doesn’t have to be stiff and awkward where you sound like you’re at a job interview with a hiring manager you never met: relax and be more natural.

Do: Keep an open mind about networking and subsequently, be prepared.

Always carry business cards and other promotional materials since you never know who you’re going to meet and when. Let your expertise and profession come up in conversation naturally, and you should always be prepared for when someone inevitably asks you if you have a card. This happens both in professional situations as well as everyday life.

Don’t: Limit yourself to “networking events”.

A common misconception about networking is that you need to limit yourself to events touted as networking events, or conferences and conventions related to your industry. While these events are extremely important investments in your career, they aren’t the only opportunities for growing your network.

Networking is all around you. Start with your friends, family, and local community. Who goes to the same coffee shops and cafes as you? What about your hobbies and interests and the communities that stem from those? It can take a while to build up presence and trust in a community, but they are excellent and untapped resources for professional networking since people who trust your character are more willing to work with you than someone they have an arm’s length relationship with. Better yet, when you network outside of traditional settings, the pretense that you’re trying to get work isn’t evident at all which puts people at ease.

Improve your leadership skills when you join our IAW eChapter rerun! Register now to discuss “The Value of Professional Networking for Career Success” on 4/19 at 12pm EDT.