Networking is a little like exercise: You know it’s good for you and you probably should be doing more of it, but often you just don’t feel like it.
That said, it can play a constructive role in anyone’s career progression. Which is why I was interested to see new research examining the common mistakes executives make when it comes to networking.
The survey, from Robert Half, explored the networking habits of more than 2,200 chief financial officers. While the results were largely common sense, just because something is common sense doesn’t mean it isn’t also good sense. And as I like to say about management in general, just because something is common sense doesn’t mean it’s commonly practiced.
In this spirit, here are the survey’s five common networking pitfalls, along with my brief commentary on each of them. Respondents were asked, “Which of the following is the greatest networking mistake executives make?” The answers:
30% – Not asking for help. This stands to reason. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. As we’d say in baseball, if you don’t ever swing, you’ll have no chance of getting a hit.
23% – Failing to keep in touch or reaching out only when they need something. Yep, I can definitely see this as an issue. When things are going well, we see no need to network. Which is of course a perfectly natural, if shortsighted, view.
19% – Failing to connect with the right people. This one’s a little trickier. Fair point. Sometimes, even if you make the effort, your networking contact may not prove to be of value. To return to our baseball metaphor, even the best hitters usually just hit a bit over .300. Meaning they fail roughly seven times out of 10. Oh well, nature of the biz.
14% – Not thanking contacts when they provide help. No excuse for this one. It’s simple to thank someone, takes about 5 minutes (or less) to shoot off an email or a text. Always a good career move to do it.
14% – Not helping others. What goes around comes around. Ditto to my point above: Always a good career move to do it.
Here’s my key takeaway from these findings, and I believe it’s a worthwhile one. It’s about point number 2, failing to keep in touch or reaching out only when we need something.
The irony here is that the best networking is done when we don’t think we need to do it.
Not when we’re in a job crisis and desperately hope to network our way out of it.
At the end of the day the most effective business relationships are long term. When you’ve had the chance to observe someone in action over an extended period of time, and come to like and trust them.
These are the kind of solid, well-established relationships, built up slowly over years and not in the heat of the moment, that are most likely to pay off when you really need them.