Top Networking Myths

Networking has become a career necessity. Learn about the top networking myths and why you shouldn’t let them limit you.

February 21, 2008
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Networking, the art of establishing and nurturing business relationships, has become a career necessity. Why? Human resources professionals estimate that two-thirds of jobs are filled by word-of-mouth referrals. If your name isn’t circulating among the right people, you may miss out on numerous career moves.

Still, most financial professionals cringe at the thought of “working a room” or making small talk with strangers. That’s no surprise, given the many misconceptions about networking that hold job seekers back from the success they deserve. Here are a few myths, and why you shouldn’t let them limit you.

It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know. Certainly, knowing the right people can get your foot in the door at a new place of employment; that’s one of the key tenets of networking. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Your knowledge, skills and credentials are what will keep that door open. Indeed, if you lack the substance to actually perform a job you are hired for, your supervisor and colleagues will eventually catch on. What you’ll end up with is a long resume that reflects job-hopping and professional instability that will ultimately make people question your abilities. By all means, use whatever contacts you have to help you out. At the same time, however, conduct a clear-eyed assessment of your capabilities and be careful not to oversell yourself.

Networking in person is old-fashioned and passé. While electronic networking offers valuable — and immediate — opportunities for job seekers, it is not a replacement for face-to-face contact. Ideally, they should be used in tandem: Connect with someone online, and then follow up by meeting in person or talking by phone. Your initial online communication with a potential contact will help build common ground, which is likely to make your first face-to-face meeting less awkward.

When connecting with others online, be vigilant about the words you post, as people do not have the advantage of reading your body language or hearing your voice — two things that can “soften” the meaning of a message. Make sure to create a professional e-mail or online forum name, and take care to never lose your cool online or post something you don’t want to haunt you later. Always follow up with potential leads.

The small talk required to network is phony and a waste of time. On the contrary, small talk is a necessary ice-breaker that helps you find common ground with others by touching on topics as varied as sports, vacations, restaurants and hobbies. Chitchat allows you to start a conversation slowly and lead up, over time, to your ultimate goal of connecting with a potential resource. One caveat: Make sure you don’t have so much fun with “small talk” and a glass of wine or two that you miss a good opportunity to segue the conversation into business.

Of course, many people are shy when faced with a room full of strangers. To alleviate any awkwardness felt when approaching someone, arrive prepared. Practice your 15- or 30-second “elevator pitch” that encapsulates who you are, what you do and your business interests. And remember, if you’re not good at telling jokes — in truth, few people can deliver, let alone remember, a good punch line — now isn’t the time to start.

Don’t waste time on the little guy; focus on the top brass. It’s true that you want to ultimately reach the real decision-makers. Regardless, never be dismissive of someone you meet because they aren’t at a high-level in a company. It is also often true that lower-level employees wield more sway with hiring managers than you might imagine. Receptionists, assistants and secretaries may actually hold the key to an important executive’s calendar, as well as e-mail and voice-message systems. It should go without saying that you must always maintain a courteous demeanor with every new contact you meet. You never know where someone will end up: The person you snub today may turn out to be a colleague in the future.

Your contacts don’t really want to be bothered by you. If you are well prepared and tactful in your approach, chances are your contacts will feel flattered, and not burdened, by your questions and requests. In fact, 37 percent of workers polled in a survey commissioned by our company said that the biggest mistake people make when networking is not asking for help.

The key is to make it easy for the other person to help you by clearly stating what you need, such as a job reference or the name of a hiring manager. Keep your main contact in the loop when events start to unfold for you. A handwritten thank-you note still holds meaning in the Internet age, as does a phone call to invite your source to lunch or coffee.

Always keep in mind that networking is a two-way street. A savvy professional will figure out how to give as much as he or she receives. Remember, success is when preparation meets opportunity. Staying prepared for your next career transition by keeping in touch with others will ultimately work out to your advantage.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruiting service. The company has more than 360 locations throughout North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.