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3 networking mistakes you don’t know you’re making

July 21, 2015, 11:30 AM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the best way to network? is written by Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite.

Job seekers today are on the move every four years, and for millennials it’s even more often. Whether passively or actively, their eyes and ears are almost constantly open to new opportunities. What was once a yearly event has now become a ritualistic activity. And while the lucky few might be poached or plucked by recruiters, the majority of us rely on networking to get our foot in the door.

It’s a necessary evil—necessary being the operative word. Relationships are worth their weight in gold in our socially powered age, making every interaction a valuable asset toward your next career move. However, networking can be awkward, anxiety inducing and intimidating if you’re new to the job market. Frankly, it wasn’t easy my first go around either, but over the years I’ve picked up a couple of tips that should improve your networking game.

Don’t underestimate LinkedIn
LinkedIn (LNKD) has over 360 million users worldwide (and 40 percent of job seekers report leveraging the platform), so chances are you’re already on it. It’s the modern equivalent of a networking conference or industry happy hour—and should be your number one priority when it comes to managing your professional relationships. You can’t be an innocent bystander.

however, having over 500 connections doesn’t necessarily signify an expansive network, unless you tap into it. Reach out to acquaintances, friends-of-friends or even complete strangers. Locate contacts with similar backgrounds, interests and work experiences, and ask them questions or set up coffee meetings. At the very least, keep tabs on their career trajectory—you never know where they’ll be relevant down the line.

Real networking is still done in-person
Despite social media’s obvious networking capabilities, the most effective way to network is in-person. The type of networking that will land you your next job is based on a shared connection—a university, a mutual friend or a common interest—and not those communicated over email. Approaching a complete stranger can be intimidating, but it’s your future career that’s on the line, so your ego is a small price to pay for a fruitful connection.

Start with an informational conversation over coffee or lunch. Be prepared to ask questions, take notes and listen attentively—and use the in-person opportunity to glean even more information than you might over email or phone. How overtly passionate is this person about their job? How willing (or hesitant) would they be to help you find one like it? And don’t forget to send a thank you note after. Taking time out of a busy day is a big deal, so treat it as such.

Make it natural
When it comes down to it, my best piece of advice is to relax. Don’t stage a run-in or feign interest in someone just for the potential payoff down the line (you’re not fooling anyone). Connect with people you have a genuine desire to get to know—not someone you’re looking to use to get ahead.

People are willing to open doors for you if they like you, plain and simple. And when it comes time to make a bigger ask (the initial interview, the foot in the door, a referral) be transparent about your motives. If you’re coming from a place of respect, admiration and genuine enthusiasm about the opportunity, it’ll open far more doors than an informational interview ever could.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the best way to network?

Why face-to-face networking will never go out of style by Kevin Chou, co-founder and CEO of Kabam.

How to effectively network (even if you dread it) by David DeWolf, president and CEO of 3Pillar Global.

The only thing you need to keep in mind when networking by William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.

Why social media alone won’t get you a job by Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia.

NYSE President: I owe every job I’ve ever had to networking by Tom Farley, president of the NYSE.