Networking used to be organic. You went to a gathering of like-minded people in your community, or to lunch with individuals the host thought might like to get to know each other. Now it’s a job. Get to the right event. Meet the right people. Make that contact and follow up.
While there are plenty of stories of the ways people have wowed an executive with a memorable opening line or a particularly creative approach, there are far more networking fails than networking unicorns. There’s a fine line between innovative and inappropriate. Here’s what not to say when networking.
1. “I DIDN’T THINK THERE WOULD BE PEOPLE HERE THAT I WOULD ACTUALLY WANT TO TALK TO.”
The primary rule of thumb is “Be prepared. Be aware. Be wary.” Know why you’re going and the general purpose of the meet-up. Be alert to the people and the surroundings. Is everyone there in a suit and tie, talking about crunching numbers? Be wary of saying something that might be misconstrued, or is just idiotic. Listen first. Ask questions first. Don’t spout off, before you know who you’re talking to.
2. “ARE THERE ANY JOB OPENINGS AT YOUR COMPANY, BECAUSE MY BOSS IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST.”
Never, ever trash your boss–present or past. I don’t care if your employers have been Frank Underwood and Miranda Priestly. Just don’t go there, even if you’re asked. This is the time to play it safe. Lots of smiling and evading are called for. Oftentimes you don’t know who’s asking you or why. And for goodness’ sake, don’t bring it up yourself.
3. “MY FRIENDS ZUCK AND SHERYL ARE MEETING ME FOR DINNER AFTER THIS…”
Be careful about name-dropping. Again, you may not know the other person’s opinions or experiences with the name you’re dropping. And this goes for name-dropping well-known figures or just acquaintances. If unbeknownst to you, it’s her ex-brother-in-law who got her into Exxon stock, she may not be too happy to hear about your close relationship.
4. “THAT REMINDS ME OF THIS ONE TIME WHEN I WAS AT OXFORD…”
Some overeager job seekers wedge their college or grad school into all conversations, especially if it’s a big-logo institution. Be careful. People may be impressed. Or, they may be irritated, laugh at your expense, or assume you’re the pretentious person you appear to be. Modesty is a good policy when you are networking, at least until you get a sense of your room.
5. “WHEN I THINK ABOUT IMMIGRATION, TAXES, AND HEALTHCARE, I JUST THINK…”
Politics and religions. EEEEH. You may want to steer clear of both of these until you get the lay of the land. Dumping on Obama at a Dem-heavy event is obviously not too smart, but then neither is trashing Trump when you have no idea of someone’s background or POV.
6. “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT NEW SHOW ON SCIENTOLOGY? THAT IS SO…”
Religion is the same situation. Don’t start conversations by making fun of an individual or a group’s belief system. Humor at networking events can be filled with land mines. You just never know.
7. “IF YOU ASK ANY OF MY MANAGERS, THEY’LL TELL YOU I’M A TRULY DISRUPTIVE INNOVATOR AND…”
Don’t use outdated, overused, and badly applied clichés. These are sure to get eye rolls: Think out of the box. Disruptor. Game changer. Break down silos. I have the bandwidth. Push the envelope.
8. “CAN YOU GET ME A JOB AT…”
While speaking directly is important in business, being this direct is downright presumptuous and rude. When networking, it’s risky to ask for a job from a new acquaintance. It’s just as risky to request a reference, especially if you’ve just met the person. Networking should yield a mutually beneficial relationship, not an Aladdin-and-the-genie arrangement. Your wish is not their command.