Business Musings

5 Ways to Masterfully Ruin a Networking Opportunity

I went to a small networking/social event the other night, expecting to catch up with former colleagues and make a few new connections. Little did I know that I’d be appalled by the actions of the people there — which just put a sour taste in my mouth.

See, many people seem to think that “networking” is a dirty word. When it comes to me and networking, I like to take my time and talk with a few people instead of traveling around a room handing out my business cards. I like to connect with people, see what we can possibly do to help one another. Or, at the very least, become colleagues, supportive of each other’s work. Any kind of connection creates value in each other’s lives.

I went to this event with this mindset and set about to execute my strategy. Some of it worked, but a lot of it didn’t….mainly because of the appalling behaviors of the others present at the event.

So, I noticed these five things at the event….and hope that, if you are to attend a social or networking event in the future, you won’t commit these mistakes.

Food at a networking event is awesome, but don't just stand around the food table chatting with your friends all night long.
Food at a networking event is awesome, but don’t just stand around the food table chatting with your friends all night long.

5 Ways to Masterfully Ruin a Networking Opportunity:

  1. Turn your back on someone wanting to speak with you. Smirk over your shoulder & ignore. Yes, this happened, and with a former colleague. Not only is this highly immature & arrogant, it is going to backfire on you one day. You never know who you will be talking to about a new job, new business, etc. Turn your back on me today, and tomorrow I may be filing your taxes for you…or reconsidering that action. As I’ve said before, karma comes around and goes around.
  2. Humble brag about your “awful” time working overseas and being treated like a celebrity there. Nothing turns off a new contact more than someone doing the “humble brag” about their work experience. “Oh, I worked in China for six months, and the whole time there I was treated like a celebrity. It was so uncomfortable. -scoff- I don’t want to live there long-term.” Again, this attitude comes from arrogance, and arrogance won’t get you far in your job search or in this world. Save this story for when you’re actually hired at the company (for a random story around the water cooler) and don’t spout it off to someone you just met.
  3. Hand new colleague a burrito loyalty card instead of a business card, i.e., not having your own business cards handy. I had respect for this person I had met at the event, until I handed this person my card and they in turn handed me their Chipotle card. “Sorry, I don’t usually bring my business cards to events like this.” Bad idea, bad idea. You should ALWAYS bring your business cards to any kind of event you go to, whether it’s an actually business networking event or Happy Hour with some colleagues. You NEVER know who you will meet! I’ve made a point to carry my cards with me everywhere I go and many of my friends do so as well. This same person seemed turned off that I would hand out my card so easily. I didn’t just talk to this person for 5 seconds with my pitch and then throw my card at them; no, I stood there and talked with them for some time, asking about what they did in their company and seeing if our companies could possibly work together. I was handing this person my card for follow-up on if/when they were looking for a new job. Well, guess there won’t be a follow-up with how crass this person became, trying to hand me all sorts of loyalty cards to joke with me.
  4. Argue with new colleague about what school they went to and why. The topic of universities, b-schools, etc. probably shouldn’t come up in a first conversation with a new colleague. Granted, this event I went to involved a lot of b-school students; still, I found the conversation awkward when one person said to the other, “Now WHY would you go to the University of South Carolina for THAT major?” Ok, so belittling someone you just met is going to work you favors? Nope. Again, karma, folks.
  5. Stay close with friends and don’t cast a wide net. This is the most common mistake people make when networking: they stick close with the people they know and don’t even make the effort to meet the other people in the crowd. I admit, I have been guilty of this as well. Still, as the saying goes, you’re not going to meet a new person, a new opportunity, by staying within your comfort zone. At this event, the others just stayed talking with their friends and didn’t bother to perhaps introduce themselves to the other people present. I feel pity for these people, since that means, most likely they don’t like to take risks. Meeting a new person is not risky! Worst case scenario out of a networking event would be you’d never talk to that person again. But at least you tried.

I walked away from this event slightly offended but highly amused. Clearly, these professionals were NOT professionals in networking. I say they’re wasting their time by not practicing their networking skills and treating the event as “Let’s just have fun with our friends”. Instead of attending a social like this and taking advantage of the complimentary appetizers, you could have probably just had your own gathering elsewhere.

My theory is that every moment of life IS a networking opportunity. Sure, you don’t want to go into your pitch with everyone you meet at church or the laundromat; but you just never know if the next person you meet will be the one to find you a job, invest in your company, or just be your new best friend.