This career coaching post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
Summer is a great time to network. People are in a better mood because of the warmer weather and upcoming vacations. You might even schedule those hard-to-get lunches because it’s nicer to be outside. Workload typically slows so you actually have the time to rekindle those relationships. So summer is also a great time to revisit your networking strategy. You might have developed bad habits around your networking that you need to adjust:
Bad Habit 1: Thinking you need to meet more people
Alternative: You ALREADY know the RIGHT people.
When people think of networking contacts, they think of people who are ABLE to help – connected, influential, the decision-maker who can sign off on your career promotion or big project for your business. You might fall into the trap of seeking out people who seem more powerful than the ones you already know.
While it’s true that knowing powerful people helps, you shouldn’t dismiss the people already in your network who already are WILLING to help. Even if it doesn’t seem like your network is able to help, you don’t know who or what people know. An existing contact may not be the decision-maker, but may know the decision-maker. Or she may know a key influencer to the decision-maker. Or she may know something about the company that will enable you to pitch yourself more effectively. Focus on tapping into the network you already have, rather than chasing after more and more new people.
Bad Habit 2: Focusing too much on your pitch
Alternative: Networking is not about what you say; it’s about what you HEAR.
Of course, it’s important to have a memorable, concise, and compelling networking pitch. What you say is indeed important. However, it’s more important that you hear what other people say. When you really listen, you are able to follow up effectively and develop a genuine relationship.
Networking is about following up in a way that is generous (i.e., focused on the other person). You won’t know how to be generous in your follow-up if you’re not listening for what people really care about and need. As a bonus, people so rarely listen that you will distinguish yourself if you listen well.
Bad Habit 3: Not imposing on your network
Alternative: While networking is not about quid pro quo, you still have to KEEP SCORE.
I’m not suggesting you impose on your network in an overbearing way! I’m also not contradicting what I said about the importance of generosity in Point #2. The best networking is about paying it forward, but you still need to keep a general score. You focus on being generous, knowing that even if that particular person doesn’t reciprocate, the broader network will reciprocate in some way. This means you need to look at your total networking activity and what it brings. If you feel like you’re always the one giving and you haven’t been getting anything back – any leads, any referrals, any information – then you need to look at whether your network is just full of takers, or maybe you aren’t being clear about how people can help you or not asking at all. Not all networking groups will be appropriate for you and your professional goals. You need to track your results and refine your activities as needed.
Quid pro quo networking is a short-term transactional approach: you scratch my back, and I scratch yours. It’s rare that each person in a 2-party exchange will have exactly the same magnitude of need as the other and will be able to make a 100% equal trade. This is why quid pro quo is unrealistic, inefficient and ineffective – someone will end up feeling short-changed. But in a broader network, you must give and TAKE. If you aren’t benefiting in some way from your network, it’s the wrong network.