Notes From a Networker: Big Blunders

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Networking is an essential aspect of finding, and moving forward with a career. Unfortunately, there's a whole lot that can go wrong when you're making connections. From this author's perspective, and in general, here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

First, don't get too excited. We all like the sound of good connections when we're first presented with them -- especially when they include flashy titles or catchphrases. But they can be just that.

I know I've made that mistake before. At a New Year's Eve celebration a few years ago, I met another young man who was interested in the work I was doing at Columbia Business School. He performed analytics at a hedge fund (though I'm still not sure what "analytics" or "hedge fund" even mean). We started shooting ideas back and forth about how we could help one another. I was only a research assistant, and talked up my role just a bit too much.

It may have just been the party getting to me. Even though I didn't know exactly what he did, I still saw dollar signs floating by. I never ended up making any headway with the person at the hedge fund, because honestly, it was never clear what either of us would do, or how we would do it.

Don't drop too many names. Okay, so we all like to say we know someone big in an industry, even if said person may be a friend of a friend of a distant cousin. But I know most of the time, the more you talk about people you've worked for or people you know, the more whoever you're trying to connect with thinks: "Who does this person think he/she is?!"

Many people have good connections, but you need to take your time with these things, just as you would when telling a date details of your personal life. We don't jump up in the middle of a romantic dinner and exclaim: "I'm friends with so-and-so! Do you know them? Don't you like me now?" Don't make that mistake with potential business partners, either.

I remember once (maybe more than once), I told a boss about all the great people I had met and how powerful they were and how wonderfully we could all work together. It was in a professional setting, and still, it didn't sound quite right. The boss never did ask me for those connections, no matter how many times I insisted I could help. To put it simply, bragging doesn't usually pay off.

Don't be too open or too closed off. With the former, you'll listen to every pitch you hear from anyone who's willing to give you their opinion. That can make it hard to tell who's really looking to connect, and who just wants to talk because they can. With the latter, be aware that not everyone who's big or going to be big in your field is going to present himself or herself that way. There's always a diamond in the rough.

I know being too open has left me in some awkward positions. More times than I can count I've been approached by people who have claimed they wanted to connect--and really just wanted to talk my ear off. I'm pretty patient, but not saintly. On one occasion, someone was trying to convince me to invest in a project I knew nothing about. After they tried brainwashing me for a good 45 minutes, I more or less told them to shut up, and walked away. It didn't look good for anyone, and me in particular.

Remember to keep these ideas in mind, and hopefully you'll avoid my blunders. If not, do what I did, and learn!

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