When I first started my career, I had grand ideas about how local professional networking would help me succeed. I pictured myself walking into hip industry events, making meaningful connections over cocktails, and effortlessly growing my contact list with like-minded professionals. What I didn’t realize is that the reality of networking rarely measures up to the ideal. Over the years, I learned just how misguided my assumptions were and finally figured out a better approach.
Here are the key ways I’ve been misled about networking and what I know now:
Myth 1: It’s All About Collecting Business Cards
When I first heard “professional networking”, what came to mind was shuffling around events, gathering stacks of business cards, and following up with emails that led nowhere. In my opinion, how many new contacts I made was a measure of success. Boy, did I ever have it wrong.
In reality, quality connections matter far more than quantity. Having 100 business cards from people you barely spoke with is useless compared to 10 solid contacts who know, like, and trust you. I focus now on nurturing relationships, not compulsively collecting cards. I find that the best networking events are the ones where it really doe snot feel liek networking, and more liek net-meeting.
Myth 2:Being Extroverted is Key
As someone who is balanced (most of the time) between extroverted and introverted, I assumed networking was a game for extroverts. I pictured having to become super outgoing, fake-it-til-you-make-it style, whether I had the energy that day or not.
Now I know networking comes far more naturally when you can genuinely connect. Yes, you have to push yourself. But rather than force small talk, I look for kindred spirits and focus on learning their stories. My best contacts have come through real conversations, not acting gregarious.
Myth 3: It’s All About Me
My early networking was solely self-promotional. I touted my skills, crammed in my elevator pitch, and handed out business cards. I thought it was all about me. I really believed that the more I coudl get of me out there, there better Iw ould be.
In reality, people connect over shared interests and experiences – not hearing someone talk about themselves. Now I go in curious to understand others’ challenges and goals. I offer relevant advice and connections without expecting anything immediate in return. Focusing on mutual benefit fosters better relationships.
Myth 4: Follow Up Quickly and Persistently
I used to follow up the very next day after meeting someone new. When I didn’t immediately hear back, I’d often follow up again, and again – thinking persistence was key.
Now I know that giving people space and time to respond is more effective. I’ll follow up once after a week or so and leave the ball in their court. If I don’t hear back, I won’t continue chasing. Either they’re not interested, or it’s just not the right time. No amount of persistence pays off if someone doesn’t reciprocate your interest. It is much better to remain a peer than a pest, so be respectful of the time and energy of others. Ask instead of assume that htey have the time to talk.
Myth 5: Show up and Ask for a Job
Early on, I saw networking events as a chance to directly ask about job openings and impress people enough that they’d want to hire me. I thought showing up and being bold was the way to get ahead.
In reality, the best connections come when you don’t have a hidden agenda. Now I go in open-minded, looking to build trust and learn. If an opportunity comes up naturally, great, but I don’t force it. People want to refer someone they know and like – not a stranger who comes on too strong.
What I Know Now
After years of myth-busting, here are my key takeaways on truly effective networking:
Focus on Quality over Quantity
A handful of solid connections beats a stack of business cards any day. Don’t spread yourself too thin; thoughtfully choose who to invest time in.
Be authentic. The best relationships form when you can be real. Don’t force it – find your people and have genuine conversations.
Make it Mutually Beneficial. Get to know others’ interests and needs instead of just touting yourself. Offering thoughtful help strengthens bonds.
Follow Up Mindfully. Give people space after connecting, then circle back once. Don’t aggressively chase unresponsive contacts.
Build Trust First. Aim to learn about others and build real relationships, not just angle for jobs. Opportunities will arise naturally from strong connections.
The more I network, the more I realize it comes down to being open, genuine and patient. Forging real relationships may happen slowly, but ultimately pays off far more than aggressively promoting yourself. Do what feels right for you, and the right people will appreciate the unique value you bring. After years of learning the hard way, I finally feel like I’m on the right path when it comes to networking – and you can be, too.