You know you need to network. But do you know how? Avoid these eight networking don'ts to build the best possible relationships for your career:
1. Don't email just to say "hi." You contribute to email bulge at your own risk by checking in. Besides, there are better ways to stay top-of-mind—chiefly, having an actual reason to contact someone. Provide value through sending an interesting article, sharing a recent work success story, or giving an introduction to avoid being deleted.
2. Don't be a fan. While it's totally OK and appreciated to let someone know you respect their work, try not to gush; it's awkward. Not only does fandom make you seem immature, it ensures you will never be seen as an equal.
3. Don't ask to pick someone's brain. Every time you pick someone's brain, their business dies. OK, that's extreme, but really, asking for free advice is a huge faux pas. Try phrasing your request in a way that shows you want to learn. If you really do want to pick someone's brain, be honest and offer up an equal exchange of value.
4. Don't request general advice. Asking for tips on how to find your dream job should end in high school. Instead, prove you've done your homework and ask for feedback on specific issues. Try discussing strategies you've employed already in relation to your problem before you ask for guidance.
5. Don't be rude to the secretary. Your contact's assistant is likely one of the most trusted people in her organization, not to mention, one of the few people with a direct line to her ear. Bad news travels fast, so treat gatekeepers with as much respect as you would like to receive.
6. Don't pull out a list of questions. When you meet someone for the first time, leave your list of questions at the door and let the conversation flow. Remember, you've invited them for coffee, not an interrogation. Listen first, then talk, and try to get to know the other person as a real human being.
7. Don't drink at events. It's much easier to follow up with contacts when you're not embarrassed by the previous night. Learn how to be conversational without the aid of alcohol and you'll find the skill will serve you in more areas than at the bar. Being able to relax and talk to anyone will serve you in negotiating, management, and leadership.
8. Don't ignore boring people. Many successful people intentionally stay under the radar to avoid extra attention. Make it a rule to treat every person you meet like they're the most important person in the room. You never know, they may be just that.
Think before you network to build solid career relationships. Networking successfully means you have respect, consideration, and knowledge of not only what you want but also the value you can provide for others.
Rebecca Thorman's goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. Her blog Kontrary offers career, business, and life advice that works. She writes from Washington, D.C.