You’ve probably heard, “It’s important to network,” hundreds of times in your career from colleagues, coaches, and recruiters. They tell you this because about 85% of positions are filled via networking. But, do you know how to network correctly? That’s right. There is a right way to network -- and many ways to network poorly.

Plenty of self-help books, seminars, and trainings offer solid advice about how to network correctly. When you boil down all the advice about networking, there are two elements that pervade all the tips and best practices. If you want to network successfully, keep these two things top of mind:

  1. Be genuine
  2. Be helpful

Although most jobs are found through personal and professional networks, the reasons for establishing and nurturing networks goes beyond simply creating a pipeline to set you up the next time you're looking for a job. In fact, the goal of networking is to make meaningful connections to not only get help, but to enter into professional converstaions and provide assistance and ideas to connections when they ask for them. That’s why being authentic is one of the most important tenets in networking. The minute you’re out there with a selfish agenda, a seasoned networker can easily pick it up.

Here are 6 ways networking can go wrong and tips and best practices for getting it right:

#1 Wrong Way: Only Networking When You Need Work

One sure fire way to ruin a potential connection for your network is to reach out only when you need something. Desperation and urgency are easy to spot for experienced networkers. No one wants to connect with individuals who are only interested in getting their needs met.  Besides, when you network frantically or desperately, you’re more than likely to establish lower quality connections.

#1 Right Way to Network: Constantly networking and engaging others genuinely

Long before you need immediate connections, start networking. In fact, if you have a list of top companies you’d like to work for in the future, network with people there first, and make meaningful connections.

Establishing relevant connections required more than a simple ‘Hi, how are you?’ Establish your interest in the company by reading the company blog and leaving meaningful comments. Sift through the latest news releases and published articles to discover if were the company has received many mentions in any large publications and how they are talked about in their trade publications. Check out social media for their presence and follow them. Offer comments and reshare their content on your own networks.

#2 Wrong Way: Connecting with Someone Only to Ask a Favor

Ultimately, you do want to use your network to help steer you in the right direction during your career search, or to get your name in front of an important company CEO or other influential person. Even if this doesn’t feel like an urgent need, or you’re not being desperate, making a new connection and then immediately going for the favor is not the way to go. You don’t want to lose that person’s interest or connection. So, what do you do instead?

#2 Right way to network: Build relationships first and avoid going straight for a request

The goal of networking is to build relationships, not ask for favors. You’ll want to build meaningful, strong relationships based on genuine motives. Do your research and reach out to people who interest you, people you'd like to know and have authentic conversation with about you roles, the industry, or other interests you may share. The bottom line is that your willingness to connect shouldn't involve a hidden agenda to simply get something you want. 

#3 Wrong Way: Not Offering to Help

Another easy way to ruin a solid networking connection is by not providing help when it's requested. We all get busy and sometimes it's easy to brush off a request from someone in our networks that  reaches out for help. By not responding at all,  your contacts may begin to believe that you're selfish and only in this for what you can gain. Most of the time, you can fulfill your obligations as a good contact by offering a few simple ideas, referring the person to someone else you know, or simply stating that you do not have any ideas or conenctions that will help at this time. By not responding to your network connections, even in the smallest way, you run the risk of offending them.

#3 Right way to network: Help where you can

This doesn’t mean you need to work feverishly to get your new connection an interview or job. What this means is you need to provide any assistance within your scope of knowledge and ability. Offer ideas or advice that can help them think of different or low-cost solutions to a complex problem. Maybe they’re stuck for blog ideas. Offer a quick brainstorming session or suggest a favorable blog or social media group that works in this field.

Or, maybe they need more leads on their site. Offer to share their posts on your social media platforms to help them get more visits and, potentially, leads. You’re not promising them anything other than a helping hand. Remember, you don’t have to bend over backward for them—sometimes a simple solution works best. Best part? They’ll remember you for it.

#4 Wrong Way: Not Following Up

So, now you’ve made tons of connections online and a few in person—great! But, are you staying in touch with them or letting them just sit on the side? Never following up or reaching back out to a current connection not only loses their interest, but makes you look like you’re just collecting names for when you need them.

#4 Right Way to Network: Follow up with your network regularly and keep in touch

Stay in touch. It’s very simple to do. Share information with your contacts that’s relevant to their industry, career, or even their interests. You could also invite them to local events where you’ll be present. Touch base a few times in between silences so you can keep them up to date and keep your name top of mind.

#5 Wrong Way: Rejecting A Connection Because of Status

Say you’ve received an invitation to add a new connection. You’re excited and rush to check out the profile only to find the person is a secretary or clerk. You decide that it's not worth your time to  connect with individuals who don't have hiring decision-making capabilities. This is a mistake many people make when establishing their professional networks.

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it’s not only selfish, but it indicates that you don't understand some of the key reasons for building a diverse network. As I've stated previously, networking is not just about what you can get. More importantly, networking is a giving economy -- it's about what you can give. Individuals who are currently in an admin position may be looking to move up or change careers to start performing the type of work you do. This could be an opportunty to be a trusted mentor or source of information. On the other hand, they may have more to offer you than you think. By accepting their invitations to connect, you will have access to people in their networks who could be very important to your career in the future.

#5 Right Way to Network:  Add connections regardless of their title

You see, the golden rule here is that you don’t know who your connection knows, or which people have those solid connections you seek. For example, let’s say you do connect with a secretary or administrative person via LinkedIn. You keep in contact, offer help or useful content, and occasionally comment on their blogs or updates.

Then, sometime later, the admin reaches out to you with a potential interview with their boss, only because you’ve been such a helpful connection and they recommended you. See how that works? Try not to disregard a connection only because of their job title, function, or level of decision making. They may very well be a great asset later.

#6 Wrong Way: Never Meeting in Real Life

The best thing about networking online is that you don’t ever need to meet your connections in real life. The internet has made it easy to meet anyone globally, and social media has made the world a lot smaller. But, just because you connect online doesn’t mean you never have to meet in real life.

#6 Right Way to Network: Meet up at gatherings or events 

If you can’t meet in person, try a phone call or even a video call. Hearing or seeing the person on the other end of the line is a great way to get to know them a little bit better. It’s also a great way to make deeper relationships and connections without heavy travel expenses, especially if you’re unable to meet this person in real life.

Since it’s likely you won’t meet all your online connections in person, you can meet local connections at networking events. Local public gatherings or business-related events are the perfect avenues to meet your contacts in real life. Plus, if you share similar outdoor interests such as running, hiking, etc., that makes it even easier to get to know your connections in person.

The moment you change up your reasons for networking, you’re bound to make more meaningful and helpful connections.