Love it or hate it, networking needs to be part of your professional plan. Be sure you know how to avoid the biggest networking mistakes so all your hard work as a job seeker doesn’t go to waste:

1. Failure to Follow Up

It sounds simple enough: Always follow up after first contact.

But you’re busy, and tasks that don’t require immediate attention often get pushed aside. Suddenly, it’s six months later and you haven’t followed up.

With networking, timing is everything — and that means following up in a timely manner.

Consider this: You have a great conversation with someone at a professional event. Your new contact gives you their personal information, but you don’t bother to follow up for a month or two. At that point, your contact may be scratching their head trying to remember who you are.

Within 24-48 hours of making a new contact, reach out. Let them know what a pleasure it was to meet and that you would love to continue the conversation at a later date. That next conversation may take place a few months in the future, but following up immediately will make all the difference.

2. Not Being Selective

Your time is precious. If you want to make real progress and build meaningful connections, you need to be selective about the people with whom you network.

Join smaller, more intimate networking groups. This way, you’ll have more opportunities to speak to new contacts in truly meaningful ways. Plus, these networking groups are usually voluntary. Everyone who joins is looking to make connections. That’s not always the case with large conferences, which people attend simply to fulfill professional obligations.

3. Only Networking Up

It’s common to focus your networking efforts on those people with more experience than you. However, it is a mistake to overlook more junior members of your field. This is especially true if you’re trying to make a career change, which may require you to step down the ladder a little. Plus, less experienced employees are just as capable of passing a resume to HR or the hiring manager!

4. Focusing Too Much on Your Needs

You’re networking for a reason, but so is everyone else. When people look to expand their networks, they expect to gain something from the connection. You may connect with someone and get great advice, but if you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with this person, you have to offer them some value in return.

Be curious about the people with whom you network. Think about the ways you can help them, even if they’re not currently asking for anything. If you think you could introduce them to someone valuable, let them know.

5. Asking for Too Much

You may hope your networking efforts lead to a new job, but asking for an introduction to the interviewer is a big ask. It is certainly too much of an ask for someone who doesn’t know you well.

Start small. The strength and depth of your network will develop over time. You need to cultivate relationships if you’re going to ask people to put their reputations are on the line for you. Start by asking instead for what’s easy to give, like insight into a certain industry or advice on the best next step in your career.

And of course, not matter how small the ask, a big “thank you” is always in order.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.

Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.

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