We all know that creepy person at networking events or conferences. Super loud. Talks on their cell phone so that everyone can hear this side of the conversation. Maybe took an extra drink from the bar than they should have. Interested only in telling you what their company or brand can do for you, handing out their business card, and moving on to the next person – like a bad night of speed dating. It makes you feel gross and icky and by the end of the interaction, you feel like you need to take a shower! 

Yes, there are better ways to network without feeling slimy or feeling like you are taking advantage of the other person. I have spent years building and cultivating my professional network. I’ve learned what’s worked – and what appears to work but ends up being a bad shortcut that hurts you in the long run. I want to share my best practices so that you can build a positive, cooperative, and supportive tribe. Here are my top five tips: 

Be genuine. I started to use the word authentic but decided genuine was more…authentic. Ha! Nobody wants to deal with a phony and everyone can smell one a mile away. Make sure you are spending enough time with the person to get to know who they are – not just their work life. Listen to the other person more than you talk about yourself – it shows you are being sincere about the other person. Show genuine interest into other parts of people’s lives, like family, hobbies, and cool experiences. Having deeper conversations will strengthen the relationship and make for longer lasting ties. 

Give more to others than you take in return. One of the biggest “ahas” I had about networking is that you should always be willing to give more to the networking relationship. Generosity will always come back in positive returns to you – maybe not in terms of immediate financial gains but in gaining fans who will always have your back and look out for you. And, in turn, you will feel good about creating the best working relationship possible.  

Be proactive to connect people in your network. When I know there is a potential good match with two people in my network, I make it a priority to connect both people either via email or an in-person event. People will appreciate the extra step you have taken to introduce them to a new connection. It’s like matchmaking for your professional life!  

Use common sense when asking for an introduction. This is a major mistake I see people making all of the time. They don’t put in the time or effort in building a personal relationship with their network and then boldly ask for a connection from that network with a person of influence. How can someone introduce you to a power player when you haven’t done the work of investing in the relationship? Also – please, please, please do the follow-up work once someone has made the introduction. Nothing looks worse than asking for an introduction and then not following through by taking action to reach out to the person you are being introduced to. It reflects poorly on your reputation and the person in your network may think twice before providing an introduction again.  

Maintain your networking relationships. You can’t just meet someone at an event, put in the time getting to know them and their business, exchange business cards and call it a day. There’s continuous effort that needs to be maintained, especially with key contacts. This means going out for coffee or a meal, calling the person on the phone for a catch-up chat, or planning to meet up at a local event or national conference. The strength of any relationship is based on the time and effort that is put into it. The same is true for professional relationships. 

What other best practices have you learned to build an effective and rewarding network?