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The 6 Most Common Networking Mistakes Gen Zers Make & How To Avoid Them, According To An Expert

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Whether you’re a STEM girlie or an arts major, your resume isn’t complete without an unofficial minor in networking. According to Her Campus’s 2024 graduation survey, 84% of Gen Zers think networking is key in securing a job. Catherine Fisher, a LinkedIn career expert and the author of LinkedIn’s Career Companion newsletter, knows this to be absolutely true. 

“Your professional network is a great way to get your foot in the door for new opportunities and stand out among the crowd,” Fisher tells Her Campus in an exclusive interview. “It will carry you throughout the course of your career, so it’s important to spend time nurturing your connections and building new ones.”

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about how important networking is. The world’s worst-kept secret is that getting a job isn’t just about what you know, but also who you know. If you’re a recent grad just beginning your professional career, it might feel like you don’t have a ton of connections just yet — but trust me when I say that you know a lot more people than you think you do! 

“A common mistake that we see young professionals make is thinking that they don’t have a network,” Fisher says. “Teachers and professors, volunteer coordinators, and bosses from a summer job, or even friends and family are all great places to start when nurturing a professional network.” 

Although it feels like everyone is expected to be a networking expert when starting their journey into the professional world, it’s rare to actually get taught how to do it. That’s why we’ve enlisted Fisher, an actual networking expert, to help guide you through networking in today’s job market. Here are six common networking mistakes Gen Zers make — and how to avoid them.

Mistake No. 1: You’re underestimating your potential connections.

Just knowing professors, bosses, and friends is the first step in creating your network. But knowing isn’t the same as connecting, both on a personal and LinkedIn level. Connecting with the people you meet on campus on LinkedIn “strengthens your relationships beyond campus interactions, allowing you to stay in touch even after that semester has wrapped,” Fisher says. “You never know what professional relationships you might build or who might help connect you to opportunities down the line.”

Once you’ve added them to your network, pay attention to what they’re posting. Fisher says that “by doing so, you can regularly see any thought leadership content they post, including posts and articles. If they have a newsletter, subscribe to it!” And don’t be afraid to take it one step further if something catches your eye. “If something that they post resonates with you, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send them an InMail, demonstrating your interest and actively nurturing your network.”

Mistake No. 2: Your LinkedIn profile isn’t operating at its full potential.

Think of LinkedIn as the professional world’s student union. Everyone from every job field gathers together to spread their knowledge, share their accomplishments, and meet new people who care about the same things as they do. Your LinkedIn profile is often the first thing a potential connection will check out when they want to learn more about you. “You want to be recognizable to the people who know you, and you want to tell your professional story clearly for the people who don’t,” Fisher says.

So what should be on your profile? Broadly, it should contain “all the necessary information to tell your story and make you more discoverable,” according to Fisher. Besides filling in your education and experience, you’ll want to write a strong headline and About section; Fisher says these “will help differentiate you and get a hiring manager’s attention.”

One of the most underrated ways of standing out is by utilizing the Skills section. Fisher says that nearly 50% of hirers on LinkedIn use skills data to fill their roles. So, if you want to make your application stand out of the digital pile, tell employers what skills you bring to the table.

Mistake No. 3: You’re not getting personal enough when you reach out.

This isn’t your mom’s job market. Networking has shifted into a coffee chat culture as opposed to buttoned-up handshakes at career fairs. The year 2024 is all about ditching the formalities and leaning into the personal connection. “See if you share any common interests or connections and then craft a thoughtful and personal first message,” Fisher says. “This will not only help you stand out more, but it will also demonstrate that you care personally about building the relationship.”

LinkedIn has a ton of features that offer natural ways of beginning a conversation. The Catch Up tab in the My Network section highlights when a connection gets a new job, celebrates a work anniversary, is actively hiring, or even has a birthday. Still unsure what to say? Don’t be afraid to utilize AI tools to help you get the ball rolling on crafting your initial message based on common connections or experiences (just make sure to tweak it to reflect your own voice).

Mistake No. 4: You’re networking without any preparation.

The internet sleuthing skills you’ve honed throughout your college career (let’s be real, we’ve all Insta-stalked someone at least once) are extra helpful when it comes to preparing for your first conversation with a new connection. Fisher recommends that you review their profile before reaching out and “have a few questions ready that you can ask to help uncover common ground that you share, which can help build a more meaningful connection.”

If you’re preparing to network IRL (at a career fair, for example), it’s still a good idea to come up with questions that will allow you to gain insight from every person you meet. People love to talk about themselves, so you’ll get good results from asking how they started their careers and what accomplishment they’re proudest of. You don’t need to follow a script; just follow the flow of the conversation.

Remember that they’re also gaining a new connection: you! It’s equally as important to “think through how you want to present yourself, what you would like to share, and what you hope to achieve from the conversation,” Fisher says.

Mistake No. 5: You’re not following up.

Reaching out once is good; reaching out twice is great. A strong first impression will fade over time unless you put in the work to maintain the connections you’ve built with the people in your network.

Following up is key in making sure you stand out among the 500+ people your connections have probably added on LinkedIn. It’s also a sign that you’re genuinely interested in fostering a relationship with them instead of just reaching out when you need something. “You don’t have to spend time on it every day, but a little TLC here and there can go a long way,” Fisher says. You can comment on one of their posts that you found interesting or congratulate them on a work accomplishment. Keep in mind that brevity and specificity are key!

If you think you’ve been ghosted by someone you’re trying to connect with, check in with them after a few days. Fisher recommends sending a short, clear, and professional follow-up note that includes who you are and why you’re reaching out. Remember, you’re trying to make it as easy as possible for them to say “yes” to connecting with you.

Mistake No. 6: You think networking stops at establishing relationships.

OK, so some elements of your mom’s job market might still be around. Networking isn’t just about making connections with people; it’s also a great way to learn more about the field you’re trying to break into. For instance, Fisher says, “You can see what people in your desired field talk about and care about by following expert voices on LinkedIn or by attending relevant career fairs on campus, workshops, or panel discussions organized by your school.” You have thoughts and passions about what’s going on in your field too. Don’t be afraid to add your voice into the mix!

And that’s a wrap on Modern Networking 101. Don’t worry, there won’t be a pop quiz — just a really long, cumulative exam (aka, the rest of your career). Remember, it’s OK to not be a networking expert like Fisher yet. You’ve just graduated college! It’s going to take time to build your network and your networking skills. “Networking is a skill that improves with practice,” Fisher says.

So turn your tassel, take a breath, and start hitting “send” on those connection requests. You’ve got a lot of virtual coffee chats in your future.

For more insights on navigating a difficult job market and the top jobs, industries, and cities to pursue right now, check out LinkedIn’s 2024 Guide to Kickstarting Your Career.

Fabiana Beuses is a senior at Florida State University double majoring in Media/Communication Studies and English (Editing, Writing, and Media). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at FSU. She previously served as Her Campus' Summer 2023 Entertainment & Culture Intern and is currently a National Culture Writer, where she profiles celebrities and professionally fangirls over pop culture phenomena. When she's not polishing her latest article, you can find her browsing bookstore aisles, taste testing vanilla lattes around town, or rewatching the Harry Potter series for the millionth time.