Happy hours, receptions and other after-hours events are great opportunities to network and have a good time. But if you don't know what you're doing they can turn into wastes of time at best and reputation killers at worst. Here are some things you should avoid doing at professional social events.
Arrive without a goal: Go into every event with a goal, says Denise Kalm of Kalm Kreative. "If you don't know, why you're at this event, you won't know when you have made a useful contact," she says. Listen to people, see what they have to offer you and ask questions, she advises. "You're there on a mission to collect a lot of information and then sift through to see what has value for you."
Be a networking freeloader: If you're sitting next to someone who offers a professional service, don't ask for advice. "Some feel it's a way to connect and is simply small talk," says job coach and recruiter Kathy Cardozo.
When you're talking to an accountant, lawyer, doctor, venture capitalist or similar profession, "unless they specifically offer you tips of their own volition, assume that they have a 'closed for business' sign around their necks and find another way to network," Cardozo says. Instead, exchange contact information, schedule a time to talk business later and be prepared to pay for their professional services.
Take photos without asking first: Back in the day, events might have a photographer on hand to take pictures of attendees for promotional purposes, and people knew when they were getting their pictures taken. But smartphones have changed all that, Cardozo says. "People feel entitled to snap photos of anyone," she says. "This is highly inappropriate and an invasion of privacy. Ask first — and always let the person know if you plan to use the photo publicly."
Look for the next person to talk to: While you want to make as many useful connections as possible, "never look past the person you are talking to find someone 'better' to talk to," says Jill Haseltine of DeliberateNation.com. "Craning your neck around the human being right in front of you hoping you will find someone more prestigious to talk to is simply rude and you will most certainly leave a negative impression," she explains.
Be a lazy networker: Make time to make a real connection with people, instead of just throwing your business card at everyone you can and moving on. This is a chance to share your vision, says Michelle Ward of When I Grow Up. "Don't answer the 'What do you do?' question with just your title," she says. "Instead, use it as an opportunity to share your mission, niche or passion."