Okay, job seekers, fess up!  How many cups of coffee have you had with people in the last 3, 6, or 12 months without engaging in any additional follow-up beyond perhaps a perfunctory thank-you e-mail that you sent along, right after the outing?

Such behavior, in my opinion, is the networking equivalent of a “one night stand” in the dating world — and about as unlikely to lead to a healthy long-term relationship.  And yet, I see an awful lot of job hunters working the Starbucks circuit, meeting with as many people as possible without paying any attention to the more important part, which involves deepening and enriching these relationships through repeated contact, over time.

The consequences of drive-by networking?  You’ll meet a lot of people, enjoy the sensation of being highly caffeinated, and will walk away with wheelbarrows full of platitudes and encouragement.  In most cases, however, the full potential of these relationships won’t ripen and materialize.  People won’t feel comfortable enough yet to give you their best contacts.  They won’t yet know how trustworthy you are in terms of handling referrals.  And even if you do a bang-up job in outlining your career goals and the kinds of opportunities that would interest you, these impressions will start eroding in the listener’s mind the moment the conversation is over — and will fade out entirely within a few short weeks, especially if the individual in question makes a habit of meeting with lots of people in transition or a regular slate of other folks in the business world.

I certainly see this in my own line of work.  I have clients who check in with me every few weeks or so, either to update me on some new developments or simply just to say hi, and I have plenty of other folks who I hear from about as regularly as Halley’s Comet.  And when it comes to my ability to be a useful resource to these people, I assure you, there’s no comparison.  It’s not even close.

So if any of these behavior patterns sound familiar, and you’ve been guilty of emphasizing quantity at the expense of quality during your networking efforts, it might behoove you to tweak the mix a little bit from this point forward.  Don’t wing it.  Don’t network from memory.  Have a system in place for tracking each budding new relationship you cultivate and then make sure this system includes a  “tickler” mechanism, of some kind, that reminds you to follow-up with each new acquaintance every 4-6 weeks or so.  Once you get in the rhythm of doing this, you should see a surge of productivity from your network, including the benefit of having people proactively send you leads, ideas, and relevant resources from time to time.  Why?  Because you’re hopefully be doing the same for them, along the way, and this consistent exchange of mutual benefit is what will catapult you from the label of “stranger” to that of “acquaintance” to “ally” and eventually maybe even to “friend”.  Rome wasn’t built in a day — and in my experience, neither are relationships!