Building relationships with total strangers can be daunting. At the same time, networking is part of the business world — a tough must-do.

Experts say the central challenge of networking is navigating the thin line between building relationships and seeking professional gain. How do you strike the right balance? Start by avoiding these pitfalls, according to Fast Company:

  1. Don’t hide your motives. Even a hint of disingenuousness can kill a new relationship. That’s why it’s better to be up front about your motives for reaching out to a new contact. Professionals are aware that you haven’t messaged them because you need a new friend. More likely, you want to learn about an initiative they’re working on, secure an introduction, cultivate a target customer or connect with a potential employer. You don’t need to hide why you want to speak with someone. It’s disguising your agenda that comes across as dodgy.
  2. Don’t ask for too much. Being up front with your ask is essential, but asking for too much can be fatal. Requesting a specific introduction from someone you don’t know well can turn awkward if they don’t actually have a relationship with that contact or don’t think it’s a good use of their contact’s time. To avoid putting someone on the spot, ask open-ended questions that leave space for the other party to gracefully decline. “Do you know anyone I should speak with as I try to learn about jobs at Google?” works better than “Can you connect me to your ex-colleague Mrs. Smith at Google? I want to ask her for a job.”
  3. Don’t come empty-handed. The perception that someone is coming on too strong isn’t generally created by their forthrightness about their motives. Instead, the issue is usually what they’re bringing to the interaction. In every introduction, the connector is trading on their own reputation. To go to bat for you, someone will need to see that you’ve done your homework and are prepared to deliver a meaningful interaction.
  4. Don’t be vague. Successful networkers hit the Goldilocks point of specificity. “Hey, I’m looking to unload my inventory. Any thoughts?” is too vague an ask. It puts the burden on your new contact to think through your problems for you. Instead, try, “Do you know any retail buyers looking to buy wholesale inventory?” But always leave the “how” of your ask up to your contact. It’s not a good look to say, “Yeah, that introduction you’re making for me? I’ll need him to be available for a Zoom next Friday.” Go specific on your request but broad on the execution — don’t try to control it.
  5. Don’t be unlikable. You don’t need Steve Jobs-level charisma to be a successful networker, but you do need to clear the basic likability bar. Approaches that feel boring, entitled or lacking in substance will instantly turn off new connections. People want to be inspired, intrigued or excited by what you are doing — or at least by what you have to say about what theyare doing. It is difficult to form a connection if you haven’t formed a point of view on something that matters to the other person. Entitlement is another deal-killer. People who feel they are owed favors are tiresome and tend to be the biggest deal-breakers. Lastly, being direct, clear, humble and prepared is the gold standard in networking. If you can avoid obscuring your motives, over-engineering your ask or going in half-baked, you’re already ahead of the game.