By: Shelly Joines
This time 10 years ago, I was preparing for what was my final time being involved in recruitment through my sorority at Florida State University. While it felt like a time consuming tradition at the moment, it taught me more than I could imagine about networking and interviewing. You see, opening up and engaging with people isn’t a natural skill for all so knowing ways to make other people comfortable and helping manage a conversation (at a conference luncheon let’s say) is a special skill.
We’ve shared several blogs about networking and how to do it properly, wearing your badge on the right lapel, preparing an elevator speech and asking questions, but we haven’t really laid out conversation starters and more importantly ways to keep the conversation going.
You see, the point of networking, or meeting people, isn’t to see what that person does and what they can do for you…if it were everyone would just pass resumes and sales flyers around. It’s about trying to connect on a more emotional level that way a friendship is created and can be fostered in the future.
So the next event you go to bring this list with you and see if you can engage better with your new friends.
ALWAYS ask open ended questions. At least in the beginning! The topic people know most about is themselves. So ask about it!
BALANCE the conversation of questions with comments on their answers. Pick up on what they say and try to expand the conversation on that- whether you know about it or not. Try to learn more and express your personal interest or experience.
PRESCREEN your questions and topics of discussion. While you may feel comfortable talking to your coworkers about politics- this definitely is not the proper time (despite if you feel someone may agree with you or even if they’ve already stated that they do). Best to keep specific topics out of the dialogue for the first few times meeting.
Now the fun stuff- conversations to start!
“I’m looking for a fun fall vacation in Florida- what cities do you recommend and what is there to do there?”
People will quickly rattle off favorite vacation spots, their hometowns and you’ll learn A LOT about what their interests include- do they have a family, do they like craft beer, what sports or restaurants they like.
“What do you do at X company?” But the follow-up is more important- “What is challenging about that role?”
Everyone expects to answer about their job role and you should know if you’re talking to a CEO or sales managers. But finding what they see as challenging will opens doors for discussing ways of improving that problem, or to sharing your struggles as well. This is a great time to mention that new blog you just read that answers their problem, or ask what resources they’ve used already.
“That’s a really unique necklace/stylish sock/business card… where did you get it?”
No, you’re not required to really like their funky choice in socks but try to be genuine. It caught your eye! They will hopefully open up about the local store, or recent vacation they went on or talk about the friend who made it for them. Maybe the eccentric bowtie will lead to a discussion about alma maters and college football.
The goal of this is for it to look seamless. Have an array of questions in your back pocket ready to expand on. Asking questions in a disjointed interview style will usually only make the other person feel like they have to answer coldly. Find ways to engage them about what they are passionate or knowledgeable about and you’ll find yourself with more resources for the future.