It’s not uncommon to find yourself tongue-tied at the prospect of a networking conversation. Critical as networking is to today’s job search, it can feel awkward to initiate such chats. Today we’ll focus on getting started and future blogs will address continuing the conversation and on the big finish.
The key word here is “conversation”. Good networking is not a monologue, presentation or sales pitch. It’s a two way dialog. So it opens the same way most conversations begin:
- Connections if any
- Appreciation for the encounter
- Hi, I’m Mary Smith. So nice to meet you
- Hello Mr. Jones, I enjoyed your speech, thank you for taking the time to chat with me
- Bill, great to see you again! Remember me from the softball team? I’m Sally Clark.
In etiquette school they teach you that the art of good conversation is asking questions, so step two in getting the chat started is to ask a question:
- Specific, not a generic question like “What are you up to?”
- Personalized, connecting very directly to the individual
- Moves you towards a discussion of work related topics
- I’ve been following your company with interest. What is your role?
- How did you get the idea to focus the speech on that topic?
- Are you still playing softball with your company?
The idea is to guide the conversation towards the person’s professional life and begin to learn more about his or her field, interests, needs and problems. All of this is groundwork before introducing your own expertise and ability to help the other person. So for step three:
- Keep the conversation going focusing deeper on work
- Keep mental notes about what you are hearing and begin customizing your approach
- Listen especially for problems you could help solve
- That sounds interesting. How has your department managed with the changing economy?
- What kind of industry reaction are you getting to your speech?
- Sounds like the softball team has changed. What else has changed at the company?
So far, so good. You’re listening well, asking good questions, creating rapport and a dialog. Next up, introducing yourself, your brand, what you can do and what you are looking for when you feel the time is ripe.