Networking: The Conversation

This is the time of year when many colleges are hosting events that will provide an opportunity to network, including career fairs, panel discussions or actual networking events. For those who are not in school, many cities have network-after-work events, workshops or conferences you might attend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you make the most of these opportunities.

  1. Know your audience. You might ask an employer a different question than a fellow student.Photo by Ambro
  2. Be tactful and professional. Last year at a holiday event I was having a conversation with a couple of people when a business owner, bent on getting a client, interrupted us, ignored me (which is not easy when I’m nearly 6’ tall) and launched into her spiel. Several minutes later she finally looked at me and said something by way greeting. (Can’t remember what, I was making a mental note to mention her in this blog.)
  3. Listen more than you talk and ask follow up questions. When you do speak try to weave in some things that will make you memorable. Perhaps your sister attended the same college as the person you’re speaking with. Maybe he’s a Raven’s fan—tough to find in Bengals’ country—and so are you. You might realize someone’s last name sounds familiar and discover her dad was your softball coach in high school.
  4. Share a little bit about yourself. This is a good place to use some of the components of your elevator pitch (what is unique about you, what you can contribute to an organization, what you know about the company) or to answer some of the questions you’ve memorized (see below). You might also talk about hobbies and non-work-related interests. Think dinner party/get together, not just professional events. I received some great advice about being published from a friend of my sister’s at a get-together, and afterward added that person as a Linkedin connection.
  5. Start with small talk. This might include weather, information about speakers scheduled for that evening, the event itself, sports (unless you are or you encounter a fanatic), news items, latest movies. This will help break the ice before you ask more in-depth questions, but avoid controversial topics if possible.
  6. Move into open-ended questions. These are questions that require more than a yes or no answer. When you walk away you want to have useful information. If you’ll be seeking work soon, make sure you know if their organization is hiring. If you need clients you should know if they have need of your services.

QUESTIONS

When you approach someone, shake their hand, look them in the eye and introduce yourself. Below are some questions you might ask or might be asked of you at a college networking event such as a reception with potential employers. 

College Event

  • What made you choose _____ University? When will you graduate?
  • What’s your major? Why did you choose that?
  • What do you love/enjoy most about your major?
  • If someone were to describe your school in one sentence what would he say?
  • How did you end up in this area (city)?
  • What organizations are you involved with on campus?
  • What was the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your organization? (e.g. sorority, fraternity, sports team or club, etc.)
  • What were you involved in while in college?
  • Do you have any hobbies or involvement outside of work?
  • Is your organization open to partnering with student groups for service projects?

The conversation might be a little bit different at a professional networking event, but these questions can also be asked of potential employers who are visiting your university.

Image by AmbroProfessional/Work Event

  • Where did you go to college?
  • How long have you been with your organization?
  • What attracted you to your organization?
  • What advice would you give me if I want to be successful in your line of work?
  • What do you love/enjoy most about what you do?
  • What separates your company from the competition?
  • What made you decide to attend tonight?
  • What do you see as the coming trends in your profession/area of expertise?
  • If someone were to describe your business/company in one sentence what would he say?
  • What would make someone the ideal employee for your company or organization?

Other Events

  • What do you do for a living?
  • How did you hear about this event?
  • Did you get a chance to go to (insert name of local event) this past weekend?
  • What made you decide to attend tonight?
  • Did you catch the game last week?

Here is an example of a conversation that might take place between a student and a potential employer after the initial greeting or introduction:

Student: Thanks for coming tonight. (Reads name tag. Sounding enthused because she did a little homework before the event.) Oh, you’re with the World Helpers Foundation. I just read an article about your record-breaking year.

Employer: Yes. We’re really excited about that, especially with the economic challenges.

Student: I’ve always enjoyed philanthropy and fund-raising. In fact, I’m the President of my sorority and we recently exceeded our goal for cancer awareness by 40%.

Employer: That’s wonderful. How did you do that?

Student: I felt like we’ve underutilized social media in the past. This year we made sure we put the word out about our event early through Facebook and Twitter, then on our webpage we highlighted cancer survivors that were close to our members.

Employer: What a great idea!

Student: Thank you. What’s your role at WHF?

Employer: I’m the Senior Director of Partner Relationships. In a nutshell, I’m responsible for relationships and recruitment.

Student: That sounds interesting. What do you like best about your career?

Employer: Working with people toward a worthy cause. It’s challenging but I get to be creative and I like seeing the results of all my hard work.

Student: I feel the same way when I’m planning events. What kind of advice would you give me that would help me to eventually get into a role like yours?

Employer: Well, you’ve already got a great start! You have to be comfortable talking to people and leading teams and it seems like you’ve done that fairly well with your fraternity.

Student: Thanks! Do you ever have any entry-level opportunities or might you be able to recommend some other organizations?

Employer: As a matter of fact, we usually have some opportunities at WHF.

Student: Well, I would definitely be interested. Would it be okay for me to keep in touch with you?

Employer: Absolutely. (Hands over business card)

Student: (Shakes hand and thanks the employer before moving on.)

Well done! After all your hard work, you don’t want to lose contact with the great people you’ve met so come back next time for tips on how to strengthen your new relationship.

See you next time!

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