A bad networking experience can sometimes feel like an incredibly awkward blind date. Who’s going to ask the first question? What should we talk about? Why is he/she staring at me like that? It’s easy to see how this can be discouraging, but it’s important not to call it quits too early. Networking is an essential tool that can add tremendous amounts of value to your personal and professional life.
Now that you know the qualities of a master networker, it’s time to pump yourself up and get back into the networking game. Splash some cold water on your face, drink a couple of raw eggs, rock out to “Eye of the Tiger”, and take a look at a few of the questions you need to ask while networking.
1. “How did you get involved in the ______ industry?” The book How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie, stresses that people love to talk about themselves. Asking someone how they got involved in their respective industry will allow you to participate in the conversation without having to do much of the talking. You can use this time to read the tone of the conversation and tailor the remainder of the conversation accordingly.
2. “What advice would you give someone just starting out in this business?” This is a great follow-up to the previous question, and shows the person you are are speaking with that you value their professional opinion.
3. “What types of projects are you working on?” Asking about current projects may provide you with potential employment opportunities. Remember, although networking can be a great resource to seek out job openings within your field, it’s important not to make it the endgame.
4. “What do you think about the growth of the ______ industry in this city?” If you are new to an industry, networking can be a great opportunity to gain some insight from major players within that field. Ask about a few current events that influence your field, and use that information to further your understanding of the industry as a whole.
5. “Are you a big fan of ______?” Being perceptive is important. If at some point in the conversation the person you’re talking to mentions their love of a well aged scotch and you happen to be a scotch connoisseur, seize that opportunity to talk about something other than work! Shared interests can be a powerful tool when meeting new people and forming new relationships. Keith Ferrazzi, author of the book Never Eat Alone, notes, “When you talk about things you’re passionate about, you will light up and appear more engaging”.
6. “What can I do to help you?” The golden rule of networking can be summed up in three words: pay it forward. Don’t be the schmoozer that is only concerned with helping himself and not the others around him. Be the person that connects people within the community and promotes meaningful professional relationships. This is often times the guy that everyone wants to know.
It’s good to note that these questions shouldn’t be scribbled down on a wrinkled up flash card and read verbatim. Like in any interaction, there is a special rhythm that can make or break a good conversation. Find that rhythm, ask a couple of thought-provoking questions that will help you stand out, and remember to pay it forward.
Are you a social butterfly with tons of networking experience? Share your stories in the comments below!