If you’re a natural when it comes to talking to strangers, then you may find networking a breeze. However for many others it can be a real struggle to approach people, start a conversation or think of topics to discuss.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fall in to the latter category. However in my role as Candidate Manager at Madison, I need to be able to talk to potential clients, demonstrate to them that I am knowledgeable in my field of recruitment, and that I can add value to their business.
So, following on from a training session I attended at Madison HQ last week, I thought I’d do a bit of research into how to prepare myself for a work-related event or occasion. I was keen to learn how avoid those awkward moments and understand what questions to ask to get the conversation started.
This advice might help you too—here’s what I found:
- Start off simply, by introducing yourself, and explaining briefly where you work, and what you do. If you want to add a bit of humour you can say “I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?”
- Finding out where a person works and what they do is a great way to kick off any conversation.
- A great follow up prompt to Question 2 is to then ask “What was your background prior to working at XYZ?” This will help reinforce that you are listening, which is always a win!
- Here’s a question that generates lots of interesting discussions: “What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession/area of expertise throughout the years?”
- Given that I work in recruitment, a great question I would ask is “What would make someone the ideal employee for your company or organisation?” This provides a nice segue for me to then explain the types of roles that we recruit for at Madison, and the calibre of candidates that we work with.
- Almost like the pick up line ‘have you been here before’ but with a professional flavour, you can ask “What brought you to this event today and how did you hear about it?”
- Similar to the question above but with a different angle is: “Have you been to this venue before?” This question can stimulate a lot of great casual chat about the location, the food, the space itself etc.
- Get topical and try to bring up some news items related to the industry that person works in. This may require you to do a little research before you attend the event. I’m constantly reading the news, and taking particular interest in news relating to the clients I work with. It shows you’re genuinely interested in what they do, and you can bring this up with clients and candidates alike. I’d recommend avoiding politics though, as you can never be too sure where someone stands on certain issues and it might not be the time and place to have a more in-depth conversation!
- With networking, you want to get a chance to meet as many people as possible. However I personally find it hard to approach people interacting in a group, which is often the situation at conferences etc. If you see a group of people all laughing together, you can try saying “Well, you people seem to be having a lot of fun over here. Do you mind if I join in?” or simply ask “Hi, do you mind if I join in?” and then introduce yourself.
- Finally, don’t forget to take your business cards with you, and hand them out to anyone you meet. When you get back to the office, make sure to follow up with anyone whose business card you have. You can also add personal touches, like hyperlinks to topics that you discussed together. Try also to keep the relationship going by inviting them to events you’re attending that they may be interested in.
Now that you know what to do, the next step is to pick an event to attend that’s of interest to you and where it may be beneficial for you (and your career) to do some quality networking. I’m off to one this weekend to try and practice what I preach!
The main thing though is to just get out there, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. The more you do, the less daunting it will hopefully become.