Meeting someone at a conference isn’t enough – you have to be prepared to ask the right questions to find the right people.
Networking as a jobhunter – in a conference, careers fair, or anywhere else – can be really challenging. You’re under pressure to be pleasant and interesting company, and to sell yourself without seeming like that’s your only motive to talk to someone. If you manage that, how do you even know if you’re talking to the right person?
Of course, asking the questions is only half of the job – you have to listen carefully to the answers, encourage a two-way conversation (you’re not interviewing anyone) and give your own perspective. But the questions are a good start. So, here’s 6 questions that will help you network as a jobhunter, without sacrificing a good conversation.
“What do you do?”
It’s timeless – a classic – the Citizen Kane of networking questions. This is fairly self-explanatory, but generally finding out what someone does, who they work for, and how that can apply to you will the basis of the rest of your conversation. You have to start somewhere, and this is your best bet.
“Do you enjoy it?”
This is a question with its roots in the second part of our agenda – maintaining an interesting conversation. This will allow you to have a personable chat about work without forcing yourself in, and open up a much broader platform to go into the details.
“How did you get there?”
Learning about a person’s professional history can be interesting in itself, but you’re also learning about their network – just because they work for a company now that you’re not interested in, doesn’t mean they always worked there, and they’ll still have contacts elsewhere. Listen carefully.
“What could be better?”
This is an opportunity for you to highlight your own skills, if they’re relevant, and for you to learn a little more about the company in general – what’s good, what’s bad, and where you think you might be able to fit in. Effectively, this is a possible start for your self-marketing pitch.
“Can I contact you?”
This is simply good networking practise – exchange business cards, numbers, or email addresses of everyone you think might be even slightly helpful. Even if they might not be immediately relevant to you, they could be at some point in the future. So don’t be shy – get as many contact details as you can.
“Who else can I talk to?”
This is your closing point – to get the contact details and information on someone else who may be able and interested in hiring you. After this, get in touch and mention who referred you – having a credible mutual contact makes a whole world of difference.
Of course, all of these talking points are no substitute for a genuine, honest conversation – it’s more important to enjoy the talk you’re having, concentrate on what the other person is telling you, and be entertaining in what you’re telling them.
Having good soft skills and a talent for conversation will work much more in your favour than aggressively presenting yourself to everyone you talk to. It’s a delicate balance to get right, and the only way to do it is to practise. So ask the right questions to the right people, and maybe you’ll find yourself applying for the right job.