Networking conversations are gold mines of opportunity. Whether the conversation is planned or unexpected, for many of us it is difficult to formulate insightful questions that produce helpful responses. The hopeful outcome of any networking situation is that you discover something actionable within the conversation: you’re given the number for another contact; you’re welcomed to follow-up with this individual about a specific opportunity; your name is passed along for a job opening.
In a recent article from Fast Company, author Shane Snow turns to veteran journalists to discuss how to ask questions that generate effective responses. While this article focuses on effective questions for journalistic interviews and business situations, it offers insights that can be related to the circumstances job seekers often find themselves in.
First, ask questions with open-ended responses. The article suggests that you focus on “how, what, where, when, and why” to achieve answers that will receive a genuine response. In a networking situation, this means you might start a conversation with a general question in which you’re looking for advice. Avoid leading questions and focus more on questions such as: “What have you learned from your hiring experience?” or “What trends do you see in this industry at the moment?”; “What advice do you have for achieving ‘X’?” Especially in networking situations, it may be tempting to use your questions to dominate the conversation. However, try to remain open to the advice and new opportunities that open-ended questions can afford.
Allow time after a question for silence and thought. It can be difficult to sit back and allow someone to take the time to think and then speak. It’s not part of our culture to allow silence during conversations, but when you’re looking for new contacts or hoping a conversation can lead to a job opportunity, it’s in your best interest to ask a question and sit back and wait for the answer. This also shows your patience and that you’re appreciative of whoever is offering the advice or help.
Don’t be afraid to be direct. While keeping in mind the tactic of using open-ended questions, remember that it is okay to be direct about what you’re interested in or what areas you’re looking for specific advice in. It doesn’t help to build a relationship by simply talking about the weather or about sports scores. While there is a place for this- and it can build a friendly rapport in a relationship- you should also be clear about your needs and interests. Ask about a specific industry, company, job search method or opportunity. Avoid using filler words such as, “um…maybe…like,” which make you sound uncertain and nervous.
Finally, have confidence in yourself. If you’re never willing to ask your questions, you’ll never learn where the answers may lead. Finding a job can be full of risk-taking. Start building your confidence by taking a risk and asking your burning questions.
Do you find it easy or difficult to make networking connections? Share with us in the comments section below!
IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Tsahi Levent-Levi