I get this question often: “What do I say in a networking conversation?” Many people know that networking is important to their career, however, they don’t know where to begin the conversation. As a matter of fact, studies show that 75% of jobs are gotten through networking. This stat alone should tell you just how important networking is. But networking makes the majority of people feel uncomfortable. So, despite the importance of networking, people aren’t doing enough of it because they don’t know how to start the conversation.
What if I told you that you don’t have to “say” anything? To be an effective networker, you shouldn't be the one doing the talking. Nor do you need to give your elevator pitch. Instead, a good networker listens. What makes a good listener? They ask questions. Then they truly listen to the answer and ask a follow up question and/or reflect what they’ve heard and express the way in which the information is of value to them.
I suggest starting the networking conversation not by talking about yourself, but instead asking about them. Think about that. If you just met someone and they spent the first five minutes talking about themselves, how would that make you feel? Unimportant? Insignificant? Bored? Is that the impression you want to leave? Absolutely not.
Conversely, think about if you just met someone and they asked about you. For example, they asked:
“Tell me about yourself.”
“Your role sounds interesting. Can you tell me more about it?”
“What was your career journey to get you to this point?"
"What does it take to be successful in your role?"
How would that make you feel? Would you enjoy telling your story? And don’t tell me no because I know everyone loves talking about themselves. Maybe you are able to provide a story that can help the other person. Would that make you feel valuable? Absolutely.
The latter is a great way to start a relationship. And your goal in networking is to develop new, long-term, productive relationships. We all know you only get one chance to make a first impression. So, start off right by making it about the other person and really listening to their story. You’ll make a great impression, learn something of value and lay the foundation for a long-term productive relationship. These are all the things you need to create a network to manage your career.