Like they say, your network is your net worth.
Yet networking doesn’t always come naturally to people, especially at an event that’s designed specifically for it! It can feel forced, stuffy, unnatural, or downright unpleasant.
But the fact is, people tend to do business with people they like. Even if you’re highly qualified, you’ll need to put in the effort to connect. Does this mean you need to be gregarious, charismatic, or brimming with confidence? If you’re reserved, cerebral, or straightforward, are you doomed? Absolutely not.
While you do need to show confidence, your genuine interest in the other person is what signals you’re a great collaborator. Your active listening skills are what show you’re a good person. You don’t need to be the most popular person in the room. You just need to show that you’re good to work with. One way you can do that is by asking the right questions.
In this article, you’ll discover which questions can showcase your creativity, proactivity, willingness to learn, and ability to collaborate. Much like in any social situation, people like to feel important, and they like to talk about themselves. You can use this to your advantage to both show your interest and find out valuable information that can fuel your connection and your success.
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#1: What brought you here (to this event)?
Start the conversation off lightly and effortlessly by simply asking what brought the other person there. This will also create a natural opening to find out their motivations — do they want to find new hires, are they looking for a new position, or are they looking for collaborators? Maybe they like keeping abreast of changes in the industry and find that contacts are the best way to do that, or maybe they’re new to the industry and are looking for a leg up. A question like this also brings more of an emotional, personal tone to the conversation, rather than opening with something like, “Where do you work” or “What do you do?”
#2: What brought you to your current company?
Whether in a business or personal situation, people love to talk about themselves. Show you’re engaged and looking to learn rather than just showcase your own accomplishments by asking how they got to where they are. They might launch into a talk about their education, family business, or career changes, which gives you a chance to see the kind of person they are. This can help you steer the conversation mindfully; plus, it demonstrates that you take an interest in them, not just what they can do for you.
#3: What skills matter most in your role?
You’re getting their personal opinion here, which, again, is flattering, plus you’re getting their true insight into an industry you may be interested in. In any profession, there’s required skills, education, and background. But what’s most important to do the job well? That’s up to interpretation. For example, some marketers place a premium on data and analytics more than others, and some health coaches consider knowledge to trump motivational or people skills.
#4: What does a typical week hold for you?
If you’re interested in a similar position or in developing a partnership, getting a granular view of what your new contact does is invaluable. Asking for that view shows you’re serious. It can also open the door for them to ask what you’re looking for without you having to talk about that right off the bat.
#5: What’s changed since you started?
Appeal to your contact’s sense of pride along with their delight or frustration with industry changes. We all know that industries evolve, and many professionals (especially veterans), have very strong opinions about it. Show that their opinion is important. You never know, maybe you’ll get some valuable insights into their thoughts on things like Chat GPT or other controversial subjects that affect you and your industry. Just use tact and diplomacy if you find yourself disagreeing with them.
#6: What’s your next move?
You can Google someone’s position and work history, but you can’t use it to find out where they’re going. Asking questions that can’t be answered with a simple internet search shows you’re not lazy. It also makes better use of both your time. Show that you’re efficient, can do your homework, and want to make the most of the few minutes you have with a person. It will come off well.
#7: Any speakers here I shouldn’t miss?
Give your new contact a chance to plug people who are important to them. They’ll certainly appreciate it and will probably get a kick out of talking about an influencer they’re passionate about. By asking this question, you’re also demonstrating you trust their opinion. It also shows that you’re thinking ahead and trying to make the most of your time.
#8: Did you always know you wanted to do what you do?
This question goes a bit deeper than “How long have you been in the industry?” You’ll also get insight into their personality and passions. It’s rare today for people to have a linear career path. You might be surprised at the path they’ve taken to get where they are. Who knows, you might find out that you don’t need a journalism degree to be an investigative reporter after all, since your new contact actually went to veterinary school.
#9: Where do you think the industry is headed?
This is likely to be as much of a hot topic as asking how the industry has changed. Be careful if the conversation starts to devolve into too much of a negative direction though. You don’t want your contact to associate you with a depressing discussion they had about how technology is rapidly replacing jobs. On the other hand, maybe you need to have those important conversations. If you find you’re really jiving on the topic, you may have sparked a nice new connection based on shared opinions and passion.
#10: What’s your management style (Sales Style, Coaching Style, Etc.)?
If you’re new, getting a sense of your new contact’s work style, for whatever position they happen to have, shows that you understand a thing or two about the industry. If you’re a veteran, it shows that you’re open to hearing about and potentially learning from people who do things differently from you. Use this question as a gateway to ask about techniques, strengths, and challenges they encounter, then share yours. Make a genuine interest to learn from them. A collaborative spirit will get you far.
#11: Is there anyone here you want to introduce me to?
Much like asking about speakers and influencers, demonstrate you trust their judgment and score a new contact by asking about colleagues.
#12: Do you need any help with _____ ?
Reserve this one for situations where you’re actively looking for work and can deliver services you know they’ll need. If you’re seeking opportunities, this is a nice way of asking for one.
#13: Where are you from?
Don’t limit all of your questions to work-related matters. A few personal questions will go over well, and asking where someone is from can open the gates to so much more helpful, specific information. They might talk about growing up on the East Coast, going to Brown, being in a sorority, and joining a professional association in New York alongside spending summers on the beach surfing and sailing. Boom, there’s a wealth of information that tells you both personal and professional details and gives you a better understanding of the type of person they might be.
#14: What’s on your bookshelf right now?
Show that you’re proactive and self-motivated (and find out about a potential new great read) by asking what they’re reading. You might use this as an opportunity to talk about what you’re reading, especially in terms of your self-development and education. Your personal brand matters much like your professional brand does, so choose which ones you talk about strategically.
#15: How do you balance it all?
Work-life balance is still a very hot topic. In recent years, many of us have realized how little time we have, what matters most, and how woefully out of balance many of us are in terms of work, rest, and play. Show that you prioritize work-life balance, and get some potential new tips while you do by asking some of the ways they take care of themselves.
Make a Solid Impression at Your Next Event
People like to do business with people. They like to work with people who make them feel good, who they feel they can trust, and who seem like good collaborators. When prepping for a network event, have a go-to list of questions that demonstrate you take making connections seriously. Don’t settle for asking questions you can easily find the answers to online. Ask questions to really find out what their career journey has been like, and be sure to show you care about their opinion!
Above all, show that you’re a team player who cares as much about hearing their story as you are about sharing yours. You don’t need to be the life of the party to succeed — just show you’re awesome to work with.
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