The purpose of networking is simple, to lay the foundation to build new relationships. In order to do this, you need to go into a networking situation with one thing in mind, “How can I be beneficial to others?” People who go to networking events with a “me first” attitude are rarely successful at building strategic working relationships. One time I was at a community based networking event and this guy asked “what I did” after droning on about himself for 10+ minutes. After I told him he said, “Oh, well that does nothing for me” and then proceeded to ask me to go to coffee with him so he could further explain why I needed life insurance. UGH! Moral of the story: Don’t be “that” person.
If you are new to the networking game or meeting new people makes you nervous, then this is the perfect blog post for you. You will learn different types of network questions that you can ask new acquaintances and get advice on how to appropriately answer the same questions when asked to you.
The Initial Meeting
Make eye contact with someone, smile, and approach them with your hand out. Say, “Hi. My name is *Kate*. How are you *tonight*?” Give them and firm and confident handshake. Any reasonable person will respond with their name and ask you how you are doing. Congratulations! You have started a networking conversation with a potential new connection.
The Standard Questions/Icebreakers
These are examples of the first kind of questions you ask someone upon meeting them. Obviously if the conversation takes a different turn, just go with it. This is by no means a script that you have to stick to.
What do you do?
o Do you like it?
What is your favorite part about what you do?
How did you get into your profession?
Tell me about yourself – Be careful with this because it is a statement, not a question. Make sure you say it with a friendly inflection so you don’t sound like you are demanding information from some poor soul.
Why did you decided to attend tonight?
Have you come to one of these events before?
How to answer: Keep it short and simple. This is networking so all of your answers should be less than three minutes and positive. If you don’t “like what you do” then just say your favorite part. This is not a therapy session. Practice your personal elevator speech before you go. You should be able to tell someone about yourself in 90 seconds. Focus on your name, current profession, 3 passions, and a future goal. If you have time and it’s interesting, add a unique fact about yourself (where you are from, hobby, little story, etc.)
Getting Personal…. In a Professional Way
What is the best job you’ve ever had? What is the worst?
Where did you grow up?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Tell me about your family – Make sure to read the situation to see if this is appropriate. Be sure to inquire further about the success of partners, children, and grandchildren.
How to Answer: Answer in an upbeat manner and don’t air out any dirty laundry. If your family or hometown sucks, give the basics with a positive spin and ask about theirs. And for the love of God, don’t show any pictures. If someone shows you their pictures, compliment them accordingly.
Learning About Their Business
What is unique about your company?
How does your business differentiate itself from its competitors?
What trends do you see coming in your industry?
Who is your ideal customer? Why?
How to Answer: Don’t give away any information that your company/boss would be upset about. A good rule of thumb is only to reveal things that people could find out if they took the time to research your company online. Exact numbers (customer, revenue, etc.) are usually a non-nos especially if you are a privately held company.
Learn What Motivates Someone
What inspires you?
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done?
Why did you get into your profession?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
How to Answer: Be truthful unless your answer revolving around making money or gaining wealth. This will most likely be the determining factor of whether or not someone wants to continue knowing and building a working relationship with you. You should practice answering these questions genuinely before you go.
What advice do you have for someone looking to get into your field of work?
What’s the best business advice your have ever received?
Who else do you recommend that I should talk to *tonight*?
How to Answer: If someone asks you for advice you should feel honored. This is not a time for a soapbox speech though. Keep it short and sincere. If you have 100 and 10 things to say, pick the two most important and actionable tidbits.
Here is my recommendation on how to wrap-up your new connection: “*Joe* it was really great talking to you tonight. Please let me know if there is ever anything that I can do to help you (it should be obvious that this is in a professional sense). Would you like to connect with me on *Name professional network like Linkedin*? I find that it’s a great way to stay in touch with people that I’ve met. I would also like to exchange business cards if you have one on you. (Exchange info.) Thank you *Joe*. I hope you have a great time at the rest of the event.”
You can learn more about how to be a Linkedin Power user with this online class.
Seal the Deal for a Second “Date”
*A platonic networking date – For romantic advice you are going to have to go elsewhere.
Sometimes you meet those connections who you just hit it off with. Asking someone for a follow-up meeting/coffee/Happy Hour is totally appropriate. The second date is usually self-serving because you want to pick their brain for more advice. I advise you to say, “I’ve had a really good time talking to you *tonight*. I would love to take you to coffee and pick your brain about XY&Z. Is this something you would be interested in?” Ninety nine percent of the time they are going to say yes because this is what networking events are all about. Be courteous of their schedule and time. Ask them if you can follow-up via email or phone to set a time, date, and location.
Before you run off to your first big networking event, here are six tips to ensure your success:
Wear the dumb name tag that the event provides. You will appreciate others for wearing it too. Place it on your right side and shake with your right hand.
Two drink maximum, even if you can hold your liquor. Bad news ladies, no beer or red wine unless you are at a venue that specializes in these beverages. Keeping up appearances sucks sometimes and people will judge you based on what you are drinking. Plus spilling red wine on yourself (someone could bump into you too) is a fast way to end the night.
Over dress when in doubt of the dress code. You can always excuse yourself by saying that you just came from a meeting if you are dressed better than everyone else. Good luck trying to come up with a reasonable excuse if you look sloppy.
Bring business cards and actively ask for other people’s. Trading business cards and writing on the back how you met the person plus any other important notes is a good practice to have. I like to take it a step further by adding new connections on Linkedin and add notes there.
Always have one hand free. If you are eating and drinking at the networking event, make sure that one hand is always free. It makes you look more approachable and helps you avoid the awkward stacking your drink glass on your flimsy mini plate when someone new wants to shake your hand.
Make goals for the event. Before I go into a networking event, I always make a goal of how many people I want to meet and/or reconnect with. If it’s an industry specific event, sometimes I will research who is going (thought leaders) and make it a goal to introduce myself. Having goals keeps me from lurking in the corner with my co-worker and munching down on the snack buffet.