With so much pop psychology and type analyses tests you can take either professionally or simply off the Internet, it can be easy to cast yourself into a certain “type” of person. For the record, I identify as a deep introvert and so find the very nature of today’s topic extremely difficult in real life. So it is time to take a look again at that necessary evil – networking. I suspect that I am not a crazily unique individual and therefore there are many out there who, just like me, fear networking like some sort of social interaction plague. What could be of better help for us, then, than a guide to the sort of questions we can ask to avoid coming across as socially awkward and generally making the whole networking experience a more positive one.
In the spirit of my primary school teachers, I have grouped those questions in a way they would have approved: who, what, where, why, when and why. So without further ado, let’s think about them.
Now, obviously, meeting a new person for the first time can be both a thrilling and frightening prospect and one has to suss out who they are. Therefore, you have to start with the ‘who’ questions. Instead of sounding simply mechanical and only interested in what the other person can do for you from a professional perspective, however, ask questions about the person’s real person. Small talk might suit some people fine, but for me it is hardly as interesting as a more in-depth discussion. And yes, this can be done in a few minutes. Try asking about the person outside of work through pondering about activities that can be done after convention hours are over and you’ll get a glimpse of the personality and be more than just a cynical hawk at work.
Those questions might or might not entail finding about his/her job. Regardless of whether it does or not, the fact is that it is still crucial to discover what the person does and how that can be beneficial to you. But rather than being simply perfunctory, the question can be imbued with more depth by posing a question like “what do you like best about what you do?”.
This offers the opportunity to extend the discussion into more complex areas and can help you determine not just an occupation, but also what motivates and drives a person and whether this is something that dovetails with your own motivations.
Networking events may well be conducted online these days but the odds are that they will still be a physical location. This can be a reservoir for networking questions. Beyond that, however, ask where the person hails from and be interested in what he has to say about his origin. That can give you a lot of clues about his cultural or value system and this can be useful to you if you decide to extend the relationship further. Another question can be “where else” his/her networking is conducted. This can help you look for even more convergences between you and the other person. The more similarities there are, the easier it is for a business relationship to flourish.
You can delve further when looking for common motivations or ambitions by asking the other person why he/she chooses to do what he/she does. Also, you can ask why this person has decided to attend this very conference and what he/she hopes to gain out of it. Process all this information and see how this can be mutually beneficial to both or more of you.
It might also be important for you to figure out how long your opposite number has been doing what he/she is doing. This can help you assess your respective experience levels and how much you can gain from his/her knowledge if they are indeed much more experienced than you.
On the other hand, if you find them to be much less experienced, make the effort to be understanding, patient and willing to share. This will not only help this newly-forged relationship in the short term but also helps with your long-term reputation.
A more sophisticated question still pertains to how this person goes about his/her business or work. This is important in helping you determine if he/she is someone your own work ethic and habits can handle and work with.
Above all, be open. You can’t expect someone to be honest in their dealings with you if you don’t open up about yourself. So be brave in that regard. Also, do follow up with a text or an email after your encounter to assure the other person that you have not viewed your interaction as pointless. Regardless of whether you intend to pursue this professional relationship further, a bit of politeness and courtesy will go a long way in helping your name and business grow in the industry and in the long term. With these question-guides, you can easily make networking less of a nightmare or even more fun and help you achieve all the aims you want.