Career & Finance

5 Conversation Starters to Take Networking to the Next Level


How about that weather, huh?

Are you rolling your eyes and groaning yet? If you’re like most people, probably. But, for some reason, chatting about the weather still seems to be the fallback conversation starter we all rely on after introducing ourselves.

I couldn’t tell you why. It’s boring, and—in most cases—completely irrelevant. However, there’s no denying that it’s a safe crutch to lean on when you feel like you have nothing else to say.

Believe me when I say that there are better ways to get the conversation ball rolling, especially when you’re trying to make the most of a networking opportunity.

So, here are five questions that are sure to be better than going back and forth about the recent humidity or discussing the quality of the free chardonnay. Use one of them after shaking hands and sharing your name, and you’ll avoid those awkward pauses once and for all.

1. How did you find out about this event?

Whether you’re at a seminar, volunteer event, or a traditional networking function, this is an easy question to throw out there—and it’s also an easy one for your conversational partner to answer. But, it’s undoubtedly still more relevant than the fluffy topics you’re used to sticking with.

No, it may not be quite as thought-provoking or career-related as some of the other questions. However, it can still be an effective lead-in to some extended discussion.

Discovering how a person found out about the event you’re attending can segue into a conversation about industry associations, organizations, or other relevant groups and opportunities that you could potentially get involved in. If nothing else, it’s a simple way to fill the silence for a while!

2. What’s your favorite part about what you do?

When we introduce ourselves, we’re essentially conditioned to spit out a job title immediately following our names. But, most of us just stop there—or, at the most, provide a very brief, cliché rundown of what we do. This question is your opportunity to get creative and dig in a little deeper past those standard, stiff job descriptions, and day-by-day duties.

Learning more about what led people to their existing jobs can turn into an incredibly revealing conversation.

Yes, it might seem a little probing or forward (which is likely due to the fact that it’s not a question you hear asked too often. But, it’s great for a couple of reasons. One, it’s sure to keep the discussion rolling. People love talking about themselves—and especially the parts of their career that they’re most passionate about. Secondly, it’s an effective way to find out more about a specific job or industry.

The best part? The question will likely be turned on you, giving you an opportunity to expand on your experience and share a few of your skills!

3. What attracted you to that industry or specific job?

When you’re networking, it’s somewhat simple and straightforward to find out what a person does. But, it’s not often that we dive in and find out more about how they got there.

You know by now that career paths aren’t always linear, and learning more about what led people to their existing jobs can turn into an incredibly interesting and revealing conversation. And, if you’re currently feeling stuck in a career rut yourself? Discovering more about someone else’s course can be an incredibly encouraging reminder.

4. I recently read _____, and I thought it was really interesting. Have you read anything good lately?

Discussing some of the awesome reads you’ve crossed off your list is another way you can spark some interesting back and forth.

Get started by bringing up something that you recently read and enjoyed—it doesn’t need to be a book, it could even be an inspiring article. Be sure to share a fact or tidbit you learned while reading that struck a chord with you.

Then, shift the spotlight and ask your conversational partner if she’s read anything great lately. You’ll get your hands on some great recommendations you can check out and will likely have a compelling (and memorable!) conversation to boot.

5. What do you like to do when you escape from the office?

Let’s face it—networking can be tough. And, no matter how much you rack your brain or try to muster professionalism, you just can’t bring yourself to engage in yet another work-related conversation over the hors d’oeuvres table.

Networking is your chance to begin a relationship—not just shamelessly sell your own qualifications.

So, what should you do? Go ahead and ask about passions and interests he or she pursues outside of working hours. Is it specifically giving you a chance to plug your own skills and experience? No. But, remember, networking is your chance to begin a relationship—not just shamelessly sell your own qualifications.

Touching on this slightly more personal topic is a nice breather from some of the stuffier subjects people feel forced to discuss at professional functions. And, you might just identify a hobby or interest you both have in common—giving you further opportunity to expand that relationship.

Yes, starting a conversation with someone (particularly a total stranger!) can be nerve-wracking. But, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s only a friendly exchange. There’s really no need to break into a sweat—or rely on that age-old cliché of chatting about the weather.

Lean on these five creative questions and you’ll not only get the conversation rolling, but also headed in the right direction.

What’s your favorite way to start a networking conversation? Do you have a question that you always use?


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