By: Peer Career Coach Devyani Gauri
We all know that moment during a conversation after all the small talk is over, when we don’t know how to continue the conversation, and so we just…don’t. Now imagine this conversation is with someone in the professional world: a recruiter, an industry professional, or just someone you want to network with.
What do I mean when I say “Deep” connection?
I am an Artificial Intelligence major with a huge interest in Deep Learning, but that is not the kind of deep I’m talking about here. When we talk to someone for the first time, we usually start at the surface level and move deeper as we continue the conversation. We start out by learning their name, where they’re from, and what they do. Then, we move on to find commonalities. We cross the threshold from being acquaintances to being friends when we move down from the surface to something a little deeper. But, as soon as we try to apply the same principle to relationships we are trying to build professionally, many of us freeze up, and end up feeling awkward. That is what I want to discuss below:
Starting the conversation
The hardest part about having a conversation, just like anything else in life, is starting it. Here are a few tips on how to start that conversation:
- Find out something about the person you are going to talk to: You should start off by finding something that you have in common with the person you’re talking to. Do your research ahead of time.
- Ask them to tell you about themselves: When you start talking to someone, sometimes it can feel like you are interviewing them, or vice versa. We want to avoid this in professional conversations because that is what the interview is for. When you are connecting with someone on LinkedIn or meeting them at a networking event, get to know them as a person. Ask questions about what interests them outside of work, what their goals are, or what they are working on currently. Discover things outside of what you can already find out by looking at their profile.
- If you are following up, mention stuff you talked about when you met: If you are following up with someone you met at an event or during an interview, don’t just send them an empty LinkedIn invitation. Try to mention things you talked about during your conversation or things you found insightful. Share resources/links that you think they would appreciate.
- Start out simple and gauge their comfort level: As I mentioned before, a conversation is supposed to flow both ways. Start out with a simple question, gauge their comfort level, and then continue the conversation based on that. You don’t have to have the exact same conversation with every person you talk to. Give them some wiggle room to ask you questions as well.
- Don’t make them feel like you’ll waste their time: When people start conversations, especially on LinkedIn, they are often very vague in their interests. If you are trying to connect with someone with the intent of discussing something very specific, make sure to include that in your text/email. Sometimes, specifying that you want to have a 10-minute conversation with them about a particular thing, while also mentioning the times you are available for said conversation, makes it easier for the other person to find out time in their schedule.
Questions to ask
- Tell me about yourself/ How did you get started in the industry? Once the conversation starts to get into that flow, you can ask them some industry specific questions, like how they got started in the industry, how they got their first job, if they had a mentor when they started out, or if they have any tips for you on how to get started.
- What is a day at work like for yo?: Try to understand what they do at work, not just while working, but also when they feel burnt out, whether they have a specific routine they go through when they get stressed, how they deal with clients (if they are in a client-facing role), and understand work culture without having to ask specifically what to expect.
- What problems did you face when you got started in the industry? When you connect with someone, you are looking for not just advice on what to do in the industry, but also on what not to do, or how to handle difficult situations. You can ask them questions about what kinds of problems they have faced before, and how they overcame those obstacles.
Once the conversation is over, remember to be on an active lookout for things that this person might be interested in, like articles. Think of this as being similar to sharing memes with people, except you are sharing things that are a bit more professional, or at least something that they actively follow and would be interested in.
It is important to think about how to contribute to a conversation effectively, and how to create connections that last.