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Hate networking events? Here’s how to make small talk work for you

Few employers enjoy networking. You might envision business card pushers or folks who won’t take no for an answer. But if you’re looking to grow your team or your business, you have to learn to embrace networking.

Here are a few tips and tricks to make networking events less painful—and much more productive.

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Set your intention. As with most things in life, your attitude determines your results. If you approach networking as a “necessary evil” it is unlikely you will ever be very successful at it. When you head out to a networking event, go with the intention to connect people. Connecting people is the number one way to build your social capital.

Make your goal about connections. Don’t try to talk to everyone. If you have identified key people you want to talk with, seek them out. Otherwise, mingle intentionally, seeking people who you can create a genuine connection with.

Be curious. Curiosity is the key. By simply asking questions and listening to the answers, you will learn everything you need to know.

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Use strategic small talk. This is the key to undercover recruiting. By asking simple and common questions, we can learn everything we need to know about a potential hire. You will find better hires, make better connections, and learn more (and likely have more fun) if you spend networking events asking questions and listening to the answers. Here are a few sample questions and how the answers can tell you what you need to know:

• What brought you to the city? Have you always lived here? This way you learn if they’re local, went to school in the area, etc.

• How did you get into sales/IT/HR?

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Most people will be happy to tell you how they landed in their current role, and chances are good you’ll be able to tell if they are happy or not by their answer. This leads to easy, natural conversation about their career history but doesn’t feel like an interrogation or an interview.

• What brought you to XYZ company?

Again, this is a curiosity-based. Another “Tell me a little bit about yourself” question that will invite someone to share all sorts of information. And they’re likely to be more forthcoming since it’s just talking, not an “interview.” If they already work in the industry this is another way to learn about your competitors.

• (Conversationally) Why did you leave your last company? Ask this as a follow-up question to how they landed with XYZ company.

• Is it awesome to work for XYZ company? I hear they have an amazing benefits package!

Feeling brave? Here are additional questions for those candidates you really want to learn more about.

• Do you love your job? Would you ever think about making a change?

Then shut up and let them answer! They’re probably going to be surprised by your question, but nine out of 10 people will say they’re always open to hearing about new opportunities.

• OR: “I think you have a tremendous amount of talent. Do you ever think about making a change?”

If they say, “No, not really.” You say, “Well, if you ever decide you want to learn about another opportunity, I’d love to talk to you about working with me. Feel free to give me a call or email me.” If they say, “Well, I am always open to learning about new opportunities.” You say, “Great, let’s set up a time to go to lunch or at least chat on the phone.”

Hand them your business card and either make plans to connect again or simply say, “Well, here is my card. If you ever decide you want to talk about different opportunities, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.”

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