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Networking Series Part I: Making Small Talk

Networking.  The word alone makes some people cringe.  Me included!  The thought of making small talk to people I don’t know, often in an uncomfortable setting, is just not the most appealing thing.  I get it!  However, networking is a part of life and is essential while you are job seeking. 

Part one of our two part series on networking will give helpful tips to making small talk.

PREPARING TO MAKE SMALL TALK:

  • Create a list of topics that you enjoy talking about and can do so with ease.   Specific to your job search, this can include your career interests, projects, favorite classes, etc.  Even if it is a career-related networking event, feel free to talk about passions and interests OUTSIDE the realm of engineering; doing this provides an inside look at who YOU are, and you never know what interests you may have in common.  This can include things such as hobbies, favorite books/movies/restaurants, what you like to do in Columbus, etc.
  • Create a list of things you don’t know much about but hope to learn from others.  This may change somewhat based on the event and who you anticipate talking to; if you are at a networking event with an organization you are interested in working for, you will want to gear some of your questions towards the company, their culture, specific job duties, etc.

DURING THE CONVERSATION:

  • Listen and be attentive.  Remember that active listening is key.  Respond to what the other person is saying; this will help establish rapport.  Establish eye contact and smile!  This will demonstrate your interest and your desire to communicate.  It will put the other person at ease.  Do NOT look over their shoulder why they are talking.
  • Use the other person’s name in conversation.  So often we meet someone, introduce ourselves and within seconds we’ve already forgotten their name (I am guilty!). To avoid this, say the name periodically during the conversation, and use their name when you close the conversation as well.
  • Feel free to throw out a few topics until something clicks, then look for common interests.  Just because they don’t respond in the way you hope doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.  It may just mean they don’t connect with that topic.  Keep trying and when a topic clicks, the conversation will flow. 

CLOSING THE CONVERSATION:

  • Restate something of interest in the conversation and ask to meet or talk again. This is especially important when you are making small talk with someone you hope to keep in touch with regards to career opportunities.  Say a few words about something interesting the other person discussed, and let them know you enjoyed the chat.  If you would like to follow up, ask if you may have their contact information. 

VERY IMPORTANT:  Know what issues to AVOID in conversation. These would highly controversial issues that may make others uncomfortable or be offensive.  These include the following:

  • Personal, health, money, or family problems
  • Layoffs and gloomy economic predictions/facts
  • Sex, politics, and religion
  • Emotionally charged issues such as abortion or capital punishment

Making small talk may never feel easy or natural, but by incorporating these tips and doing a little preparation, you will hopefully feel more and more comfortable with each conversation you have. 

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient.  It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Categories: Networking

About the author

Katy Arenschield

Katy Arenschield is the Engineering Co-op and Internship Program Manager.