How to Start a Networking Conversation Online and In-Person
Whether you are striking up a conversation at an in-person networking event, or virtually through a screen, it can be hard to know where to start. As they say, you only get one chance at a first impression. You may be thinking, “where do I even begin?” or “how do I keep the conversation going?”. ECS and our Peer Coaches have advice to help you with conducting networking conversations so that you can successfully navigate both the virtual and in person components of the fast approaching E-Council Engineering Expo.
As you’re developing a career fair strategy, you will likely be signing up to talk to employers virtually or planning to stop at their in-person booth. First, know what types of positions they are hiring for (intern, co-op, full time) and if you fit their qualifications! On Handshake you can filter employers based on these factors when viewing the career fair page. Prior to this networking conversation, conduct some company research as well. This is a best practice whether it is an in person or virtual conversation. Going into the interaction with prior knowledge about the company, what they are hiring for, their mission, workplace culture, and other topics will help you carry out a more productive conversation. The more topics that you are able to pull from as conversation starters, the more confident you will be! You will also likely impress the individual you are speaking with on how much you researched their company. To effectively conduct company research, check out the organization’s LinkedIn page or their Employer page on Handshake.
When preparing further talking points for these career fair conversations, keep a few things in mind. Peer Coach Sam Folz gives the advice that you should “be ready to sell yourself to a recruiter. Have a strong elevator pitch ready and be prepared to answer questions recruiters may ask you about yourself”. As Sam mentioned, It is recommended that you craft, and practice, an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief (30 seconds to a minute) introduction to who you are, what you can offer in terms of your skills and experience, and why you are interested in opportunities with the company. Use this as a starting point in your conversation with the employer, then, ask open ended questions about the roles that they are hiring for or what their internship program is like. The more you practice leading these conversations, the more comfortable you will be having them.
If you are reaching out to someone online hoping to make a networking connection and speak with them further, always remember to send them a personalized message! Let’s say that you heard from a company representative during an ECS Recruiter in Residence event or in a group session during the virtual career fair. You want to reach out but don’t know how - Peer Coach Alfonso Tinoco-Lopez has just the advice for this! He suggests “if you attended a workshop and the speaker said something that interests you, mention that in the LinkedIn connection request message. Be curious!” Remember: a blank LinkedIn invitation is likely to be ignored. Find common connections to include in your message, as well as mentioning your interest in the type of work that they do. If you’re both Buckeyes, and have a career path in Civil Engineering, mention that! Knowing that you have things in common or have similar experiences with someone else always makes it easier to push beyond that initial feeling of awkwardness when starting a networking conversation.
No matter the networking environment, there are plenty of strategies that you can practice in order to come to these conversations feeling prepared. Overcoming the awkwardness of striking up a conversation is best done by preparation, research, and practice.
“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” ― Shannon L. Alder