Start With Small Talk When Networking

By Candace WallerBeautiful young woman talking on mobile phone

When networking with a contact, always begin the conversation with a little small talk.

It’s easy for you to chit-chat with a contact you know well, but, it’s much harder to talk to someone you don’t really know well, or haven’t spoken with for a long while. And, while you’re chit-chatting with your contact, remember the most important thing to do is to determine what your contact needs, not what you need.

Those are the recommendations of Career Coach Rod Colón. He demonstrated several networking scenarios involving small talk at his presentation: “Lead Your Career: Developing Your Personal Marketing Plan and How to Target a Company,” at Union County College, in Elizabeth, on Tuesday, July 16th.  Here is an example of one of the scenarios Colón demonstrated during his presentation:

Example 1

You: “Hello.” {enter contact name here}

Contact: “Hi!”

You: “How are you?” {said without sincerity or real interest in the response}

Contact: “I’m fine…”

You: “The reason I’m calling you is that I would like you to forward my résumé

to {enter name here.} I would also like you to connect me to someone in your network.”

Contact: (Sigh) “I’m really busy right now, but, why don’t you send me your résumé

and I will forward it to the Human Resources (HR) department in my company?”

For glaringly obvious reasons, the conversation in Example 1 above won’t get you the results you desire, namely getting your contact to help you in your job search. The person you called is not prepared to be your advocate because you really haven’t given her a reason to be.

When you start a conversation like this you appear to be a desperate job seeker only looking out for your own needs. And that’s always the wrong approach. So, learn to move at a snail’s pace when it comes to making your own requests of a contact.

Also, take into account that your contact may have a different slant on his present employer. Sometimes the individual is actually dissatisfied with his current job and may be planning to leave.  That’s another reason why breaking into your “resume forwarding” or “contact request” spiel too soon is a bad idea; because it won’t give you the opportunity to determine how your contact actually feels about his job at the moment.

When networking, you have to remember to be helpful to your contact. And you can’t be helpful if you don’t know the needs of the other person. Small talk will help you determine what the other person needs and how you can assist her.

Reasons vary as to why people make their job search requests too quickly with contacts. Sometimes they may feel like they are bothering the other person just by calling them; or, they may feel they have nothing to offer the contact in exchange for the favor they are about to ask.

It is important to remember that everyone has value and can offer to assist, or make a connection with, anyone else.  The only way to find out what someone else needs is through small talk. Always remember, networking without the effective use of chit-chatting may alienate possible contacts and advocates.

When coaching people about the fine art of small talk, Colón likes to get them to use an acronym that he calls FORM. This acronym is designed to help them remember how to use small talk effectively in their conversations with contacts. FORM stands for:

— Family

O Occupation

R —  Recreation

M Motivation

Let’s start with F for Family. How well you know a contact will determine the way you go about making small talk. When you are at a family gathering, or, if you know someone through a family member, it’s all right to ask about the family first.

You might say, “It was great to see you at your son’s basketball game. How is he? My son recently went out for his team…” Once you have talked a little bit about this you can safely ask the person about his or her job and how things are going at work.

That’s where the O for Occupation comes into play. Talking about the other person’s job will help you gauge whether he is willing to help you and it will enable you to determine how quickly you can get to the reason you want to talk.

Networking with a family member, or someone you know well, is usually relatively (no pun intended) easy because you already know what you have in common.

Reconnecting with someone you haven’t spoken with in a while is a little more difficult. In your small talk with these individuals you should first bring them up to speed about your life since you were last in contact with them, according to Colón, a college buddy, or former co-worker, will probably be genuinely interested in finding out what you have been doing over the past few years. This will give you an easy lead-in to ask him questions about his occupation, things he does for fun; (here’s where the R in Recreation comes into play.)

The most difficult way to network is with people you don’t know. Suppose you are at a mixer, and you want to make new connections. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask people about their occupations.

Many people at the mixer may be actively job searching themselves, or, they might be interested in making new connections at another company. And you may know someone at that company that can help them. Get the idea.

Check out another one of Rod Colón’s scenarios (below) where I used myself in the example:

Example 2

You: “Hello, My name is Candace Waller and I am a Freelance Writer.”

Connection: “Oh, Hi! I’m Joe Shmoe, and I am an Accountant.”

You: “Hi, Joe. It’s nice to meet you!  Are you working for a company or job searching?”

Connection: “I’m doing some contract work while I search for a full-time position.”

You: “Really! What companies are you interested in?”

Connection: “I am interested in insurance companies.”

You: “I know several Recruiters at Prudential and I would be happy to pass along their information to you.”

Connection: “That would be great! Do you have a business card? My niece just started working for a magazine in The City. I would be happy to connect you with her.”

You: “I do have a business card. Thanks so much! If you don’t mind, I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network and I’ll call you next week with that information about the Prudential Recruiters.”

Connection: “Sure, I’ll connect with you on LinkedIn and I’ll look forward to hearing from you about those Recruiters at Prudential.”

Do you see (in Example 2) how I never talked about my own needs? Instead, I offered to help my contact first. Notice that, eventually, he, in turn offered to help me by connecting me with his niece, who works for a magazine in New York City. Here is where you can use that M for Motivation. By offering to help my connection first, it motivated him to help me.

Small talk can open the door and make people feel comfortable connecting you to someone in their network; maybe even passing your résumé along to a Human Resources representative or an employee in the department you are looking to get into.

Whether you are offering to help your contact, or just making an introduction, or sharing information, small talk will make you stand out from other people who just rush through a conversation to make their real request about a job opportunity or their desire to get someone to float their résumé to the appropriate people in a company.

In addition, small talk gives you the opportunity to make another connection with that person. The more times you interact with connections, in a positive way, the more likely they will feel comfortable referring you to others in their network. And, ultimately, that’s what may lead you to your next job.

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