Utilizing Small Talk to Build a Foundation for Networking Success


by: Grayson Leverenz

Last week’s post, 5 Action Steps to Turn Your Internship Into an Offer, highlighted networking as a key component to success. From my personal experience, as well as my experience working with students, beginning a professional relationship is often the hardest part of networking. Many corporations facilitate relationship building though events like welcome breakfasts and cocktail hours where they give you the opportunity to meet people and engage in light conversation. Here’s how you can utilize small talk to build a foundation for networking success.

Introducing yourself is scary. I know, but you can do it. Before you go to the next event, set a goal for yourself. Start with a small one like tonight I’m going to talk to 3 new people. As you learn more about the organization, set bigger goals that align with your interests like tonight I’m going to talk to 3 senior people with an interest in sustainability.

Exude confidence in your approach with good posture and eye contact. Smile and reach out with a firm hand shake. Say, “Hi, I’m Olivia Adler, the intern working on competitive strategy this summer.”

After the person responds with their introduction, lead the conversation with open ended questions. Asking questions that require multiple word answers keeps the conversation flowing. Rather than asking, “What brand do you work on?” say, “Tell me about the brand you work on.”

Listen carefully as the person elaborates, and identify an interesting piece of the answer to expand upon. In marketing research, we call this probing. Continuing with our example you may hear, “I work on the Best Lotion Ever brand. Sales are up this year, which is great in this economy. We just launched a new integrated campaign with television, internet, print and PR.”

You could probe one of a number of things from that short answer. Here are some examples:

“That’s great news that sales are up. What are you doing at your top accounts to drive growth?”

“I took a class on integrated marketing last semester. Would you tell me more about your new campaign?”

“I’m fascinated by emerging media. Would you tell me more about the internet piece of your new campaign?”

Following the pattern of asking open ended questions, listening, and probing will help build a solid foundation for networking during your internship. After those initial conversations, continue the momentum with follow up emails to schedule a time to learn more about the person and their role. Review my Top 5 Tips for Conducting an Impressive Informational Interview to prepare.

As always, please email info@mbaintheusa.com to schedule a session if you’re interested in learning more.

(image: Voxphoto)

Author: Grayson Leverenz

Grayson Leverenz founded MBA in the USA® to help international students build networks, find jobs, and have fun in the USA. Hundreds of global professionals have benefited from Grayson’s intercultural workshops, and she has worked with people from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA to build effective virtual teams and craft brilliant careers.

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