Networking is awkward because most adults aren’t comfortable meeting strangers and striking up a conversation. For this reason, we tend to rely on ice breakers to get things going. The most common of these is some variation on, “What do you do?” But no matter how you phrase that question, it’s not a great way to connect with other human beings — or even to get basic information about their jobs, employers, or career path.
“… your goal is to connect with someone, find common ground, and potentially explore a way to partner with them, then these types of surface-level questions will consistently fail to elicit the response you are likely looking for,” writes Melanie Deziel at Inc.
Why? In short, because many of the people you’re talking to are not currently working at their dream jobs. Ask what they’re doing right now, and you miss the big picture — what they’d like to be doing, down the road. Worse yet, you might offend someone who feels insecure about their job.
Networking is about building strong connections for the future, not just forming temporary friendships to pass the time at an event. To do it right, you need to start a conversation that allows you to exchange real information.
These ice breakers will give you a better chance at doing just that:
2. “If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?”
5. “If you won the lottery, what would you do first?”
7. “What’s your favorite part of the event so far?”
8. “If you absolutely had to change your name to something else, what would you choose?”
9. “If you could solve only one problem, what would it be?”
10. “Hello, I’m _____.”
How do you know which ice breaker to use? Go for something that genuinely interests you. Better yet, choose something that sparks curiosity. What would you most like to know about these strangers?
“If you remain curious, then in conversations you appear comfortable and genuine, even without too much foreknowledge of the person you’re speaking with,” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability in an interview with U.S. News. “Curiosity brings out the best in us and prompts us to naturally do all the things that foster positive connections, such as maintaining good eye contact, giving appropriate head nods and asking interesting follow-up questions to show we’re engaged.”
Tell Us What You Think
What’s your go-to ice breaker? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.