“What do you do for a living?” Don’t you just hate that question? It’s so dull and predictable. Worse yet you usually get a title-driven answer that rarely inspires or stimulates interesting conversation.
You ask a straight forward, unimaginative question like “What do you do for a living?” and you might just get a straight-forward, unimaginative response like: “I’m vice president of marketing for XYZ company” or “I’m an attorney.” What’s your response to that? “Well, that’s interesting.” Not really.
Some responses can be total conversation killers such as “I’m with the IRS” or “I work at the city morgue.”
Or maybe you hit a sensitive nerve without realizing it when you ask this basic assumptive question “What do you do for a living?” to someone who has been out of work for two years, and you get the awkward response: “I’m unemployed.”
Many of you who have taken my Perfect Your Pitch course know how to avoid this trap by answering the question with your value proposition rather than your job title. But there is another way to engage people in conversation when networking.
Ask more interesting questions
Once you have introduced yourself and the hand shaking is out of the way, try tossing them a creative conversation starter such as:
“Who has been a very influential person in your career/work life? How did he/she help you?”
“What is one thing that you hope to accomplish this year? Why is that important to you?”
“Share a personal goal that most people would be surprised to hear.”
Here are 40 Conversation Starting Questions that you can use i n networking. You can also be used in an ice-breaking exercise with your team.
- Name one activity on your “bucket list” that you’d like to do in the next year or two.
- What career ambition have you not yet fulfilled? Why is this important to you?
- Who has been most influential in your career/work life? How did they help you?
- What advice would you give to a college student interested in your professional field?
- What was the most meaningful bit of career advice ever given to you? Who gave it? How has it helped you?
- If you could change ONE THING about your work day, what would it be?
- If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be and doing what
- What was the best mistake you ever made in your career? How did it help you grow forward?
- What do you love most about your job? How does it make you feel when you do that specific activity/function?
- What was the first paying job you ever held and how did it help prepare you for the work world?
- What did you study in school that has been most useful to you in your current occupation?
- How did you choose your current profession? (or how did it choose you?)
- The one that got away. Describe one candidate that you wished you had hired but didn’t.
- Who is the best negotiator you have ever dealt with and what did you learn from them?
- What would you like to be doing if you weren’t doing what you are doing now?
- What is the most amazing thing someone other than family has ever done for you?
- If you could make some change in this world, little or big, what would it be and why?
- What is one new thing that you learned about yourself in the past two weeks?
- In what environment/place brings out your best creative self?
- Tell me about a coaching/mentoring moment that you led that you are proud of.
- What did you want to be when you grew up? In what ways does your current job resemble parts of that early ambition?
- If you were to go back to school at this age, what subject would you pursue and why?
- What is the most philanthropic thing you have you done in your life? How did it make you feel?
- Is there something that happened to you as a child that you can honestly say defined who you became as an adult?
- Why did you choose the book you are currently reading or have recently finished?
- Share a personal goal that most people would be surprised to hear.
- What dream has come true for you? What’s next?
- “What is one thing that you hope to accomplish this year? Why is that important to you?”
- What do you appreciate most about yourself and why?
- Where do you find your inspiration? How do you refill your inspiration reservoir?
- What is one wrong you would like to right in your life?
- When do you feel the most powerful? What about the least powerful?
- What motivates you to action? The carrot or the stick? Give one recent example.
- What does it take for you to feel comfortable with new people? Give one example.
- What would you like to be most remembered for at your current company and why?
- What would you like to be doing for a living if money were no object?
- Describe a time where fear almost cost you a chance at something amazing.
- If you were assured you would not fail, what endeavor would you attempt?
- Do you have a nickname and if so, how did you earn it?
- What do you consider to be a good vacation? Tell me about the most memorable vacation you ever took and why it left such an impression on you?
Do you have an idea for question #41?
“Tell me two things that I don’t know about you”
That was the curve ball question I unknowingly threw to a woman who I was networking with over the telephone. She worked for a company that I was on my hot prospects list. I would love to have that company as a new client! A mutual friend had made the warm introduction and paved the way for me to network with her. She had agreed to speak with me over the telephone for twenty minutes, but when we got on the phone I found it difficult to build rapport with her. She seemed like she wanted it to be “all business.” That is until I asked her the odd-ball question “Tell me two things that I don’t know about you.” The irony is that I didn’t know anything at all about her really, since we had just met.
She responded by telling me that she was a grandmother and started bragging (rightfully so) about her near perfect angel of a grandchild. The mood of the conversation completely changed and became much more human and interesting. As things opened up, she also shared some information about her future plans and I found a way that I could offer help to her. Now we were getting somewhere. Now we are connected.
p.s. I just landed this company as a new client and have my first engagement with them next month. Hurray for networking!
Your Networking Goal for this Week
This week try out one or more of the sample conversation starter questions with someone you are networking with. Be intentional about asking more interesting questions. Make it your goal to gain insight and make a closer connection with people that you meet at networking events, association meetings, at work and in the community. Don’t allow yourself to default to the safe, tried and true, boring small talk about the weather or about work. Strive to get to know people at a deeper, more personal level. (yes, even in business!) Open-ended, creative and thoughtful questions can be a wonderful tool to enliven the conversation and deepen the connection. It makes networking a whole lot more fun, too!
About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business. In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations, more effective networking and personal marketing.