FAQ: How Do I Start Networking Conversations?

Networking can be daunting, especially when you’re in a new environment. As the new academic year starts after the COVID-19 measures are being slowly lifted, networking might be on top of your mind. No matter if it is going to be your first time trying to build your network or you’ve gone through this process before and want to reinvigorate your social connections, here are some tips that can get you started.

Ask to Get Coffee or Lunch

Caroline Kelly, Assistant Director of Life Design, recommends asking your supervisor to get coffee or lunch together. “It’s a more casual environment where you’re able to talk about things beyond work responsibilities,” she says. In your invitation, make it clear what you’re looking to get out of the conversation. Set a time expectation and explain what topics or questions you hope to cover.

Talk to People in Other Departments

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people outside of your department, as well. You can ask your supervisor to connect you with the person you want to talk to. Alternatively, you can reach out to the person directly. Write them an email with a brief introduction of who you are and why you wanted to reach out.

Lead the Conversation

Be prepared to start and lead the conversation. While you don’t need to have all of your questions thought out, keep some talking points in mind. Always do your research on the person before you talk to them. Look at their career history on LinkedIn. If they have a bio on the company website, read it. Use this information to tailor the conversation to the person you’re talking to. Make sure you stick to the time frame you initially proposed. When you see that there’s a couple minutes left, start wrapping up the conversation.

Sample Questions

Not sure what questions to ask? Andrea Wiseman, Assistant Director of Life Design, suggests structuring the conversation around the person’s career path.

  • How did they make the decision to work at the company?
  • Were there particular jobs or internships that helped them figure out what they wanted to do?
  • Or mentors that gave them good advice?

Learn about their time at the company as well. Ask them about their favorite projects or things they’re looking forward to working on. Once you’re further along in the conversation, you can ask them if anything has surprised them about their career path. Did they think they would be where they are?

Offer to Pay

If you were the one who extended the invite, offer to pay for the other person’s coffee or lunch. It’s a nice gesture to thank them for taking the time to talk to you. Some companies may have a company credit card to use for networking expenses. In that case, the person you invited may decline your offer to pay and use their company card instead.

Always Follow Up

After the conversation, email the person to thank them for their time and insights. Be specific: reference something that came up in the conversation. If you didn’t get through everything you wanted to talk about, ask if it would be possible to reach out again at another time.

By contributor