Expert advice from Jen Laird, Assistant Director, UD Career Center.
You’re at an event alone and surrounded by people you don’t know. Truly the worst nightmare for some. Maybe you are at a reception for your research advisor, a career fair, or a straight-up networking event. Whatever the case, you have to be there and the point is for you to meet new people.
Talking to new people in a social situation can be stressful and awkward when it is not natural to you, but knowing a few secrets can help you to be successful and maybe even have a little fun.
- Remember, everyone is there for the same purpose.
First of all, it may feel like you are back in high school waiting for someone to pick you for their team, but you are not. Everyone came to the event for the same reason. There will likely be plenty of people there who are just as uncomfortable as you are in a group setting. If you need a confidence booster before even entering the room, consider practicing your 30-second commercial. This way, you will have already prepared how you will introduce yourself to potential employers, or any other professional you come in contact with, and a conversation will be initiated.
- Find a group that is already in a conversation and join them.
Many people assume that networking only entails talking one-on-one with someone, but at most fairs and meet-ups, you will see professionals speaking with multiple students at once. Joining an already conversing group allows you to listen in and get comfortable with the topic and the people. You might be able to hear some of their stories or backgrounds and find someone with whom you would like to have a more detailed conversation.
- Interject when you feel comfortable.
Don’t feel like you have to rush into making a comment to the group. Take your time and speak up when you feel you have something valuable to add to the conversation. You can also start by introducing yourself to the group when there’s a lull in the discussion. Very often, saying who you are, where you’re from, and what you do will spark someone to say “oh I am from there too”. Then you have a topic to dive into with a person who has similar interests.
- Keeping the conversation going.
Most people like to talk about themselves and are usually flattered when you show interest and ask them questions. If you feel like there are some awkward pauses happening, but you would like to keep the conversation going now is a good time to ask some open-ended questions. For instance, ‘so how did you decide to go into your field’ or ‘what do you like most about your work’ are two good questions to keep in your back pocket.
- It’s okay to move around.
So, the event has gone well for the most part, but the worst has now happened. You’re stuck in a conversation with one person and are not sure how to get out. It may feel like you are going to hurt the other person’s feelings by excusing yourself, but in reality, that is how it works at these things. When you feel a pause in the conversation, politely tell them that it was ‘nice speaking with you’ and maybe even ask if you ‘can I connect on LinkedIn?’ You can also use the tried and true excuse to use the restroom if you are really in a pinch!
Good luck and remember, you never know who you might meet!