The Intern’s Guide to Networking: Starting the Conversation

Here at UW-Whitewater, I teach a section of the New Student Seminar. One of the assignments in my class is a one-on-one meeting with me. Essentially, the students in my class can earn 10 points (out of 100) just to chat with me for 10-20 minutes. Not a bad deal.

While it sounds easy, these one-on-one chats do pose a challenge: making small talk with someone I don’t know well. It reminds me a lot of attending conferences, seminars, or other networking events and striking up conversations with new contacts. It’s hard – and I already have a job!

Networking has become critical to the search for an internship, and a fundamental element of networking is meeting new people. It all starts with a conversation. I consulted UW-W alum and experienced (and successful) networker Danielle Calkins about this topic and how we in Career & Leadership Development could help more students engage in networking. One of her suggestions was to provide students with sample conversation topics. I thought that was a great idea!

So for all of you aspiring interns hoping to connect with potential internship opportunities or for you current interns hoping to capitalize on the networking opportunities presented by your internships, here are some small talk conversation starters:

  • “What’s your name?”
  • “Hi, my name is ________. What brings you to this event?”
  • “May I join you/join your conversation? I don’t know anyone here/I’m new to this networking thing, and you seem friendly.”
  • “What got you started in this industry/field?”
  • “What do you enjoy most about your work?”
  • “That was an interesting program. What did you think?”
  • “Your presentation was really great. Where did you come up with that idea?”
  • “What do you find most challenging about your industry these days?”

These are just a few ways to begin engaging a potential contact in conversation. Just as important as knowing what kinds of topics you might begin conversing about is knowing what topics to steer clear of:

  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Family
  • Potentially Controversial Current Events

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment…

What successful conversation starters have you used?

What makes you most nervous when it comes to networking?


Photo by Intersection Consulting

5 thoughts on “The Intern’s Guide to Networking: Starting the Conversation

  1. As with everything, I think practice is really what makes someone good at networking.
    Learning personal techniques to carry conversations or dealing with uncomfortable silences comes with practice. And what makes networking fun is the fact is that these techniques are so personal and everyone dies them differently.

  2. I don’t remember. But I make it a point to put myself in uncomfortable situations often and unnecessarily. It’s challenging, but it turns out that people are a lot nicer than they look most of the time. 🙂

  3. I agree with Mehul that people usually are a lot nicer than you may expect! People scare themselves into thinking the worst will happen. But just getting out of your comfort zone for a few minutes may end up changing your life if you think about all of the opportunities that may arise!
    Networking is nerve racking, for sure. Sometimes people have an issue starting conversations, but sometimes it’s also hard to either continue them without awkwardness… or even end them in a polite and professional way. But you are so right when you say it takes practice! I feel like I’ve been networking for years, yet I still feel so new to it sometimes.
    I’m actually going to a networking event tomorrow in Milwaukee! Let’s see how I do! 🙂

  4. I definitely agree. Good point about ending the conversation. It’s one thing to start it, but it can be awkward to wrap it up professionally. I sense another post coming up 🙂

    I’m excited to hear about how the networking event went! You’ll have to fill me in!

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