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:
- 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