For many people, the idea of networking for a job at a large event, or party, or any other situation where there are a number of people "mingling" is quite intimidating.
Usually, it's because they have no idea how to do it well, and so they imagine having to go from one person to the next asking if they know of any job openings. That almost always results in a "no", and so feels awkward, discouraging, desperate and sometimes humiliating.
Done well, however, it can result in a great deal of productive follow up activity, and possibly the ideal position.
As in all networking, realizing that the vast majority of people have no idea of jobs openings, even at their own companies, can keep you from asking the question of... "do you know of any jobs available". People generally don't engage in conversations about things they don't know. Additionally, It's almost always more effective to pursue companies that generally employ people with your background, than to chase after specific current openings. So never ask if they know of open jobs!
People do, however, generally engage in conversations about things they do know about. They will readily talk about their own circumstances or experience. There is a great deal to be learned from their own situations.
Also, trying to turn a conversation at a party or networking event where everyone is standing around, into a 20 minute networking meeting doesn't tend to go over well. You try people's patience and don't build a positive relationship. Having a brief conversation to determine if there it makes sense to pursue things further, and then follow up for more conversation or a meeting at a later date is far more effective.
One key to effective conversations is listening! Ignoring what they say in order to only get to your next question is rarely received well. Sincerely listening and responding to them, and eventually moving the conversation to your topic is far more effective.
So... what kinds of conversation starters and questions are appropriate and effective? Here are some suggestions...
- Hi, my name is ________, who are you, and what brings you to this event?
- What do you do for a living?
(They are likely to tell you, and then ask the same question in return. This is the time to tell them what you've done, and let them know you are looking for a new opportunity)
- Where do you work?
(If you're not familiar with the organization, ask about what the company does)
- How have you enjoyed working there?
- How long have you been there?
- How did you originally land at that organization?
(Very often, they will tell you they got their position through some form of networking. That's a great time to point out that you understand that's the most effective route to a new role, and you enjoy learning from people from a variety of organizations)
- Is there an area of the organization that employs people with my general background?
- Is there some way I might be able to be of help to you? As I've been networking, I've been gaining a good number of contacts of my own. Is there anyone you are hoping to connect to yourself where I might be able to make an introduction for you?
- It was great to meet you, and I certainly don't want to dominate your time here. I'm sure you want to connect with others here as well. If I have some additional questions about your organization, could I shoot you an email or give you a call?
Do you have a business card, or can I jot down your information?
Your conversation at the event should never go longer than 10 minutes or so, and shorter would be better. If it's an organization that makes sense for your background and is one that you would like to target, a follow up would be appropriate at a later date. Then, a more in-depth conversation can take place regarding other contacts in the organization, learning about their culture, gaining recommendations of how to most effectively be considered for appropriate roles, and so on.
Engaging in too much small talk at a networking event doesn't accomplish much and often is boring to the other person. Pressing for too much in-depth information at the event can be off-putting and too time consuming. Asking appropriate questions to gain basic information that can help you determine if a follow up conversation is warranted, and then disengaging so each of you can connect with others as well is a very effective way to gain the most from the event while you're there.
Be deliberate, but unassuming. Be pleasant, humble, sincerely curious about them, and willing to be of help to them in some way as well.
Don't let "mingling" events be intimidating. Go with a plan, and make them an effective networking tool for your job search!