I used to man the table at a LOT of career fairs. A lot. And I’ve networked a lot in my life. A LOT. My opening statement for all these conversations is the same – “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
When I’m at a career fair and someone has just walked up to me, asking them to do this gives me a second to scan their resume without them staring at me in awkward silence. And it tells me how they’ll be in a sales situation, which is the job I’ve hired for most often. When I’m networking, I’m genuinely curious about what people do and how they portray themselves, so it’s always an honest request. I legitimately want to know about them.
What astonishes me is the number of times this opening has been met with silence, stuttering, or a baffled look. People, whether they are job seekers or established professionals, have no idea how to explain who they are, what they do, or why I should care. And that’s a problem.
These quick interactions are often the door to bigger opportunities. When I meet someone with a compelling story or a very clear vision of their role in a company or their life, I want to learn more. When someone can tell me, very succinctly, what makes them different from the other 300 people I’ll see that day, it is a clear advantage, either in the job search or the quest to make good business connections.
And if you stumble badly, I won’t forget it. Someone who can’t tell me anything about themselves is clearly not a great salesperson, and if they don’t know enough about their business to give me a concise, 30-second commercial, it is going to be a lot harder to get me to agree to buy from them. I see a lot of salespeople, and one who isn’t great at what they do is at a distinct disadvantage.
How do you make sure that you aren’t flaming out spectacularly in these situations? Practice. Thought. And lots of preparation. It is easy to fall victim to the thinking that talking about yourself is easy – I mean, who or what else do you know as well as you know yourself? But, as with everything in life, lack of preparation sets you up for failure.
Before heading into any networking situation, I like to think through what exactly I’m hoping to accomplish. Am I looking for talent to hire? Potential customers? A new friend? Deepened connections with people I already know? Once I’ve decided what I’m looking to do, I think carefully about how I’m going to present myself. I come up with my talking points, and a compelling reason for someone to keep talking to me after the first 30 seconds.
For my sales students, I even run them through an exercise to create the perfect 30-second personal pitch that they can use in these situations. We spend at least 90 minutes in class on this exercise, refining and revising the message through several role-plays. It takes time, focus and dedication to craft a message that works.
So, I challenge you to take some time and think about who you are and what you hope to do before your next networking opportunity. Apply that thought and preparation to the event, and see how you fare. And on the way home, don’t blast the radio. Think about what went well and what you’d do differently. Then continue to refine your approach.
I guarantee you that putting thought into the interactions you have with others will have better results for you.
by Lacy Starling, President and Fearless Leader