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Career Corner
Graduates: Don't Wait Till You Need a Job to Start Networking!

Debra Fine -- Recent graduates, make the most of business and social opportunities. Start now and don't stop improving your networking and conversation skills.

Do you dread networking events, job fairs and other job search related social events? Does attending another open house make you want to run inside your own and lock the door?

For soon-to-be graduates these occasions represent opportunities to develop business relationships and broaden networks. Make the most of job fairs, alumni contacts and events, informational interviews, conventions, and meetings.

Here are a few techniques students can use to improve their small talk skills:

Be the first to say hello! and introduce yourself.

Act as if you're the host, and introduce new arrivals to your conversational partner or partners.

Engage others.

Get somebody to talk about why they're attending the event or their history with their career, and you're on your way to engaging them in conversation.

Be aware of body language.

Come across as relaxed and at ease. Smile and appear approachable.

Be alert.

Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going.

Play the conversation game.

When someone asks "How's school?" or "What's going on?", answer with more than "Pretty good!" or "Not much." Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you.

Give verbal cues

These help keep the conversation going and make your conversational partner feel listened to. "I see what you mean" and "Give me an example of what you mean by that" encourage others to keep talking and confirm that you are actively listening.

Be careful with acquaintances.

You wouldn't want to open a conversation with, "How's your job at (fill in the blank)?" What if that person just got fired or laid off? Be careful when you're asking about an acquaintance's spouse or special friend; you could regret it.

Don't act like you're an F.B.I. agent.

Questions like: "Where are you from?", "Did you go to graduate school?", and "Do you have children?" lead to dead end conversations.

Be prepared with exit lines.

You do need to move around and meet others. Make an effort to never leave a conversation without asking "Who do you know that might be in a position to help me attain my goals?"

Every encounter involves risk.

As long as you keep looking for new people to meet, and you show an interest in other people, you can develop business friendships and enjoy lively conversations.

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