If you’ve ever done any kind of networking, you can probably agree that conversations don’t often stray too far from predictable. The fact is that much of our time networking is spent discussing a few common topics.
“What do you do?” “Where do you work?” “What are your business goals?”
But let’s be honest. Not only is this tedious, it can also be limiting in the commonalities you might find that could act as the foundation for converting a conversation into a business relationship. This holds true in every setting from networking events to coworking spaces. If you believe there can be a higher standard for networking conversation, you’re not alone.
Here are 7 questions you can ask instead of, “what do you do?”
1. “What excites you?”
The great part about this question is that it opens the conversation up to a wide range of directions – from work-related topics to their kids or their new car or even a cause they believe in. The most important thing is that it will give you insight into what drives the person from both a work and personal perspective, allowing you to find truer commonalities and build a better rapport.
2. “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this year and what are you most looking forward to?”
This question is both retrospective and forward-looking and will allow you to learn about accomplishments that are important to the person you’re talking to as well as get a gauge on anything big they’re working on, personally or professionally. Whatever they’re looking forward to, put it in the memory bank – you can send a follow-up or congratulations down the line to reconnect.
3. “Where did you grow up?”
This is a great way for you to dive into each other’s backgrounds in a way that feels less assertive and loaded than “where are you from?” The value in this question is that it allows the person you’re speaking with to answer in as much or as little detail as they’d like, providing you with anything from a few simple details about their childhood to engaging in their full story and highlighting how they got to where they are now and how they ended up doing what they’re doing.
4. “What do you do for fun?”
This ties back to the idea of allowing professional conversations to veer away from just work. Most business relationships work better if there’s a personal touch involved so understanding and embracing that the person you’re speaking with is more than just somebody who does a job will help create a stronger rapport. While the person you’re speaking with might be lucky enough to do for work what they’d be doing for fun anyway, this question is understood as less work-related and more personal will help create those valuable personal ties.
5. “Who’s your favorite superhero?”
This question might seem a bit out of left field, but it can actually be quite telling. Beyond simply helping you bond with the person you’re speaking with by creating a little bit of nostalgia, discussing somebody’s favorite superhero – as well as why they chose them – can tell you a lot about the values and character attributes they hold dear without having to try to probe in a more direct way.
6. “Is there a charitable cause you support?”
While this can be a big, open-ended question, it’ll help you gain insight into somebody’s passions and beliefs as well as find shared ground with the respondent. It might also be an educational and eye-opening question, helping you find out about a cause you weren’t aware of. With this question, it’s important to do definite support as broader than financial donations, as the person you’re speaking with might support the cause by way of volunteering or even working to raise awareness.
7. “What’s the most important thing I should know about you?”
This is another great question that can be very effective for getting insight about somebody from their own perspective. It can be a little forthright, so you’ll need to pick the right moment to ask it, but it is almost guaranteed to result in an interesting and informative response.
When you’re networking, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know what somebody does for a living. It’s a fundamental component of any business conversation. But by mixing things up and approaching people with a different set of questions, you can uncover what somebody does and then some while creating a personal rapport that will allow you to stand out in their memory.